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!

Headteacher – Male 51, Desperately Seeking…

I have just read a fabulous book, ‘Golden Hill’ by Francis Spufford, which is set in New York in the eighteenth century.  It is a commentary on human life with intricate themes varying from race, gender and class inequality to the need for all of us to be free.  It is beautifully written and is an excellent Christmas stocking filler.

November is always a harsh, bleak month.  As schools, we compound the pressure with a variety of ‘must have’ evenings – parents, certificate and governors, which means that Thursday gym sessions are a thing of the past.  Student and staff interactions become increasingly fraught as the inevitable ‘colds’ increase proportionate to the lack of sunlight.  We are on top of each other, a large dysfunctional family lurching towards mocks, marking and the carefully crafted annual report.  I, rather like a character in one of my escape novels, find myself trying to break free of the ‘shackles’ of the current educational system.  I am like a middle aged man approaching the dating scene.  I am in danger of becoming desperate, seeking an unlikely educational date, an elixir of perfection, a perfect educational date that requires:

  • A perfectly formed pert curriculum that meets the needs of all, not only the academic traditional curricula with alternative curriculums to be encouraged.
  • A staff and student body that has a good equilibrium, a positive mind-set; a need for a resilience and flexibility that can cope with urgent, unpredictable change often with threats from other traditional models based on the whims of the latest educational secretary/ political advisors.
  • A pot of money to support my essentials.

Of course, all of this has to be backed by the key male requisite, a financially sound independence that allows fun and frivolity.  Does such a perfect system exist?  I believe it does, but it needs investment, time and effort and is not a quick fix.

Like many who go on the dating websites, I fear this is going to end in disappointment or a brief tantalising excitement as you believe you are making progress only to have it dashed by data ‘nerds’ who hold you to account with nonsensical information, comparing ‘disadvantaged poorer students’ with ‘those from normal homes’ or ask you to grade students on farcical levels 9-1, which have not been written or agreed by those in charge of data, the exam boards.

My view of this disastrous educational date is that it clearly cannot and will not work with the huge number of issues, restrictions and baggage Mrs Education has.  She is rather like a fading, bankrupt, morally inept rock star trying to return to a bygone, glamorous, Mr Chips era of the 1970s, when Britain was Great and the teaching profession was revered with schools and children knowing their place ranking in the world.  No, this ‘Tinder’ tragedy needs to be consigned to the fantasy world and in the real world…

The headteacher has to carry on regardless of what we desperately seek.  This is a broken, flawed system and at times a political football and as Kenneth Williams in ‘Carry on Cleo’ aptly states:

“Infamy!  Infamy!!  They’ve all got it in for me!”

Let the Cameras Roll

I was contacted by BBC television thanks to my open letter to Robin Walker, Worcester MP and my September blog which was further commented on by my discerning Twitter followers, 185 and increasing!  The Sunday Politics Show, Midlands edition, picked up my less than impressed views on the proposed increase of grammar schools.  Sadly, this continues to be the hot topic in education.  This is a much safer educational issue for the politicians than discussing the latest free school catastrophe or the latest UTC to close, or sad statistics such as a third of newly qualified teachers are quitting teaching within five years of entering the profession or the latest exam board fiasco.  Therefore, I and the school were to be given television ‘fame’ with the aim of the programme being a discussion about the proposed ‘left field’ reintroduction of grammar schools and what I thought!

Those of you familiar with my blog will not be surprised that I saw this as an opportunity to discuss my wider educational concerns.  Rhetorical questions that I was hoping to pose were about:

  • The huge number of mixed educational messages the government continues to publicly debate: grammar school vs academy vs UTC, healthy children vs structured restricted education, vocational education, behaviour management, social work and social mobility. Where is the evidence that this government values state education?
  • How can £50 million be found for new grammar schools when authorities such as Worcestershire have been waiting for twenty years for the promised fairer funding financial formula?
  • Unwritten exam syllabuses that are being taught now. How is this fair to students, staff and future employers?
  • The grading fiasco 9 – 1. Why and who thought this was a positive change?
  • Nine Education Secretaries in 13 years of headship – is there an educational plan?

and so many more questions with, in all probability, little time.

As I tell the students, “be prepared”, and I went into battle with the cameras; shiny shoes, smart suit, ‘prep cards’ considered and memorised with what I believe were some wry observations at the ready.  These are some of my ponderings.  They did not make the editorial cut and sadly remained on my cards or were filmed but not considered:

  • The current exam system is tantamount to child cruelty – year 11 students this year will be undertaking 3 times as many exams as last year’s year 11. For example, English exams have increased from 3½ hours to 7½ hours and the beleaguered PE department have written off using the sports hall, which becomes an exam studio from April to July.  Inclusive exams are not really happening as we test the resilience of our children, not what they have learnt.
  • Schools such as mine are the last stop motel, they are all inclusive where we provide counselling, attendance monitoring, behaviour support, psychology assessments, nurturing for parents and students and even the police/nurses have an office. Schools and children should not be measured on a test, undertaken in a leaky sports hall, at the end of eleven years of education – I was determined to get this point in.  This became a frustrated rant at the unreasonable demands on all secondary schools and what we are expected to deliver with no external financial support.
  • Everyone has been to school, therefore they all have an opinion but schools evolve so quickly. Theresa May’s grammar school education was in the 70s and we have changed immeasurably since then. We need the evidence that they will be beneficial not detrimental.  Grammar schools will entrench separation not increase inclusive opportunities.

There were more but I screwed up the cards, frustrated at a likely lack of air time!

Disappointingly, I undertook a pleasant hour’s filming walking around my fabulous school for thirty seconds of camera action, with the television viewers in no doubt ‘I would argue strongly’ – I said it twice in favour of the state school system, so it was an interesting editing of the filming between questions one and six. Go to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07y9f87 at 44 minutes 38 seconds to see me in all my glory.  Therefore, what did I learn about the television process?

  • The camera puts on more than ‘ten pounds’ and filming in the last week before half term was not conducive to feeling young. The camera was close and obtrusive and that is the story I am sticking to!
  • Sound bites are what sells. Lengthy considerations are not going to get airtime.  We are a ‘pot noodle’, instantaneous generation and simplistic points are what were delivered, especially by the Conservative MP from Rugby who got two thirds of the  airtime with Boris like ‘sound bites’ such as ‘we deliver what the parents want’, ‘grammar schools are good schools’!  Alliteration and smooth but seriously lacking evidence or ability to answer the question.
  • Nobody really cares about the financial crisis that Worcestershire schools are currently facing. Only by the radical action such as the proposed four day school week that Sussex headteachers are considering will thought be given to essential money.  Headteachers claiming to be cash strapped are not good viewing figures.  My serious proposal to the Worcestershire headteachers is that we now need to demand the attention of the politicians who have ignored reasonable headteachers.  Striking, like the junior doctors, has to be a last action but the cuts are  now so harsh that long term adequate school provision is being affected.

Finally, our seagulls are seriously hard!!  The £8,000 drone incorporating a TV camera proudly put in the sky probably to display our crumbling fabric and portacabins was destroyed by a passing, unperturbed seagull.  My view that this catastrophic footage of a spectacular descent to being smashed on the playground could and should be used as a key analogy, the state of a smashed state education system in spiralling descent taken back to the 70s, also did not make the editor’s cut!