Dad

My Dad died recently.  Unlike many of my blogs, I do not have a (what I think to be) humorous punchline to open this blog with.  Brain and lung cancer brought to an end a traumatic and harrowing eight weeks during which time I watched the man I love die by centimetres.  Even now as I write this, I have a weird and unsettled feeling. Parentless at the age of 51, I feel anchorless, alone and somewhat an orphan.

At the Quaker funeral, I read out some of the letters Dad had sent to me; Yorkshire instructions to the core, part Geoffrey Boycott (cricket commentator), part Michael Parkinson (chat show host).  These forthright and fortnightly instructions were often sent with newspaper clippings from writers he deemed to be worthy of reading: Tony Benn, Will Self, Owen Jones and Caroline Lucas, with numerous citing from the Amnesty International magazine.  At times, this further production of yet more articles to read used to irk me, as it often seemed so obvious. “I know, but there is absolutely no funding in education, Dad”, was my last real conversation with him as he sent me yet another article, with highlighted quotations from Sir David Carter, whose idiotic suggestions on ways schools could/should save money were the source of yet more seething rage.  Carter’s view could be paraphrased into the following suggestion: schools becoming MATs (Multiple Academy Trusts), making redundancies and turning themselves into small businesses, was the politest summary of this ‘one size fits all’ education drivel.  However, I do know I will miss the genuine interest, the sounding board and different generational perspective.  I have to, somewhat grudgingly, admit that Dad’s habit of distributing interesting articles is yet another area where I could be accused of turning into my Dad.  I regularly send articles torn out of educational magazines to my beleaguered staff, who politely put them in their burgeoning reading pile.  Another area I follow Dad in is the practice of letter writing.  I was flabbergasted to learn from the Scarborough Amnesty International branch secretary that Dad’s ten letters a week, he estimated, had produced approximately ten thousand letters, providing much needed comfort to forgotten souls and forgotten causes.  This puts to shame my monthly rant at the latest idiotic MP, such as the speaker of the House of Commons.

My weekly letter writing to Scarborough was replaced by the monthly headteacher blog.  This became cathartic for me in trying to order the ever-changing educational priorities, as well as politicians’ whimsically repressive and unreasonable demands.  This blog was written by me for my Dad, replacing my illegible scrawl with a computer screen and a font size of 16, which he could look at and comment on.  Incredibly, I recently found a folder containing copies of all my blogs, in date order, which were kept by Dad.  Some had been marked by him with ‘incorrect commas’ to the fore in an unforgiving red pen, no trendy green pen for my Dad, or any chance for this student to reply to his comments that were clearly written in the margin as future prompts for the next phone call and the next challenge to prick my pomposity.

In school, as I try to make sense of this loss, I am drawn to some of the 16 youngsters who have recently lost parents, and somewhat superficially, seem to find the rhythm of school a major comfort.  As I nervously await adhoc English GCSE papers, I stand by Charlie (name changed), whose Father died two and a half years ago.  He will be allowed no exam considerations, as the death did not fall within the exam window.  He is expected to now cope!  His nervous knee-jigging and reassuring smile fills me with pride but anger at the unrealistic expectations that we place on all our youngsters.

I will continue to write my blogs for myself and my Dad.  I will continue to try to lead my school with my unshakeable beliefs, as he led his life.  He was a pacifist, humanist, internationalist, whose green socialism carried him through his life.  A man of integrity, a man of principle, something to aspire to.

Maintaining the Status Quo

My friend Caroline has 10% days whereby she only says 10% of what she is thinking.  Being a headteacher of a beleaguered state school, 10% is a generous proportion of the seething rage that currently occupies my mind on all things educational!  Rightly, much has been written about the madcap whim of the grammar school folly, a cynical distraction from bumbling Boris, the bedroom tax, fraudulent bankers and the lack of a coherent plan for Brexit and now into the heady mix is a ‘snap election,’ giving opportunities for politicians but frightening for those in the state education sector!

The grammar school debate, such as it is, should really be a non-starter.  There is no expert educational evidence that grammar schools are required or that they are part of a coherent educational plan; they weren’t even part of the last Conservative manifesto.  State schools have to wait and make do.  They are underfunded, have classrooms not fit for purpose and are led by a dictated government curriculum.  I believe this debate is a deliberate distraction to ensure that we in state education, and society in general, misplace our justifiable anger at a lack of opportunity on scapegoated individuals.  For example, disengaged students are often described as unruly and unmanageable, despite being expected to partake in an academic curriculum that serves only the few.  Schools have become too easy a target.  They are Ofsted fearful and judged on a daily basis by a sensationalist, instantaneous media that is happy to engage in frivolous debate with recent examples being the scandal of term-time holidays, fashionable haircuts and the so-called provocative length of students’ skirts. The media will not pursue the more complex issues of a 21st century school; a curriculum and school that work for long term inclusivity that is much needed in multicultural Britain. These are difficult topics that require time, debate and perspective, which cannot be provided by easy, glib answers.  Hopefully, this will be debated properly in the next seven weeks.  However, with a media that prefers ‘Farage’ like, simplistic sound bites, I doubt education will get past Brenda from Bristol’s view that this election is barking!  Nevertheless, state schools need to be given answers and transparency is now required.  Does the government really want us to become technical colleges?  Does it expect us to provide a vocational curriculum stereotypically viewed as suiting the state education child?

Education has joined the easy to knock and vulnerable in society.  So called commentators have opinions on ‘benefits Britain’, migrant workers and the scandalous schooling that many children are allegedly receiving.  ‘May’s School Revolution’ and ‘The Dawn of the Grammar Schools’ are two recent headlines that keep schools at the centre of the debate without really allowing any meaningful discussion that includes workload, empathy and tolerance.  These are all topics that the 21st century school is expected to, and does, deliver upon.  This is always going to be the case when we have a class system that maintains the status quo. The white, male majority of journalists are from the elite schools, as are the politicians and business leaders. It therefore benefits, and makes sense, for the Conservative government to further expand the grammar school system.  Expansion of the academic elite will further embed this unequal system; the ruling elite will come from the so-called ‘better’ schools whilst politicians will continue to perpetuate skewed narratives of meritocracy, claiming that the comfortable traditions of the past are the education of today. This debate is about the maintenance of the traditional status quo, the top 10% and the ruling elite.  Seemingly, the place for state school headteachers is to keep our thoughts to a mere 10% with sadly only 10% of young people viewing this election as representative of and relevant to them.

We are Top of the League

I want the ‘astute’ football pundit Paul Merson to be placed in charge of educational assessment.  His latest observation that West Brom, who are eighth, would be top if you took away the top seven teams, is genius.  If I lost my ten year 11 students from the school figures who are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and debilitating illness, my school would be top of the omnipresent league tables.  They are at present lost to the educational system and school is not their priority.  Nor should it be!

Assessment, or more crucially how we as a comprehensive school are assessed, is currently one of my worries, along with dwindling finance, staffing, a raft of portacabins and 1,500 students all with complex needs and few available support services.  Finance apart, just give me money, leave me alone and I can provide world class education, would be my daily plea.  The assessment of the students and the results they get is my biggest worry.  Assessment in the form of Progress 8 is an unfair, unequal judgement with huge ramifications for the inclusive school we should all desire.  My ten year 11 students who are doing fabulously well to cope with safe houses, an array of child protection core meetings and life threatening illnesses are likely to do two/three GCSEs and will be significantly minus in the progress league tables.  It will take 100 students being above target in their eight GCSEs to nullify the impact of these ten.  How is this fair or a correct way of measuring a school’s progress?  It puts the school under huge pressure to ‘sort them out’, not a long term life solution, but a paper qualification.

Therefore, my ten most vulnerable students are likely to significantly distort the average of the year group.  Sadly for me, and the school, seven of these students come from our high achieving primary school with SAT scores of 5A or 4A.  This school is one where SATs preparation starts early and I would claim that even without their awful family situations, the onset of the teenage years and horrific illness, their 4A is an inflated score.

Why does having ten students in chaos matter?  As a school we are tracking, supporting and providing a pathway for them.  Milly (name changed) will not leave the house due to the beatings her mum receives when she is at school.  Her attendance is 30%.  A safe house awaits if and when her mum makes the brave decision.  Chloe (name changed) is under medical tuition for severe anorexia.  Her last day in school was when she was in year 8.  She will count against her host school, us!  Tara (name changed) and her family live in a safe house.  The sexual abuse case that will come to court against five 20-somethings is due to start on the day of her first GCSE exam.  All the ten students are girls and all are coping with the impact of twenty first century life.  For them, equality is a theory, not a reality.  Students like these are in all our schools and need our support, not ‘mithering’ about their GCSEs.  Education for them will be something they hopefully return to.

However, this is a significant group.  Schools such as mine with significant free school meal students and a high proportion of special needs students will not recover from a group making below progress.  The fact that they are pupil premium and girls is likely to see Ofsted judgements that will have to be argued with, for example:

“White British girls are not making expected progress and in some cases are significantly below expected progress in terms of attainment and attendance.”

This could be a blindingly obvious statement akin to their other lazy judgement, “school marking is inconsistent”.  This could be a damning judgement and the ensuing arguments will be seen as excuses and a leadership team not managing.  Like the Sword of Damocles, Ofsted does matter.  A good judgement equals kudos, more students equals more finance, seven full year groups, better students and thereby excellent Progress 8 data scores, and so the never ending circle continues.

On the day following the January Census, we received twenty admission applications.  The majority were level 3 boys and I would predict they were being moved on by desperate headteachers seeking to ensure their data keeps them top of the league!  Perhaps my daily plea should change in Theresa’s new, fair world of meritocracy to ‘just give me a grammar school and free bus to fill this utopian school with free school meals students’.  However, that is another blog, another league in a land far, far away where league tables do not matter!

Improving Standards

Various news stories emerged during the half term week with:

  • Yorkshire Tea having to embarrassingly recall a batch of teapots that cracked when boiling God’s brew.
  • The RNA committee proposing that this year’s winners of the Royal Open Golf be paid in dollars not in pounds, due to the concern over the recent Brexit led fall in the pound.
  • President Trump’s latest dalliance with the truth being the incorrect denouncement of events in Sweden, based on his obsession with only Fox News, not factual news stories.

All of these depressing stories have a common epitaph, which has become the default position if any public figure is called to account.  They will predictably bluster the following phrase “improving standards”.  The common link with the above news stories was a variety of spokesmen stating that the recall of teapots, protection of multi millionaire golfers’ wallets and all things American, was underpinned by the need to protect the company and countries’ standards, whether it be tea, golfing prestige or American homeland security.  On journeys to rugby matches, my teacher friend and I play a game of ‘edutwaddle bingo’, whereby we read out or listen to recent educational news stories, analyse education secretaries’ statements and guess how many educational clichés they will reel out.  For example, ‘status of the teaching profession’, ‘educational investment’, ‘educational landscape’, ‘comparative targets’, ‘inspiration’, ‘motivation, ‘perspiration’  would bring seven points for seven clichés!  Then there is the gift that keeps giving, that reforming confessor, the ‘Dark Lord’ Gove, whose every utterance is edutwaddle and a cliché.  “I’m a decentraliser” and “I believe in trusting professionals” are two recent examples.  The amount of abuse depends on the stupidity of the comment and whether there is any credence to these ‘sound bites’ that ‘Trump like’ have replaced facts.  The England rugby team would be totally in the aggressive zone if they played this game, even if the rules changed mid-game.

Therefore, our cynically aware antennae were primed for the Department for Education’s response to the unsurprising, critical MP’s report into the crisis of teacher recruitment and retention.  The spokesman’s predictable comment cited Justine Greening’s ‘ambition to continue driving up standards through investment in professional development’.  Thereby ignoring the fact that teaching has major problems with standards falling to an all time low in:

  • How we measure our schools. Progress of the 8 best subjects in principle seems fair but already it is open to abuse with schools persuading weaker, vulnerable students to seek pastures new via exclusion or home education or playing the system by finding accredited subjects such as European Computer Driving Licence.  See excellent blog ‘Love Learning… A Broken System’.
  • How we examine our students. This year’s exams are tantamount to child cruelty with students expected to sit for an average of thirty two hours as opposed to last year’s 18!  An English paper of two and a quarter hours and geography afternoon papers with key papers in the morning are a test of endurance, not skill.
  • How we mark the key exams is in crisis; inconsistent, inaccurate and inaccessible and due to the expense of appealing likely to be flawed. GCSEs are being undertaken in twelve weeks time with 7,000 markers still needing to be recruited.  How can our young people trust this system?
  • How we pay our teachers who are falling further down the graduate rankings with secondary teachers ranked 9/12 and primary colleagues 11/12 for median gross earnings – Data Research.

These are the standards glibly talked about.  Shoddy investment in the infra structure, the mental well-being of the profession and their workload have not driven up standards and it is hypocritical to claim otherwise.  These are falling standards and as a school are we failing our young people?

Various educational secretaries cannot ‘Arsène Wenger like’ claim to not see ‘the looming crisis’ which cannot be masked by a whirly gig of educational reform.  These changes to GCSE grades, levels, subjects and Ofsted judgements cannot be hidden as improving standards.  This profession that is attempting to wear Emperor’s clothes yet is naked and vulnerable is sadly failing our fabulous staff and lovely young people.  The Ofsted judgements and exams taken are rushed, ill thought out and liable to be inaccurate.  This is not the way to recruit and retain professional people and is not a standardised approach to our educational system!

Choices: A Right or a Curse?

I find stating the obvious an attractive quality not usually associated with the British psyche.  The much missed Caroline Aherne, as her alter ego interviewer Mrs Merton, famously asked Debbie McGee, the much younger attractive wife of the magician Paul Daniels, “so what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” The skill and the humour was that of a waspish interviewer, being able to ask the question that everyone thought but did not have the courage to say. Sadly, a quality a good headteacher has to have!

Perhaps in this ‘post-truth’ era of 2017, teaching could lead the way in a year of professional and kind communication, where truth rather than supposition leads our thinking and how we make changes.

At a recent social event, I was cornered by a lovely yet protective Worcestershire woman who is the mum of a bright year 5 musical girl.  She asked the questions:

“Could you explain the different types of school available for my daughter?”, “What are her choices?” and “What is the ethos of each school?”

This innocent question should not be the impossible question, the lengthy and somewhat confusing way that I tried to summarise in the following answer; (after all, the premier education system British educators are guided to is Finland, which has one system, state run schools.  It is a model the Government support and the public understand.) My interpretation of the British model, as depicted in Worcester is, in no particular order:

  1. Private Education: in Worcestershire there are a number of prestigious and traditional fee paying schools where selection via income and aptitude prevails. I tried to hide my prejudices, after all my school loses a significant number of able Year 6 students to them annually. I need not have worried that the exorbitant fees and a desire for their daughter to mix with children from all walks of society, rather than a sanitised version, meant that private education was not an option for this family.
  2. Academy schools: as mine is, are known as standalone schools, or as was recently worryingly referred to by Regional Schools Commissioner ‘orphan’ schools. This may have been a Freudian slip but it aptly sums up the Oliver Twist analogy of single schools begging at the government trough of funding. Furthermore, it is an indication that the desire is for schools to not standalone but become part of a group of schools.  The ethos of each academy was often derived from a previous short term government scheme whereby schools received extra funding for becoming a specialist school in a key area. For my school, it had become a language college with the ethos still embedded in international status. Sadly, the school with performing arts at its core no longer offers extensive music provision.
  3. Multiple Academy Trusts (MATs): these are collaborative groups of schools. In Worcester, there is one school which is part of a significant MAT with schools in Solihull, Redditch with further schools to follow. They have the same name and similar ethos. The benefits of the larger organisation are economies of scale, recruitment and training opportunities. The Worcester school has a Saturday entrance exam. My views on some of the concerns regarding MATs are expressed in my blog ‘Multiple Academy Trust or Muddled and Troublesome’. I am not sure of the long term impact of these lifelong partnerships with central control being regained via expensive, unproven chief executives.
  4. Faith schools: Catholic and Church of England harmoniously co-exist in Worcester with a Christian ethos underpinning their values.
  5. A free school proposal: currently under review. State funded with the proposed specialism of Science, the school is aiming for 600 students, which will mean less funding for the beleaguered Worcester schools. It is unsurprisingly unwelcomed and as yet not widely consulted upon. Frustratingly, the number of free schools that close has risen to five (the latest in Oldham, open since 2014) with precious waste of public money and student and parental hopes.
  6. A small specialist studio school: for the vocationally minded student.
  7. A community school: they still exist, funded and supported by the Local Authority.

I had managed to avoid the grammar school proposals and was able to assure the mother that catchment areas do not matter, especially for bright girls. Yet, for the vulnerable ADHD boy this might sadly become a problem for some schools as some revert to very un-Christian admission policies.

These are the confusing choices available to a parent. Seven different types of school all within a 15 mile radius and all with differences in their particular system and all with a differing ethos. Dependent on your opinion this is fabulous parental choice or a broken un-coordinated system lacking government control. The problem with so many schools competing for bright musical girls is that nepotism and ethos dwindle as desperate Headteachers chase dwindling funds.

I was on a roll and started to widen the discussion to:

  • Public perception of teaching as a profession.
  • Assessment 9-1 for English and Maths GCSE 2017, A*-G for other subjects.
  • Syllabuses of current A-level and GCSE courses still not finalised by the exam boards.
  • Fairer funding being put back until 2020

Unsurprisingly, my gathering quickly left more confused than when I started. I know how to kill a party, muttering worryingly about the eighth option: home education.

I wonder how Mrs Merton would cut through the educational waffle and what question she would pose to the latest education secretary Justine Greening.  Perhaps, “Has the Prime Minister got an educational plan for you to implement 1970s education?”.

End of Year Gongs: A Headteacher’s Optimistic Prediction for 2017

Breaking up on the 16th of December, sorry for those who struggled on, was the best Christmas present, allowing time to reflect and not chaotically rush/collapse into the festive season. On the first Wednesday, I awoke to day time television! The programme was optimistically titled ‘Good Morning Britain’ and was presented by the obsequious Piers Morgan who was Dad dancing, producing a Irish accent and lecturing a young  Australian fraudster on morals!  Embarrassingly smug and, I believe, a commentary on the current  state of Britain with unintelligent, quick fix television, presented by a man with questionable morals who feels empowered to lecture Britain on behaviour.

Holidays allow you time to ponder on the year. 2016 was a despicable year for Britain, with each depressing event arriving almost surreptitiously, often unplanned, perceived to be thoughtless and leaving those in school leadership to deal with the fallout of staff shortages, stringent financial cuts, falling morale and overworked, fraught staff. For those of us fortunate to still be in post, it was a year of hard work and regular new challenges. This was the year where the disparity between the rich and the poor became even greater with the staggering indifference of those in power to the cuts alarming. As we approach 2017, you cannot say we have not been warned.  The New Year will arrive with a huge austerity health warning that will have to be safely, and where possible, compassionately negotiated. Bring it on I say.  Being a Headteacher still has a lot to commend it despite the pessimistic educational soothsayers; you are surrounded by caring, fabulous colleagues, with positive, energised young people making it difficult not to remain optimistic and essentially positive, whatever the external decision makers throw at the teaching profession. There are many reasons to be cheerful and as the head I believe this job is a privilege and we owe it to our schools to show positive humane leadership. These are therefore my end of year educational globes, awards to those who shape and influence my working life; there are three school awards which highlight some of the good I have seen. All awards are judged by a panel of one, me. All the worthy winners will be given a green marking pen, a frugal prize that will need to be used wisely, not excessively.

Twitter of the year I thoroughly recommend TimKnapp@WXHead.  His joyous enthusiasm for his relatively new job as a Hereford headteacher is infectious. His pride in his school and encouraging, appreciative tweets are lovely to follow. He would appear to be a principled, thoughtful leader.

 Blog of the year – This is a phrase that five years ago I would not have used. I, like many, started tentatively using blogs to glean ideas and much needed reassurance that I was not the only headteacher who thought the latest educational edict was unworkable. I find blog writing cathartic, fun and a way of advertising the ethos and at times jobs at the school; we struggle with TES costs to place a job advertisement. The three blogs I always read are the caring John Tomsett, the compassionate Jill Berry, her fabulous recent article published in The Guardian, ‘How to be Happy’, should be a must read for all teachers and parents and the one I wish I had written in 2016 is by the fearless David McQueen in his blog ‘Tall. Black. One Sugar’ with the article, ‘Stop screwing with our schools’, articulating the frustration of so many.

Newspaper column of the year This is limited to the two papers I buy, which become holiday reading, with Owen Jones of The Guardian being my favourite as he pricks the pomposity of the famous and outs the nasty with his tirade at the despicable Nigel Farage and his cronies, for their vile comments on Jo Cox’s widower, a timely necessary riposte.

Welcome surprise of the year I am tempted to nominate Gary Linekar, presenter of Match of the Day, who has continued to publish pithy, principled, sane humanitarian opinions despite some loud offensive trolling, this is to be applauded. However, my welcome surprise of the year goes to the previously entitled ‘pantomime villain’, the departing Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. I will miss his provocative, off script comments and forthright leadership that saw a number of old style inspectors leave the profession, the end of Ofsted lesson grading and the challenge to ‘sloppy’, lazy Ofsted inspection school reports, which often produced inconsistent marking as an easy to write, damning whole school action point, which resulted in a number of conscientious teachers marking themselves into oblivion to be ‘Ofsted ready’; a ridiculous perpetual paralysis that did no one any good.  His strident opinions were always news worthy and often cut through the educational waffle, for example, “problems reside in the secondary sector, where recruitment and retention is the most difficult.” At least he observed the truth rather than trying to hide a crisis that ministers are unwilling to acknowledge, and given his position, this was a welcome change to the anonymity the inspectorate choose to adopt.  Maybe 2017 will be the year where Nicky Morgan continues to surprisingly, belatedly, find her voice and rightly challenge, though I hope it remains the grammar school farce rather than the leather trouser debate.

Department of the year – Anyone who is surviving in SEN services can only be commended, and for all the staff who find the time to voluntarily  give our students invaluable enrichment opportunities, I thank you. The hidden curriculum, the heart and philosophy of a school, needs to be judged with as much merit as the academic results. To my PE department who have already put on 100+ fixtures, the Music and Drama departments who have survived and thrived at the December carol service, the production of ‘Elf’ and numerous performances and to all who have braved various D of E bronze/silver/gold expeditions and to those staff who have run 2 of our 4 residential experiences, I salute you. My department of the year however goes to the Learning Resource Centre, which despite the unhelpful daily announcements signalling the demise in reading, has been open daily and has dramatically increased the number of book loans and updated our 12,000 books that are on offer. This has been undertaken in a positive, welcoming environment that sees reading thrive in my school.

Favourite school moment of the year “Schools exist to educate our students” was the opening line of my headship application.  I would argue that this is more relevant in 2016 than when I originally proposed that as my stated ethos in 2003. Students provide a reassuring presence with their optimistic enthusiasm energising to behold. Brunel students raised the money for three defibrillators, nine local charities were supported and over £5,000 was raised.  The week of ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ is always fabulously supported. However,  my favourite moments have been the students’ and parents’ generous response to Worcester Foodbank, whose requirement has increased by 33% in the last three months and whose discreet work is making a significant impact on so many of our families.

Gift of the yearthere were so many thoughtful gifts, appreciative cards and a generous secret Santa. I am tempted to give this gong to the gift that keeps giving, the Dark Lord Michael Gove, whose lack of self-realisation is staggering. His recent reflection that he might have made mistakes was stating the obvious as the next decade will sadly illuminate. My gift of the year was the announcement by my chair of governors that he was cutting back other commitments to carry on this unpaid demanding role. To have a supportive chair, who will get the balance between challenge and criticism right is invaluable for a headteacher. It is easy to be ‘Chair’ when your school records record results but to not panic when the English results were at an all-time low three years ago. The exam marking fiasco coupled with staffing concerns requires special leadership. The resulting action plan and fabulous 93% A*-C results are reward for all involved in the school and the role the chair of governors can play should never be under estimated.

Hope of the year Hope springs eternal and when newly qualified teachers enter the profession it is a duty for leaders in schools to cherish and nurture them. It is my hope and belief that my three young staff who have entered this precarious, fabulous profession are in this job for the long haul. They have had only one day’s absence, taught numerous classes, undergone report writing, attended a parents’ evening, ice skated and crucially survived a staff social! This is a promising start which will hopefully see them become embedded in our school and not become one of the 40% who leave the profession within the first five years, another damning statistic that all who lead in schools should take note of.

Hopes for 2017Funding, funding, funding – FAIR FUNDING!

And the urgent need for pragmatic truthful politicians.

Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year ‘post-truth’ epitomises what a dismal year 2016 was. Let’s make 2017 the year when truth is seen as the key part of a discussion, not gossip or easy stereotypical prejudice and supposition. Perhaps belatedly, we can take Labour’s Neil Kinnock’s celebratory premature anthem, ‘Things can only get better’, as our song, a mantra for all in education and key professional development for Piers Morgan’s presenting skills 2017!

Christmas British Values!

Christmas time in schools is not like the idealistic, romanticised versions portrayed in the supermarket adverts or latest Disney film.  December is a dark, bleak month where the worst excesses of humanity, often alcohol fuelled, surface and the beleaguered Children’s Services receive numerous frantic calls to try to protect and shield children from the threat of men; often these are boys who were not ready to be fathers.  Despite falling budgets, schools cannot give-up and it feels very much as though we are holding back a fragile frontline, protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

Unsurprisingly, my school’s health profile 2016 made for depressing reading with students living in deprived households where there is significant excesses in binge drinking, smoking and under 25s admitted to hospital with mental health issues.  Yet, our persistent absence and exclusion statistics and those who have received three vaccinations is significantly positive in comparison to other Worcestershire schools.  In other words, my remarkable pastoral team control, support and parent our students and ensure that school is a safe place where generally they trust us and want to attend and we can even do the vaccinations – all of this needs to be done and used to be done by the parents!!  This is an extraordinary achievement, yet I fear I am pushing more onto these remarkable, often underpaid people.  Expectations are frequently unrealistic and the pressure to do something does cause sleepless nights.

Worcestershire sexual assaults have risen by 154% to an unpalatable 11,000 compared to 5,662 in 2014.  Worcestershire’s answer to this 154% rise is to cancel sexual health counselling!  Children and Mental Health Services now have an unacceptable waiting list of eight months and the school now faces a cut in the Educational Services Grant (ESG) by £98.00 per pupil equalling to £100,000 plus in our school.  This is the grant I pay for these extra services with:

  • The School Councillor, who saw over 60 critical students and staff last year.
  • The Safeguarding Officer, who spent last week on the riverbank talking down a serious suicide attempt and counselling the distraught parents.
  • The Pastoral Support Officer, who was recently at the home of a drug addict, checking on the welfare of mother and son with cannabis openly smoked and seemingly an acceptable drug to the alternatives.
  • The Education Welfare Officer, who met with a mother with mental health issues to try to ascertain whether she was likely to harm herself or those she was in charge of – she was sectioned!

All these key staff provide invaluable expertise and support that is difficult to measure in league tables or with questionable data – but they would be massively missed if removed and this could be considered as being life threatening for those families who are our most vulnerable.  I think I have and do teach values that are intrinsically British but it is arguable whether a Government that wants to place children of illegal immigrants at the bottom of a list for school places, the latest leaked Cabinet papers, should be followed or listened to!  Is an inclusive education for all our children really valued?  When the continued educational messages measurement of success is that:

  • Student progress is measured only by flawed exam data.
  • The reintegration of grammar schools, the provision of the elite, the traditional, the 1970s, is seen as necessary not a waste of money and will be brought in whatever the profession or data produces as evidence.
  • Big is beautiful: big multiple academies, big salaries for questionable unqualified CEOs, big unfulfilled promises for those in education, education, education!

I therefore try to promote British values of tolerance and thoughtfulness.  This is a difficult mood to capture in December with crushing financial debts looming and asking my staff to take on so many different unpaid, thankless roles to try to maintain a community that is in desperate need of support.  One in five families had a Christmas feast provided by a food bank!  This is an educational and societal crisis that needs addressing now with significant investment.  Failure to do so will see extremism making headway with the significant home schooled children particularly open to being groomed by unscrupulous, extreme ideologies.  Furthermore, our SEN children are being excluded not included as they are seen as a ‘drain’ on the points scored for the infamous league table or progress chart.  Add in the recruitment crisis and you can see why certain schools are left isolated, untouched by MATs/new teachers.

I have been Headteacher for 13 years and 2017 is the year I have approached under the most pressure, the most unsure and the most determined to ‘not have it’.  This is ludicrous and whilst we keep working at this ridiculous pace we do not protest at the daily educational messages that are not British, are intolerant, and I would suggest undemocratic!  To do nothing is not an option and where possible I intend to prick the pomposity of those whose educational vision would appear to be cemented in the claustrophobic, stereotypical confines of an exam hall; this will provide a success or failure judgement based on a grade (or is it a level?) simply on academic exam performance not your personal quality, your nature, your ability to respect what a fabulous society/community we could live in if we open our eyes and are allowed to look and value – possibly the true purpose of being British!  Schools and governments have to look beyond the grades and produce fully functioning human beings who happen to pass a few exams.  Now there is a Christmas message to toast to!