A blueprint for moving on

Easter is a time for reflection and perhaps this year more than ever. It has been an incredibly strange few weeks, but I think we all know that. The most significant impact, however, is clearly with those at the front line. There are those who have lost dearly loved ones, but also there are the NHS and medical staff and I am proud to have six members of my family as modern heroes.

Whilst we do what we can to support the NHS and give recognition to what they do, we get little insight into the difficulties and the horrors that they are facing. The images of the blistered and scarred faces of medical staff after removing their PPE is an image that is strongly in my mind but fortunately I have been no closer to the physical challenges that these staff face. I have been also fortunate in only having the milder symptoms of the coronavirus, with a heavy chest, cough and fatigue and count my blessings that this is all I have had to face.

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A strong school response to this crisis has been our focus and I have been very proud of our school staff and students. In curriculum provision, action for students on free school meals and co-ordinating support we were able to stay ahead of the developing situation and as a result have managed to bring what calm we can to the storm.

But as leaders we also look to the future and the following are proposals that I hope will assist our school to get back to great learning experiences again.

School re-opening

The press have been full of stories on when schools should re-open – reports either from the misrepresented or the thoughtless. My own thoughts are that it is vital that students are brought back into the educational environment in a supported way and as we move more towards the idea that the current academic year may be over, we need to plan a way forward. We should propose that students return to their current academic year groups and teachers when we return in September (or whenever) and the new academic year would then start in January 2021. The academic year would then return to normal for 2021-22.

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The advantage of this is that all students in school would have the opportunity to redevelop and practice social interaction skills which have been battered over the last few months. As importantly, children would be with teachers who would be fully aware of the gaps that had developed in learning and how far students have been affected by this hiatus in school learning. GCSE and A level students would certainly have the consistency, but more crucially our year six students could be carefully assessed and supported at primary school before they move on to the secondary environment. On the down side, the academic year next year would be shorter, but learning is not about the amount of time we have, it is about the effectiveness of the provision. In addition, there would clearly be an issue for children who would be delayed in their access to reception as a result of lack of space in the primaries, but their start would be in the January. Investment in structures to support parents could be in place and planned now.

Accountability and structures

With the abandonment of KS2, GCSE and A level examinations and KS2 teacher assessment, the world of P8 has been thrown out of the window for a number of years. The existence of performance tables has arguably been one of the most insidious influences on the curriculum and behaviour by schools. With these being sidelined, it offers schools the opportunity to invest time in ensuring that the student mental health is our focus and that creative and challenging curricula can continue to be developed, with opportunities for schools to seize new curriculum options, especially for the arts and design.

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Schools will need to be strong and those who have jumped on the knowledge organisers bandwagon may have staff who are nervous about the need to be creative over the next few years. They need to decide again which knowledge is the most important for the next academic year. Schools have been working successfully on curriculum development and the coronavirus crisis might in some ways have given schools more reason to look at their choices further.

On the flip side, I see no reason why OFSTED can not continue to have a role in the evaluation of the work of schools. If curriculum is the heart of what we do, then the new focus on that by OFSTED does not necessarily sit uneasily with that. I appreciate that there are some, including @HeadsRoundtable, that may disagree, but then this is a draft blue print. We should always be prepared to have our work evaluated and I have never been against a central way of achieving this.

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On the other hand, the way that we have seen schools working together in local teams and with local authorities shows the importance of local provision managed locally. Whilst local authorities have been vocal and supportive, not all involved in regional and national provision have been. This need to be evaluated with a focus on the value for money we deem so important in schools. Time here also for a re-think. When we recognise that there IS such a thing as society, that there IS such a thing as a local conmmnuity, then locally controlled solutions have to be seen as the most appropriate way forward.

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Finally, we need to ensure that schools are able to bring back humour and normality as soon as they possibly can. This means investing in the mental health of our staff as they will become the new front line in a post coronavirus world. Valuing the contribution of our health workers has clearly been a significant change in the last few weeks. I believe that as time moves on, perhaps also the importance of the work of schools and staff will also be recognised and valued in the same way. We will do that with determination and I hope, a good deal of humour.

“learning is not about the amount of time we have, it is about the effectiveness of the provision”

The once a year blog – and hopes to improve…

I have been away from the blog for a year again. I am still quite amazed by the teachers who are able to blog frequently and imaginatively. The last year for me has been very busy, with a new headship and a number of things to get in place.
There are a number of things that have got me blogging again – one, the great blog by @thinkfollower here who has nailed precisely the issue that I have experienced over five years of headship and over nineteen years in senior leadership. Next the thoughtful recommendations in this blog by Secretheadteacher and finally the energy of Clive Hill whom I am hoping to meet in the new year at #BrewEd

The majority of my career has been in environments that have needed some fixing on arrival. These can create a worrying climate for all and it is vital that the first thing that happens is to build trust with staff. This has been quite a challenge when there have needed to be staffing reductions at the same time, but I have felt fortunate in being able to negotiate this territory successfully. At the same time it is vital to ensure that staff know that they are supported – I have been in the situation of inheriting a school where there has been little trust between slt and classroom teachers and this created the most difficult of climates.

A clear approach to behaviour has been always important to me. From the really challenging days of working in three inner city schools in the east midlands I know that a calm and safe environment is essential before you try anything else. I have been so pleased that students at my current school have seen the impact of what we have achieved over the last year – I wrote to parents in November and shared with them the following:

Year elevens feel that the new year sevens are settling in well. They are getting the support they need and the new stricter rules seem to have helped them with this. The basic expectations are being met, because the rules are stricter.

Year elevens have welcomed the new rules, including the “no phone” rules and the new uniform guidelines.

Students feel positive regarding support offered and are happy to approach teachers for help and advice.

Behaviour across the school is improved and behaviour in lessons is much better. Some pupils who were disaffected have re-engaged with school.

Year nines feel there is a massive improvement in behaviour. They feel more respected by teachers and that support is being provided more when asked for. Students felt that homework is appropriate and reasonable in amount given. They also that the new policy of giving whole class feedback is much more beneficial.

Year sevens are enjoying learning new ‘stuff’. They enjoy the fact that teachers are recapping knowledge from primary KS2. They also enjoy having an assembly just for year seven- the focus is on them. The library is very popular – at lunch and before/after school, the ability to book rooms in music and there are lots of clubs,
Finally the year sevens recognise the importance of lining up ‘outside’ for lessons as it reduces congestion on corridors.

At the same time, I continue to look at how our curriculum does what it needs to do. I moved to the school as it shared the same philosophy in terms of curriculum that I have followed throughout my career, to ensure that a solid and broad foundation is in place before attention moves to an assessment regime. I have watched with interest the schools who moved to a three year key stage four try to unpick these decisions. Unfortunately decisions like these do not sit well with buiding a really effective curriculum of learning and so the superficial unpicking must be masking a great deal of internal contradictions!

I attended both #ResearchEd and #CurriculumEd conferences, the latter being one where I was involved in a bit of a stir after I tweeted the content of one of the speeches. Having also attended a Hattie conference in November and planning to attend a number of #BrewEd next year, I plan to ensure that the commitment to developing our practice at school is clearly signalled from my actions.

Next week will be a time of ensuring that our community feels safe and secure returing to our shared educational home. My own Christmas has been overshadowed by two funerals – one of a family member and the other of a young person with so much energy. All of us have challenges to face and schools need to be places where we look after each other, through a safe environment and one which offers clarity and support.

Change in 2019

For education to recognise the importance of accountability to its locality and the communities it supports. The laissez-faire attitude and appalling lack of overall systems that have happened over the last ten years has led to our most vulnerable being off rolled, our communities losing a voice in their institutions and local authorities powerless to insist that collective responsibility is in place for local children.

Funding can be siphoned from local communities through large MATs to subsidise schools outside areas where the funding is intended to be directed. Local and central government need to ensure that this is halted.