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!