Ends and starts

Tomorrow is the start of my final term as a “principal” before I start as a “headteacher” in September. Priority no doubt will have to be a potential change of name. Having been a straight forward @schoolvp and then @al_ackof, I’ll perhaps have to look for something new.

I am returning to the mainstream world of key stages three, four and five and the associated stresses that come with them. Having managed the curriculum for a large key stage four and five provider and introducing a key stage three curriculum as a vice principal, I have spent the last three years developing a key stage three curriculum in my school that really prepares students for the next stage of their education. I do not believe in “3 year GCSEs,” nor the nonsensity of using GCSE grades in key stage three to attempt to demonstrate progress. Instead, we have developed a curriculum that prioritises the importance of having a wide body of knowledge and skills that means that students can leave us confident and as I say to our students in assembly, “ready to fly.”

There are elements of my work that I will sorely miss. As the final “community” school in the authority, we have kept a commitment to the idea that education is not limited to the school years. We have a nursery that has become more and more successful, with numbers attending increasing, and our leisure centre is open from 6 until 10. We welcome community classes into the college throughout the day and it is a shame that so many other schools have lost these aspects of provision that are so important in having the school as the centre of the community.

I was pleased with the outcome of the OFSTED report that arrived in January. Having spent the Christmas break waiting and waiting for it and then getting a helpful answer via @HarfordSean I felt it was an honest and accurate reflection of the work we have put in over the last three years.

We have no data to compare to national outcomes and so we have built a process where the focus has been upon the work that students create, the dialogue that teachers have with each other and the moderation we have with other schools. I have wondered about how often OFSTED inspectors have made their judgement about a school before they arrive, basing it upon the data. For us, as one of the few remaining key stage three schools, the inspection team had nothing and I went further to say that our tracking system was only good in asking questions, not providing answers. It worked. It is so important that schools have the confidence to assert the strength of their beliefs and do not fall into a desperate urge to try to convince through dodgy data.

We have found ourselves in a good position to make the next move and it will be an adventure for everyone involved in the school. We have built and developed the governing body and welcomed new governors on board  – I found one of my conversations about OFSTED and MOTs being retweeted and liked across the edutweeting world so clearly there are fellow travellers out there!

I have been able to listen to the words of Tom Sherrington, Michael Rosen, left the Chartered College, had minor spats with oldandrewuk, asked questions of our regional schools commissioner and am still awaiting answers from our national schools commissioner! Twitter has continued to be source of inspiration and frustration, but still useful.

Looking forward to tomorrow and the final pages of this chapter.

 

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And for 2017?

2016 was a year with many more challenges. Funding continues to be the central concern for my school and many others as I tweeted back in mid December.

In addition the structural changes that took place in the authority have caused further difficulties for families looking for honest and clear explanations of secondary school opportunities. We have a number of schools suggesting they each have the best results, whatever Progress 8 or other measures might have said.

We continue to look with our partners to ensure there is some stability in our part of the authority. All deemed good by OFSTED, it has given us the opportunity to look at what we can do to ensure that families get the best.

2027 will be a significant year in seeing how our hopes can be achieved.

Heads held high? – hopes for 2016

Over a year in post now and nearly every day has been an adventure. I waited for quite some time before becoming a head, with five years as a deputy in an inner city school and ten as a vice principal in a large secondary.

The last year has given me the chance to take risks and I have not had to feel like I have to succumb to the fear of OFSTED. Two inspections with strong outcomes in just over a year for different aspects of our provision mean that we can continue to get on with it.

Developing excellent practice must mean enabling all within the school. I am still seeing a small number of heads who insist on purple pen, who insist on leading through a culture of fear and most depressingly, heads who take satisfaction in accepting inflated rates of pay after academisation and yet create only a bubble of self importance.

As heads we need to ensure that teachers have the freedom to develop learning that is thorough and inspirational. This just can not be done within cultures of “consistency” or “accountability” as most of the time this means a grey and safe and dull diet for all.

The last year has been spent developing a curriculum and learning that leads students to be successful learners. This is through a combination of clear skills and knowledge. The sterility of prose descriptors can only be tackled through exemplification and we have been busy developing portfolios of work that shows what students should be expected to produce when starting new projects or tasks. For this, Daisy Christodoulou has been a helpful voice, though I don’t buy into a complete facts, facts, facts curriculum.

I do not get the assessment models in some schools that have stood still and pretended that the curriculum has remained the same. Nor where they start year seven students on GCSE assessment grades. It is reductive and based solely upon the fear of “demonstrating” to others where students are. Weaker teachers may welcome it as it provides a ladder of assessment, but we have had our fill of learning ladders.

I hope that in my school we allow students to learn in depth, to explore ideas and to become thoroughly confident with knowledge and concepts. They don’t need practice in GCSE grades.

We make mistakes all the time, but that is what I want. Teachers and students who are willing to test out ideas, get them wrong and then revisit and get it right.

There is so much to be excited about and so much to lead upon that I have become more impatient with heads who take the route of least resistance to OFSTED, by focusing upon “accountability” rather than real learning.

I hope that heads look to the lead of many who blog, who tweet and who share their approaches for learning. I have learnt so much from them. I hope that the proportion of heads who have looked for quick personal wins hang their heads, but then more importantly, change their ways and do something really good for students and teachers.

Academisation

Nicky Morgan’s tactic of ensuring that all schools become potential for profit enterprises continues with the transparent “coasting schools” rhetoric. In my part of the world academisation has taken a firm foothold and yet there is not a great deal of evidence that the process has ensured an improved provision for students.

Ediucation has been made more complicated by a desperate rush by some principals to make their name as converters and agents of structural change. In the end the focus on students’ education and the best approaches to teaching and learning have played an unfortunate second fiddle to personal aggrandisement.

Working with parents

It was a good opportunity to meet with parents at parents’ evenings this week. The interface between school and home is such an important area for developing relationships and I have been putting a lot of effort into this aspect over the last few months. We are redeveloping our website, have already launched a new portal for parents, redesigned the reporting system and I present a weekly update to parents on the news at the school and upcoming events.

Responses from parents have been positive so far, but there still remains a number of the hard to reach. One of the most effective strategies has been the unremitting commitment of our staff of our intervention team to contact parents in the build up to parents’ evenings so that at the last parents’ evening we had nearly a full house. Great news.

In November I held a forum with parents to hear their views and to be able to include them in the consultation on the the school action plan. I was pleased also to meet with individual parents but finding ways to continue the dialogue now that I am no longer new remains important.

Two way dialogue via our website and portal is the next challenge, as well as investing more energy on the parents who need encouraging to be actively involved in the partnership – this includes the wary, the nervous and also the challenging!

Peer Review

I spent some time this week in the process of peer review that we undertake as part of the partnership work between our local group of schools. It was an intensive couple of days visiting lessons, sampling books, discussing with senior and middle leaders and discussing as a review team what we had seen and the guidance we might offer to the reviewed school.

It was vital to have this whole process agreed upon and I have found it incredibly valuable. I did have my doubts (as was seen in “Responsibility and Mocksteds”) but whilst I still have questions about how we can make these reviews as useful as possible, I believe this week has been supportive, positive and with the best wishes for the reviewed school in our hearts.

The focus of the review was agreed by my colleague headteacher at the reviewed school and then planned by one of my other colleagues. I have more recently become part of the partnership and was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of this review. It was undoubtedly the case that the staff were nervous and it is also true to say that the team was honest and to the point. I am interested in how we can continue to refine the model so that we can be absolutely clear that all schools, staff and children can feel clear that the process is wholly positive, even when there are difficult observations to make based upon what we find.

It is this model that has real co-operation at its centre. There is a minefield of unpleasant competitiveness going on between schools across the country and in our authority and this initiative is one that will help us ensure that we see partnership as an integral part of what we do.

Radicalisation

I caught up with Tom Sherrington’s post Preventing-radicalisation-lets-not-clutch-at-straws in the same week that I had held an assembly with the school to reflect upon the issue. We thought about the students and staff at Bethnal Green who were coping with the spotlight being upon them, but I then tried my best to find a way through the complexity of the situation and have a just and considered response to the situation.

The assembly focused upon what is my favourite theme and the one to which nearly all my assemblies return – the importance of recognising our place in the world and our duty to our world.

twitterSchools always find themselves reflecting on the moral decisions made by students – I have raised this issue before in More than Grades and yet there remain some who believe that schools do not have that place. It was the subject of an entertaining discussion on twitter in January.

My views are affected by my experiences in the 1980s of having developed a celebration to the surviving members and their fallen comrades from the International Brigades who left their homes in the 1930s and travelled to Spain to fight fascism. It was an honour to devise a piece of drama, involving songs and poetry, to commemorate their sacrifice. I met veterans such as Syd Booth as well as the champions of the working class movement library – Eddie and Ruth Frow. It has been their commitment and belief in the need to fight this evil that continues to inspire me today and yet it was also a situation where British people left home to travel to what seemed the other side of the world to take part in a conflict that many here saw as none of their business."Flag of the International Brigades". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_International_Brigades.svg#mediaviewer/File:Flag_of_the_International_Brigades.svg

Complications then.

My assembly did not then focus upon the view of the present conflict as “alien” or separate from our own lives, nor did it attack the willingness of people to travel independently to the other side of the world  in order to intervene, but instead upon the importance of ensuring that our decisions are based upon a clarity of moral vision (my own contribution to what others may call “British values” but what I call common decency without the royal jubilee mugs). To recognise our place in the world which creates good and empowers us, rather than fall into a trap of seeking self-justification through conformity to a message of evil is the rightful role of education. People whose minds have been locked into destructive thought processes are not limited to the type of situation that has engulfed those girls. Pressures like that create current gang members, criminals and fascists, whatever their creed or colour.

It still leaves the delicate situation of how exactly the current government would have dealt with the veterans of the International Brigades, and whether they would have been criminalised by a less than sophisticated response to the current rise of fundamentalism.