Carnegie Education

Can WE be the midwives of our own future? A call to the education sector

In this blogpost CollectivED Advisory Board member and Carnegie School of Education PhD student Charmaine Roche invites participants to join a special CollectivED symposium.


There is a famous quote from Gramsci, that resonates so much for me right now as we adapt to the #Covid19 Pandemic. ‘The old world is dying, while the new world struggles to be born…’. The features of this combined state of expectancy and uncertainty are threefold. We are going through the impending death of the old (a previous way of life, social, political and economic policy), there is struggle for the new to be born (myriad possibilities for change and development arise and pass away) and there is uncertainty about the future waiting to be born (what will persist after this turbulence is unclear and unsettling).

A useful metaphor?

So, in what sense can we act as midwives of our own future? A midwife, male or female, attends during pregnancy and birth to protect the mother and new-born from the many risks and dangers that can emerge at any point between and birth. Giving birth is painful, precarious and the presence of a guide to provide attendant care has been the case throughout human history.

Social change is a form of birth or rebirth. The new is incubated within the old. It can emerge whole and well, or with birth defects, or be stillborn. In other words, a successful birth is not inevitable, active assistance and guidance is required to accompany the process, to nurture and sustain the right conditions for new life.

My belief is that the new that is struggling to be born is a society based on the values of social justice, equality and inclusion; values that were torn into by the Brexit debate. What a long time ago that seems.  But the issues suffused throughout that debate have not gone away. Could it be that this new society is being prefigured in the current focus on a collective, social endeavour, on community, on protecting jobs and general welfare over the scramble to maximise profits, to improve efficiency and productivity at the expense of meaningful work?

My answer? Possibly, but not with any certainty.

The necessity for new life and the risks of not actively nurturing it are evident in the global and local fault lines of inequality burned deep into our society by austerity. These are now being played out in the patterns of those who are dying from #Covid19.

The link to Education?

As we are engaging in weekly recognition of #NHSheros and gratitude for those in society who are sacrificing themselves on our behalf, there is a growing concern about what comes next. About what will happen after. Nowhere more than in the education sector. The questions about well-being that dominated education discourse before the #Covid19 pandemic are more urgent now.

Just before the crisis the #PauseOfsted call went out, it was garnering both support and criticism. Well, Ofsted inspections have been paused, different means, same end. Exams, league tables, progress tracking etc. etc. All closed down. We have an unprecedented opportunity to reflect, to dream and to consider how we might influence change. The #PauseOfsted campaign was criticised for having uncertain goals, for criticising a system without having a clear goal for its successor. So, let us rise to that challenge and begin to collectively build such a vision, nurture it and bring it to life.

This period of uncertainty and risk has not changed any of the structural factors that existed before this crisis. If we do not prepare now, our society, possibly numbed by trauma, will not be ready when the crisis passes, for future shaping. Now is the time to prepare, as a midwife would, for the struggle of a new life to be born.

Change is hard, most of us avoid it if we can. Now is the time to turn toward actively seeking to use our influence. To act to bring into being the future for education and society that we, in collaboration with others, think is needed. We can be the midwives of our own future.

The conditions of lock-down caused by the global Covid19 pandemic have created unprecedented uncertainty and challenge to our way of life. School leaders and education professionals of all stripes have had to speedily improvise, create solutions overnight while ‘business as normal’ is suspended. Many are asking, what will come next when lock-down ends, what will emerge on the other side of this crisis?

An invitation to educators

You are invited to participate in a CollectivED Virtual Symposium facilitated by members of the CollectivED Advisory Board on June 23rd from 9.30-12.30pm. The symposium is based on the question ‘Can we be the midwives of our own future? and is a call to the education sector’. It will be run along the lines of an Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  Appreciative Enquiry encourages us to consider change and uncertainty positively. First, we affirm the features of the old we need to preserve, as well as embrace the new that is emerging, in order to shape it in the image of our aspirations. This is the starting point for our idea to host an Appreciative Inquiry to support the emergence of positive and productive change in the education sector at this time of risk and uncertainty.

The symposium will be a space for up to 30 participants selected to ensure the presence of diverse voices. We actively seek a diverse range of voices and will structure the event to be inclusive and equitable, and are keen to receive applications from school leaders, teachers, education psychologists, governors, support staff, academics, advisors, consultants: anyone who has a stake in the future of the system.

This event will be facilitated via Zoom, some of the time will be spent in virtual breakout rooms to facilitate deep discussion.

To apply for a place please submit your response (maximum 250 words) to the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) question; What are the opportunities and imperatives for change in the education sector created by the current state of uncertainty caused by the #Covid19 Pandemic?

Complete your submission here.

Key dates:

Deadline for submission, May 18th.

Places will be confirmed, to those selected to attend, by Tuesday 26th May.

Symposium, 23rd June 9.30-12.30pm.

More from the blog

By Professor Rachel Lofthouse
22 Jun 2022
All blogs