In his entertaining autobiography ‘Memoirs of a Fruitcake’, Chris Evans of Radio 2 and imminent Top Gear fame, starts each chapter with a list of hindsight, “ten things I ought to have known about…”. The British male has a love of lists or statistics. One of the major reasons put forward for men dominating the proportion of spectators watching football was their love of lists: top goal scorer, best tackler etc. Women, it was argued, preferred to be doing rather than watching! Therefore, as I enter my thirteenth year of headship, here are some of my reflective lists. I have to record the caveat that hindsight is easy and at times I am choosing my preference not the latest fashionable vogue. My power of three are:
I got into this cathartic writing due to the generosity and tips from key educational headteachers, all whose philosophy I admire and who look to be people I would like to work for. They appear to have a philosophy and moral compass that are essential when running a school.
- Geoff Barton’s teacher tips. (Pick ‘n’ Mix)
- Tom Sherrington’s unbridled enthusiasm. ( Headguruteacher)
- John Tomsett’s searing honesty. (This much I know about…)
Current Must Read Blogs
- The Learning Spy – David Didau. Prolific, always opinionated, entertaining and sometimes cantankerous.
- Ed-U-Like – Rachael Stevens. She ought to write more, but the detailed ideas work. Her blog on ‘Dynamite Paragraphs’ was even a successful year 8 cover lesson.
- Tabulsa Rasa – Tessa Matthews’ lovely blog. I just love her philosophy on reading and correct rants on the weird world of education.
What I Wish I Had Done on Being Appointed Headteacher
- Ensured that I had a buddy, a school improvement partner or personal advisor. The first three years as headteacher were arduous and lonely. The difference between being a deputy and the head are huge with every decision overanalysed, primarily by you! The feeling of being on show daily was something that I found difficult. Even a visit to the local Tesco was an opportunity for the checkout lady to discuss behaviour and our uniform. Finally getting an adviser, someone who had been an experienced headteacher, was the best decision I made for myself and probably the best decision for the school.
- Become an Ofsted inspector earlier. This is a statement I thought I would not make. On appointment I was firmly in the ‘us and them’ camp. Inspection was a dirty word, a frightening experience that you hoped you survived. Demystifying the urban myth of inspection, the jargon and what the inspection is really looking for has been fabulous CPD and reassurance for colleagues when we embark on our self-review. The obvious further benefit is you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in another school for two days. Reflecting on other schools’ systems and evaluating their practice has been a privilege.
- Managed the local press better. By being too readily available and allowing poor rushed pictures of myself, which often became the newspaper picture for the next three years ( there were the grumpy/surprised/elated pictures to choose from), I opened myself up to unnecessary exposure and potential criticism. The misleading, inaccurate headline and subsequent unfiltered personal criticism from the feral beast that is social media, was not something I was prepared for and is still an area that catches me by surprise annually. This vulnerability is something I regularly resolve to ignore and it grates that I am affected by this.
What I Wish I Had Not Done
There are obviously numerous decisions, reactions and ill thought out conversations that I have thankfully, conveniently, consigned to headteacher history!
- Never rush or force an appointment. To paraphrase the often used marriage analogy – to appoint in haste can mean you repent at your frustrated leisure.
- Do not fall out with local headteachers whatever your righteous indignation, you will get over the implied slur and the only people who suffer are the young people of our community.
- Always check out the training prior to valued INSET. ‘Restorative Justice’ still brings the staffroom out in hoots of derision, which is very unfair; a good principle was lost due to the poor didactic delivery of those presenting. Laughter yoga was another memorable training event with esteemed colleagues trying to produce forced laughter on demand, ho ho ha ha, memorable yet questionable in value.
Books Every Teacher Should Read (not quite the TES list but these are my three)
- The Restless School by Roy Blatchford – sensible practical tips for genuine leadership.
- Radical by Maajid Nawaz – the journey into extremism from a Southend grammar school boy is a fascinating warning for all in education.
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho- a magical journey for your soul.
Reforms if I were Education Secretary (apart from the obvious promise to immediately have fairer funding across British schools and have an end to knee jerk, politically inspired educational reforms and a positive message about this fabulous profession.)
- Make Ofsted accountable for the schools they inspect. An inspection team will have responsibility for re-inspecting the school within the three years thereby ensuring the action points are carefully thought out to bring school improvement and hopefully the start of a meaningful relationship.
- End the archaic half term period of notice for teacher resignation. Teacher movement should be encouraged and not leave schools having to resort to desperation tactics to ensure recruitment occurs. Currently a teacher can resign on 28th May and the host school could be without a specialist teacher until January. A four week resignation period would allow swifter, smarter recruitment and stop poor practice by desperate headteachers who, fearing long term supply, can forget their moral compass.
- Produce proper accredited vocational courses for 16 year olds. Courses that are recognised and valued. The demise of the BTEC is sad as it provided the non-academic student invaluable work placed learning. A course such as Public Services gave an insight into so many possible future career options.
What I am Immensely Proud of in my School
- The vertical house system that underpins a lot of the good, caring work that occurs in the school. Brilliantly led by the directors of studies, this system is part Harry Potter with house competitions ranging from pumpkin carving to sugar cube stacking to twenty first century education with students having meaningful responsibility.
- ‘Big Brother’ classrooms that support developmental observations. The building of two observation booths enabling discreet observation and discussion by observers has transformed our observation process.
- Blink reviews (see earlier blog ‘BLINK: The way forward with department reviews?’) have ensured observation is regularly undertaken with feedback that is less judgemental and therefore more developmental.
Next year, I will…
- Eat less.
- Talk less.
- Laugh a lot!