Not So Fast

Last week I was in Brentwood, Essex, UK, and in need of a bite to eat, so I popped into the Crown Street Café, which is in, er, Crown Street.

I was struck by this notice at the bottom of the menu:

Make haste slowly...What a difference from the thinking that we usually encounter, especially in education. I once worked out, around 10 years ago, that there was a new education initiative on average every two weeks. I remember having this fantasy that every other week there would be a meeting at the Education Department at which someone would say,

Well, we introduced that policy TWO WEEKS AGO and nothing has changed! We need to do something more.

A couple of years ago I was asked to give a talk to trainee teachers on educational ICT policies, and stopped enumerating them when I reached 40 initiatives.

It's not only central government that has this predilection for insanely rapid change. At local level too there are often plans in place which look great as long as you assume that nobody is going to have any days off sick, and that everyone will be completely productive 100% of the time. (I heard recently that workers in open plan offices get interrupted every 3 minutes. I can vouch for that: I used to repair to the local café, arrive before anyone else, or leave after everyone else, or all three, in order to get my work done when I worked in one Local Authority.)

To an extent, you can understand the need for speed when it comes to education. It's said that change takes around 5 to 7 years to become embedded. We don't have the luxury of all that time: it's somewhat immoral to say to a cohort of children,

Sorry, there's not much we can do to make necessary changes for you, but at least the ones who come after you will be OK.

Clearly, where the need for change has been identified, the change has to be made. But where the mistake lies, I think, is in assuming that all change takes place at the same rate. I think it's much more helpful to think in terms of stages:

The first stage is gathering information. There's no point in blundering in like a bull in a china shop. When I was at university, the union presidential candidates I never voted for were the ones who spouted that there has to be change – not because I'm against change, but because these people wanted change just to demonstrate how dynamic they were. Any change would have done, regardless of whether it would actually benefit anyone. No thanks.

The next stage is to have a few quick wins. These are changes which can be implemented quickly and improve a situation. These are best implemented in a very visible way, because it will let people know that something is happening.

Then longer term strategies can start to be formulated, covering the changes that are to be made over the next 6 to 18 months.

The analogy with fast food is a good one. On the very rare occasions I have something to eat in a fast food restaurant, I'm hungry about half an hour later. The meal may have allayed my hunger pangs, but only in a temporary kind of way.

It's the same with rapid change in a school. It's easy to impose change if you have the right level of seniority; it's much harder to make it stick.

So, if you're new to the role of Head of ICT or ICT Co-ordinator, by all means make a few exciting changes. But always have in the back of your mind that you don't do rapid change: you do good change as fast as you can.

Oh, and what about the food at the Crown Street Cafe? Well, it’s good, the proprietor is friendly and the service efficient. I hope they don’t change any of that!