Dogs and their Owners

‘Dogs are like their owners’ is the saying that I all too often repeat to beleaguered form tutors who are trying to rectify their year 9 mentees’ ‘feral’ behaviour.  My poor attempts at humorous levity often ‘miss the mark’ and probably need revising.  After all, I own a hyperactive rescue dog, a French Pointer Springer Cross, which would prove my SENCo’s theory, labelling me as an ADHD boy – something I protest too loudly against!

Nevertheless, the analogy that we become like our teacher is, I think, true. Last Sunday, Malvern U16 played their half-term rugby derby against a team of ‘Neanderthals’.  I should have recognised the worrying signs when they arrived an hour before kick-off with more coaches than players, all in matching tracksuits, black and imposing, all with the coaches names emblazoned on the back.  The gum-chewing, unfriendly intensity of the coaches was mirrored by their team, who played unimaginative rugby with the predictable punch-up that meant I spent an unrewarding Valentines afternoon in A&E, as son number one had his nose iced and checked pre his important date.  Mine had by now been cancelled!  Similarly, I feel schools reflect the type of leadership team that runs them, with teachers in this appraisal driven world reflecting those who direct their working lives.

There is an amazing, must see film called ‘Inside Job’ that will simply leave you angry at the state of our nation that allowed the greed of the City to go on unchecked and more remarkably, go on without any bankers/financiers being arrested.  Extraordinarily, the practices remain the same and bankers bonuses continue unchecked and their attitude appears to be above the law.

The behaviour of those in the City, I would argue, is replicated by the politicians whose continued belief is that they are also above the law.  The rise of political leaders such as Corbyn and in the USA Sanders, is a backlash by the young who are tired of the hypocrisy of false promises.  They have an unheralded interest in politics that should be celebrated not sneered at by the media.  They want to believe in politicians/leaders, not simply expect them to say one thing and then behave in this way.

I have reflected on an interesting, although depressing conversation with my pragmatic science teacher who was nonplussed at my surprise and anger at the latest attempt to ‘poach’ my staff by a nearby school. The basic tenet of her argument was ‘This is the world we live in… they and we are businesses, academies… this is what their headteacher and their school is like.’  The implication is that we had to behave in this way or wait to be picked off by those nearest with more cash.  However, the madness of the education system is that we are a mass of contradictions set up in a conservative free-market, ‘dog eat dog’ economy. I, however, would argue we essentially remain a school not a business and I hope that is not too ‘soft’, too much of a dreamer’s perspective but that in the world of academisation running a school ethically can still be a laudable, desirable aim; hopefully, a job that could be desired and achieved by young staff.

I would strongly argue that part of leading a school is that even when things are as difficult as they currently are with rising costs, the changing curriculum and mixed government messages, you need to have a ‘moral compass’.  You stand for something more than an unseemly scramble up the latest league table that measures the ability of children to perform in an exam.  Schools have to be so much more than this and I have to trust in the ethos that I have created where staff and students want to attend and are appreciated.  If people leave, no matter what the circumstance, good luck to them and thanks for their contribution. My job is to find someone at least as good.  I will not become like the corrupt businessmen, politicians and rugby coaches who are too involved in their own small world based on low self-esteem and self-worth, to win at all costs and lack the fundamental value of what is right and wrong.  I will find my collaboration/my business acumen in collaboration with the primaries and will keep the ethos that we are a school at the core of all we do.  Now for that dog walk/pull!

If you like the sound of our school please note we have three teaching vacancies for September 2016 – adverts and application documents are available from the school website:

  • MFL (French and German) – application deadline 10am 14th March 2016
  • English – application deadline 10am on 15th March 2016
  • History (maternity cover) – application deadline 10am 15th March 2016



Half term allows you some time to emerge from the headteacher rollercoaster of meetings, observations, governors and the increasingly frenetic demands of the ‘Press’.  Catching up on the raft of educational reading, reflecting on the ever-changing school priorities and watching some gentle films allows you to return to the human race.

The sassy, incorrigible American actress Bette Davis often cut through the waffle and would have made a very interesting Education Secretary.  She once commented on less skilled actresses saying “The weak are the most treacherous of us all.  They come to the strong and drain them.”  She might have been talking about how the vulnerable in our British schools are viewed.  Two contrasting news stories reflect the contradictory advice headteachers are being given.  The Sutton Trust Summer Report damningly highlights the ‘Missing Talent’ of our white working class, with over a third of boys in the top 10% at primary school dramatically falling outside the top 25% by age 16.  Children who grow up in poor homes have half as much chance as those from other families is the pessimistic, unsurprising storyline.  This is born out in workbooks I look at which show I have two different schools.  Boys’ books are generally unkempt, show a lack of pride in their work and subsequently their results are 10% below those of the girls.  Yet they receive 90% of the questions from teachers which is exasperating for a father of two articulate daughters.  Boys always seem to demand our attention and at times we are not offering them the right curriculum.  Sticking their best piece of writing in their student planner has been one small step in insisting that quality written work is a non-negotiable for all subjects, all of the time.  Insisting on correct oracy with no ‘man that’s sick’ and other Americanisms has helped.

The second unrelated story was the number of fines given to parents for taking their children on holiday in term time, trebling to an astronomic 50,414.  That is 50,414 parents who have fallen out with their child’s school and whose message will differ from that of the school; often a cheaper family holiday is valued more than a week at school.

Once again, I feel schools are given a variety of mixed messages that need unpicking.  Good education can and does open doors and so students need to value education and be at school.  We decry the lack of family values and fine families for taking children on a family holiday yet we allow travel firms to hike their prices for the peak periods.  We tell our bright working class boys to value education, yet provide them with an alien academic curriculum that devalues education as simply something to get through.  Schools are then surprised when they are criticised for sending young people into the world of work with an obvious skills deficit.  In Britain we have to start trusting school leaders, trust them to get it right and they will.

If we want to create proper social justice, a system where some young people are not seen as a drain on schools because they do not fit into the limited curriculum that the EBacc offers, we need to change our curriculum offer.  History or geography not sociology or RE is too simplistic a choice, which devalues key subjects at a time when schools are being asked to discuss radicalisation and human values.  Arts and music are the core of what makes many schools vibrant, hopeful places.  The GCSE is hard, demanding and a great preparation for future life; why side-line these subjects? It devalues the impact of EBacc and makes absolutely no sense.  Have a range of GCSEs and trust in their worth is my plea.

I had the pleasure of welcoming Nicky Morgan to our newly opened sixth form in the week when she announced her hope that all schools would follow the formulaic, prescriptive EBacc route for 90% of students. I was able to promote my blog and the alternative view.  Her response was illuminating, see my blog ‘When Nicky met Neil’ but she appears not to trust school leaders and this lack of trust will ensure that we continue to sway from one popular theory to another with no strategic overview of the curriculum required for our diverse population.  Currently we are catering only for the academic literary child.

Therefore, if you create the right curriculum students will come to school and families will see value in education.  Alternatively, we could put a diva such as Bette Davis in charge of education.  I believe I am advocating the return of the Dark Lord – Michael Gove – more contradictions, more madness.  I live in hope that Ms Morgan will ponder on some of the challenges for all our students and will have listened to our plea for a period of educational stability.