How has education changed in the UK over the past 20+ years, and what are the biggest issues schools must address today?
The end of the calendar year always creates a point of reflection over what the previous 12 months have brought, but for me, this year has been particularly noteworthy.
After 22 years of working in Birmingham, I will be retiring from Services For Education.
I began in September 1999, with what was then the Health Education Unit – part of the local authority advisory service. I then went on to create and lead the Healthy School Programme, deliver the National PSHE Certification Programme, lead Safeguarding, and the Graduate Teacher Training Programme, before becoming Head of School Support in 2014.
Ironically, I feel many of the issues around PSHE are still the same today as they were when I first came to Birmingham. Despite all the work I have been involved in around training teachers and supporting schools in this area, research still reveals that pupils believe their PSHE lessons are ‘too little, too late’. It’s one of the greatest challenges in education today we must address.
How Have Education Sector Challenges Changed Over the Years?
At the start of my career, the focus was very much on reducing teen pregnancy rates and illegal drug use. Thankfully, it appears that we have contributed to the reduction in both areas.
However, just as these risks to young people statistically declined, the rise of the internet has created many new issues that effective PSHE can still help young people navigate their way through.
Healthy Schools was an incredible project to lead and work on. By 2010, we had engaged 98% of Birmingham schools in this voluntary project. We had a team of 20 advisers supporting schools to develop targets around positive lifestyle choices, and alongside national initiatives such as the food standards for school dinners, it felt like we could be really seeing a culture shift in attitudes to healthy eating and exercise.
The programme paved the way for the Health for Life programme which has been incredibly successful in creating change in schools, and a brilliant partnership with programme funders, Mondelez International.
The growth of safeguarding has been phenomenal. Learning from national serious case reviews alongside our developing understanding of risk for children and young people has transformed what was originally Child Protection with a relatively small number of DSL course places each year, into a huge component of our work. We now train over 1,200 senior staff annually, and our digital courses and products sell all over the country. The importance of this fundamental role can never be understated, and I continue to be in awe of those staff dealing with and supporting children in the most awful situations.
At the heart of all my roles has been creating, developing and delivering professional development for teachers and leaders. From the early days of my overhead projector transparencies to our current online provision engaging with teachers all over the UK (and beyond), my drive has been to facilitate a continual improvement in teaching standards, and the structures in schools that support children and enable them to fully achieve their potential academically, socially and emotionally.
One of my proudest achievements was the leadership of what was then the Graduate Teacher Training Programme in 2009. I think it would be fair to say I wasn’t fully prepared for what was about to happen, but through the four years I lead this programme, it was a privilege to provide a pathway for so many talented and skilled new teachers into the profession. I still meet some of those we trained, now in senior positions in our schools, doing an amazing job.
Moving us from an Ofsted judgment of “satisfactory” and the potential closure of the programme to “Good” in 2012 (which we have maintained to this date) was probably one of the toughest challenges I have undertaken. I am particularly delighted with the fact that this year we have our biggest cohort since 2013.
My career from a physics teacher in a Coventry secondary, through the NHS, the local authority and finally to Head of School Support for Services For Education was one I could never have imagined.
I have worked alongside wonderful talented colleagues and hopefully made a difference to brilliant, committed teachers and leaders in phenomenal schools.
Professional development for all those working with children and young people is vital. Our colleagues are the best resource we have, and we need to value and invest in them. If we get that right, then we not only improve the outcomes for children, but also retain our best team members and create a more fulfilled and motivated workforce.
And whilst my career has taken many unexpected turns, my core aim of wanting to make a positive difference has always remained at the heart of what I do and provided the driving force throughout my working life.
About the Author
Andrew Cooper – Head of School Support, Services For Education
Andrew is the Head of the School Support Service. He has extensive experience in PSHE, from his early career as a secondary school teacher and working as a Health Promotion Specialist in HIV and Substance Use, to his role as a local authority Health Education Service adviser, where he led on many areas including safeguarding, relationships and sex education. Andrew was also the Healthy School Co-ordinator for Birmingham for 10 years and Regional PSHE Adviser for the West Midlands.
Outside of the world of children and young people’s physical and emotional health, Andrew spent four years managing an initial teacher training provision. He became Head of the School Support Service for SFE in 2014 and now leads a team of advisers delivering support, consultancy and training to schools across the UK. During this time, he has led the development of the SFE digital offering, provision of pupil and family services, and the growth of face-to-face training programmes. He is currently a Trustee for the PSHE Association.