As we wait for Andy Murray’s semi-final match on Centre Court, Sue Williamson
reflects on the Billie Jean King era and her commitment to her profession …


How will Wimbledon 2013 be remembered, when it’s all over? Will it be for Andy Murray’s continued failure to provide the first British victory in the Men’s Singles for 77 years? I certainly hope not. Whatever the outcome of today’s semi-final and Sunday’s final, whenever Wimbledon comes round, I remember Billie Jean King.

I was lucky enough to see Billie Jean play on Centre Court. Her achievements on court were incredible, but it is her work off court that will probably provide a more important lasting legacy.

Forty years ago, Billie Jean King called a meeting of 64 women’s tennis players to discuss the future of the women’s game. You may remember that at this time, the women’s game was seen as a lot less interesting than the men’s game; the prize money was much lower and there were fewer tournaments for women. Billie Jean held the meeting in a hotel on the Gloucester Road, and refused to allow anyone to leave until they had all agreed the way forward. She was adamant that they had to speak with one voice. It was the responsibility of them all to develop women’s tennis. This includes mentoring and supporting young tennis players and passing on to them the importance of continuing to develop the game. Billie Jean still regularly meets young women to inspire them to play tennis. She will be remembered for her commitment to professionalising her profession.

As SSAT does more work on the Redesigning Schooling agenda, it becomes ever clearer to me that education has to speak with one voice. This is our only chance to take education out of the political cycle. That voice has to include all stakeholders: school leaders, teachers, students, parents, employers, higher and further education.

We need to be clear on what we want young people to achieve at each stage of their education so that they are well prepared as they enter the world of work. We need to enter into meaningful discussion, so schools can then determine their curriculum, and how they will deliver it.

Finally we should look at the assessment model – for too long assessment has been the controlling factor. Qualifications are important, not as pieces of paper or validations of particular policies, but for the doors they open to future success.

I have always believed that the profession should take responsibility for developing the next generation of teachers and school leaders. We should be inspiring them to improve their practice and master the art of teaching. We should be giving them the confidence to become a headteacher. Each year, we lose the wisdom of outstanding school leaders and teachers– they retire or move on to other things. Surely we can find a way to retain that wisdom and experience to mentor the next generation?

I believe that we are at a key moment for the teaching profession. We have to have the confidence and courage to listen to the criticism of the current system by stakeholders; agree what we need to do to change the system so it meets the needs of all students; and then implement in a collaborative way: building a new kind of professionalism.

A series of Redesigning Schooling pamphlets, which will be sent to all SSAT member schools in the autumn term, will ask the big questions that all schools need to be thinking about now. At the SSAT National Conference, 5-6 December 2013, we will give examples of how different schools are answering these questions. Professors Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves and other leading thinkers will help us steer ourselves towards a united voice and the new professionalism.

Not unlike tennis players approaching a major tournament, most of us in the teaching profession have our heads down, tackling our own immediate concerns and challenges. We are not that good at speaking with one voice or acting strategically to create the long-term future of our profession. Yet Billie Jean got her fellow players doing it forty years ago and changed the face of women’s tennis. Let’s take a leaf out of her book. Can we all stay engaged in the discussion until we agree a united way forward?


BBC Profile of Billie Jean King in 2004
Billie Jean King biography

Twitter follows:
Billie Jean King – @BillieJKing
Andy Murray – @andy_murray and #andymurray #murray
BBC Sport – @BBCSport
Wimbledon Tournament – @Wimbledon


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