‘You only sing when you are winning’

Malvern under 14 and under 15 rugby teams descended on Colwyn Bay for a rugby festival over the bank holiday weekend. As seventy of us wearing Hawaiian shirts sheltered in a café from the inevitable Welsh rain, I felt immensely proud of the culture that our club was trying to develop. The coaches held a players’ court to highlight their good play and to gently poke fun at the players’ foibles:

  • Jack and Greg were given Ribena and a round of applause with their meal to replace the blood lost in bravely making a last ditch tackle.
  • Louis and Rory (scrum halves) were made to sit with the coaches and clear away tables as they had tried to referee games by talking to/over the referee.
  • Johnny and Will were nominated by their teams as players of the tournament – they had to be waited on, rightly so, by Louis and Rory.
  • The family Watson were made to be half hourly speaking clocks as they had, once again, been late for the first match! Half hourly announcements kept us on ‘track’ and meant the owners could shut the café on time!

And so much more. The ethos and culture of a good rugby team is started from an early age where the referee is referred to as ‘Sir’ and brave tackling, skill and commitment are appreciated and at the end of the game all are ‘clapped off’ whatever the score. The next day, as we waited for the rain to reduce, each changing room started a chorus of singing with ‘Delilah’, ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ and the Welsh national anthem being the Welsh team’s songs. This made the Malvern boys’ efforts to do the 1812 overture (the theme for the ‘Lone Ranger’ for less sophisticated, older readers), seem inadequate as they can never remember the lyrics, but was another example of what we in schools would describe as the ‘hidden curriculum’ of a rugby club.

I genuinely believe my son, Louis, is benefitting from playing at Malvern with these friendly, committed people and a set of standards that he is expected to adhere to. If you take this analogy into an outstanding school, what is the culture you will see, would expect to see? And, crucially, will this culture be allowed to develop and evolve amidst the plethora of school data driven targets and key performance indicators that are used to judge the teaching profession?

Schools exist to educate students; this is my simple key mantra that I have started every education application I have ever submitted with. The following are some of the key principles I have adhered to when trying to get the feel of a school, one I may want to work in; the elements of the hidden curriculum if you will:

My preference is for headteachers to be people who still teach. I still believe that to know the names of my students and how they learn is essential to working alongside colleagues. Every school has reports and registers to complete and all who work in schools should know how to follow their own school systems.

  • Reception staff are a key indicator of the culture; are they friendly, do they welcome you to the school, answer the telephone promptly?
  • How many staff support the after school evening events? I would suggest that supporting colleagues has never been so important as in this current judgement driven era; there is a real danger we forget the important aspects of the school, the students!

Do children hold doors open, run in the playground, and play are subjective observations difficult to quantify in an inspection report but essential for someone who wants to work in a school. A good school has a positive sound, a ‘hum’ of young people.

  • Do staff smile? Do they have time to smile, greet and welcome a stranger?
  • What are the student toilets like?
  • Is art work and displays of current work respected? – an indicator of appreciation and celebration.

I am pleased that Ofsted is changing its headline judgement from the simplistic ‘behaviour and attendance’ to the more ‘wordy’ but rounded ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare of learners’. The personal development of our students is essential in providing balanced, articulate citizens who have the resilience to cope with our demanding world. However, I do fear in this data led inspection world, this key definition will be diluted into a clumsy attempt to meet the Ofsted requirements of the promotion of ‘British culture’, ‘Britishness’ or concern about how many exclusions a school has had! Simplistically, how can an inspection make a satisfactory judgement of the soul of school in a one day ‘snapshot’ and to be fair to the inspectors, data is evidence that can be quantified and crucial, longstanding, misleading judgements may then be formed, which can label a school unfavourably.

The general election result was greeted with fear of loss of employment by those in the performing arts department but my attitude is that we have never needed our creative arts departments more. The ethos, culture and wellbeing of all those creative staff who work in schools, providing the soul of a school, now have to become even more central to school development. Teachers may combust in trying to understand five sub levels, raw scores and other data garbage. Progress is not only a sub level but a teenager appearing in the school play or producing a piece of reflective art or simply reading an acclaimed book. Schools exist to educate students is the mantra I and many need to revisit, including Ofsted, and we should keep this at the core of all we do!

Oh, and the rugby tour – we came a deserved second to Wrexham U15 – the best singers by far and as Mark our excellent coach stated, “they committed to their singing and their rugby” – the best team with the most developed ethos, perhaps a key to our national rugby team approaching the World Cup.

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