Restart-Ed is a small consultancy, providing professional services to organisations in the schools sector. Its aim – loosely speaking – is to improve schools as organisations, either by working directly with schools or through engagement with clients. In either context, Restart-Ed’s aim is to enable people working in schools to focus more effectively on what they need to do. It does this by applying the principles of organisation development, which you can read more about here.
It is a vehicle for its founder, Ben Gibbs, to apply what he has learned from 20 years experience and training in the sector, since doing his PGCE in 1998. You can read more about that here.
At heart though, all of Restart-Ed’s work is founded on a belief that the way we ‘do’ schools at the moment is fundamentally flawed. It has become less about the people engaged in teaching and learning – humans with complex social and psychological drives – and more about targets, data, and ‘performance’.
Moreover, these flaws are not seen or understood as such by leaders, policy-makers, and influencers because of a lack of systems thinking. Systems theory and organisation development just does not feature in these people’s professional development curricula at any level.
Nor is there a sufficient critical appreciation of how the New Public Management paradigm has affected practice in schools, or that what are now assumed (if slightly uncomfortable) methods are actually (wrong) choices. The frog knows something is wrong, but is unaware of how it has slowly been boiled. Or to put it in more academic terms, schools have failed to develop Schein’s ‘adaptive coping cycle’, in that they have not displayed continuous external adaptation to a rapidly changing environment, “nor corresponding internal integration that will support the success of the external change” (Schein, E. (1965) in Cheung-Judge & Holbeche, 2011, p.10).
To make matters worse, the so-called ‘school improvement’ industry – comprised mainly of re-sprayed Ofsted inspectors and retirees who were very good at complying with flawed assumptions – adds insult to injury by making wrongs wronger, adding to cascade error, and guiding often desperate leaders up Argyris’s ladder of inference without stopping to question anything.
That’s why I call what I do ‘Real School Improvement’ … because I focus on improving the school as an organisation – a system of people with a culture and aims (etc) – so that those working in it can be liberated to achieve the things they know they need to achieve, by working in the ways they know will work best.
This strategy is based on a profound respect for professional educators, and a deeply held belief that all who choose to work in public service have positive intentions, yet are inhibited in too many cases by the flaws of the systems in which they work.
Welcome to my world!