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04 September 2012

Mike Simmonds, education consultant

Mike Simmonds, education consultant

Mike Simmonds is an education consultant, networking and engaging with Christians in education and is the founder and developer of Transforming Governing. He originally trained and worked as a legal executive. A husband, father and, although he is far too young(!), a granddad with four grandchildren.

After a recent ‘conversion’ to Apple products his iPad and iPhone are never far from his side and the MacBook Pro centre stage of his desk, when not providing graphics for a seminar or talk of some kind.  

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
Anything that had nothing to do with school! I actually had a deep awareness that I would be a preacher and was about 16 when I first preached in my local church. So began a life mixed with a variety of activities, the core of which has always been preaching and teaching the Bible.   

How did you end up in education?
Alongside church and schools work I became a school governor at my children’s school where I also led assemblies and took RE lessons. The learning curve developed my understanding of education and led to a key role in training Christians who are governors, supporting teachers and influencing education policy particularly through the work of CARE (for Education).

Why did you form Transforming Governing?
I’d moved to Essex, changed roles, and then in the course of time found myself searching to discover what God wanted of me in the next era of my life. I was challenged to pick up the work with school governors who were Christians that I had laid aside five years before. I had recently become a governor again and looked like becoming Chair for the third time!

The need was greater than ever and the opportunities for influence even greater than they had been. I remembered how difficult it had been in my early years as a governor so with some start-up funding was able to write and have built the website.  Added to that I soon began to get invitations to speak at governor events. Somewhat unexpectedly this development has led me into networking and engaging with Christians in education again. I am anticipating some work with teachers and the possibility of further training for Church school governors.

What would you say to people interested in becoming a school governor?
Do it! Yes, the learning curve is huge and the time commitment can be scary but this is a strategic way of engaging with people and the future of our children. I have found that governing stretches you and helps develop skills you never knew you had, or could learn. If someone had told me I would write an academic paper I would have laughed. My life’s journey never took me back into the classroom to learn myself but education and giving myself to serving God has developed me way beyond anything that could have been predicted.

The relationships you build with people in the community are a valuable part of the experience. So too is the way that, gradually over the course of time, you influence the decisions that impact children and their families. School governing can be undervalued in the Church when, as a key role in the community, it is in my view something Christians need to be involved in.

What text or story inspires you in your work?
The story of three men meeting 200 years ago and deciding there should be a school in every parish. Today nearly a million children are in Church of England and Wales schools. That’s vision!

Best of times or worst of times to be in teaching?
Exasperation with politicians is normal! I’m wary of the rhetoric that suggests this might be a bad time. You have to sift the policies and get on with the real task of teaching children.

My suggestion is to look into the eyes of the children, mark the moments of educational revelation and give thanks to God for the opportunity to invest in their future. Someone suggested recently that you focus on what the children might become, not so much their profession/employment, as people.

What is your vision for education?
An opportunity to change the conversation because ‘doing God in the classroom’ is seen to be credible and more acceptable, as the publication Doing God in education by Trevor Cooling shows. Then we, who are Christians, can bring our wisdom and understanding openly and strategically to the governing body meeting, school leadership and teaching and learning.

What has been the educational highlight this year so far?
A decision to buy every teacher in my school an iPad and a class set to be shared around the school. I firmly believe that education needs to seriously embrace technology. The children are ahead of us.  My 18-month-old grandson can swipe and says “book, book”, when I go to put my iPad away!

And, however controversial, leading our decision as a school to convert to Academy status. It was the right one and been good for everyone.

What’s your most/least green credential?
I can be quite a ‘grumpy’ old man about recycling! The number of bins, separating the rubbish and alternate week collections can have me sounding off. However recently our Academy hosted a day of activities for children from 13 schools on recycling and my guess is the next generation will think nothing of it!

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
God can, God does. Even if people think differently. Education comes in many forms and like the early Apostles being ‘unschooled’ is not (or should not be) a barrier in a world where having the right pieces of paper has become the criteria. As counter-culture Christians we need to be on the lookout for the people God can use despite what they may appear to lack.

Tell us a joke
My eight-year-old granddaughter telling me about her school’s plans to celebrate the Jubilee said “We’re learning a new song about the Queen”. When I asked her to sing she began the familar national anthem