I appear to have missed the Nurture 12/13 posts last year which perhaps gives an indication of how tired I was after my first term as a Primary Head. Having read several of them I decided Â to have a go for two reasons. Firstly, I love blogging and have realised that I have missed it since I started the job and had other things to concentrate on and secondly I read this great blogÂ by The Primary HeadÂ who appears to have started in Headship at the same time as me and wanted to share my eventful year and hopes for the future.
1) Starting as a substantive Head
I started the new year as the substantive Head Teacher of the school after being appointed in the last weeks of the December term (my first term was a seconded role). It didn’t feel any different at first as things were so hectic but it really did hit home at the start of the Autumn term. I did mention on Twitter after the first training day that I no longer felt like a consultant in Head’s clothing but like a ‘proper Head Teacher’. I realised during the day that it would more than likely be the last time that I would be training staff and things would move towards it being entirely driven by other leaders within the school. At the end of the first year, I did feel that I had never Â worked so hard in my life, never doubted myself so much but never enjoyed myself so much either!
2) Do your homework
As the Head of a school in South Lincolnshire I have learned that there are things that you should always check before you take the job. I was hugely unaware of the recruitment crisis which exists in the band of schools in north Norfolk, south Lincolnshire and east Cambridgeshire but more of that later. Also, as Â someone who has worked in ICT advisory and has strong views on what ICT should look like in Primary education I didn’t ask sufficiently deep questions about the state of hardware in the school. I inherited a school with incredibly slow broadband speeds , a creaky wifi system and old kit. When I, eventually, leave the school I will ask many more questions of the schools I am looking at.
I have never worked in a rural school before and have been shocked at just how hard it is to recruit in our area. The school is on the A17 which must rate as one of the most horrible roads to drive and a real factor in barring people from applying for posts alongside the fact that the school is a long distance from cities and teacher training institutions. We have used a range of approaches to getting staff in but during this year we have continued to struggle to appoint staff. That said, we have continued in our great luck in those staff we have pulled in. My concern is that we cannot continue to be this lucky. We have been creative in our staffing and were lucky to woo an ex-colleague of mine to join us as one of our two Assistant Heads to join the core team. It showed me that recruitment has to be about quality above everything.
In January we lost our School Business Manager and for a period of several months we largely survived with a small amount of external support and set our own budget. I know that there are some Heads who continue to do this but in a school of 370+ kids, and in the position we were in developing, there simply wasn’t time. I do regret trying to be brave about it and, with hindsight, see that by trying to show that I could cope the wonderful SBM we appointed had a hell of a task trying to work out what state the school was in financially during her first weeks. I would stress that we are fine but it was not as efficient as it could have been if I had asked for more help
We were hit by OFSTED in the first week of OFSTED and I have to say that it was a completely demoralising event. The call came when we had 86 children Â and 5 staff off school ill.Â The team came in with a lead inspector who was a private consultant who had worked in Primary education and her two AIs who were ex Secondary Heads of Department. It is wrong that there was no-one on the team with experience of substantive Headship on the team and two of them had no right to be making a judgement on Primary with their knowledge and experience. Â It was clear that they had come to fail us, despite the fact that the data was wholly satisfactory, and there are things which took place which showed that Sir Michael Wilshaw is completely correct in pushing for serving Head Teachers to carry out inspections. The process we experienced was simply not fit for purpose. The one real positive we had was that on the first evening I had a phone call with a close friend who asked me if I was fighting the team enough and whether I would be able to look my staff in the eye on the Monday morning. On day two we fought like tigers and know that there is nothing else we could have done. We got 3 judgements of Requiring Improvement with a good for Behaviour and Safety.
We were honest with ourselves in recognising that things were not as good as they should have been and put things in place within days of the inspection finishing to move the school forward.
Three months after our Â OFSTED, we received a call from our HMI which was one of the best things which happened during the year. He was very perceptive, challenging but overall incredibly supportive. The day visit consisted a school tour during which he checked for all of the changes we have claimed to have made in the academic year; meeting with me; meeting with the Governors and then the AHTs. The challenge he gave us set us up to move towards to good including the question of whether I was too scared to give judgements of outstanding to teachers due to our RI position. It is regret that I have to report that he was signed off on long term sick and so are awaiting a replacement HMI; in the meantime the Senior HMI for the region has been very supportive through email and phone calls. I cannot praise the HMI enough for what I have experienced. This has been echoed in comments from other schools I know in the same position.
I have to say that I am going to sound like the Primary Head in their blog in being incredibly thankful for the staff I inherited and have appointed in the last 4 terms. Since September 2012 we have changed so many things that I know have pushed staff to their limit at times. We have probably undertaken 2 and a half years of school improvement in that time and this could not have happened without the trust, loyalty and sheer damned hard work of a huge amount of people. Let’s be honest – the work had to be done but no-one has stepped from playing their part. The vision I introduced eighteen months ago is now OUR vision and driven by them. School is an exciting place to be but I also need to recognise that we can’t work at this pace forever.
Obviously, I wouldn’t wash dirty laundry in public and so any comments might look obsequious. However, over the last year I have had massive support and challenge from the governors and in particular, the Chair of Governors. The level of scrutiny from governors has risen considerably and this has meant that we have a clear understanding of where we are as a school. I don’t see the challenge as a negative in anyway (although there are some nights when I leave Governors’ meetings exhausted.)
The time they give is entirely voluntary and during this year, there have been attacks in the press on governance as well as real pressure ramped on schools in rural, eastern coastal areas. Â They come from a range of backgrounds and provide so much to the school are keen to Â ensure that the school gets to and stays good as soon as possible. During our OFSTED four of them stayed on the night before making tea, stapling, cutting and generally helping whilst on the second day the Chair of Governors spent hours working on data and finding books to disprove kites being flown by the inspection team. All of this is unpaid and often without recognition in the community.
8) Work life balance
This is not a moan as I love my job but I am not at all good at this one. I have an hour’s commute each way which eats into home time and I am not good at switching off. I have tried to maintain my running and am incredibly lucky to have a running partner who will meet at 7:30pm for a run. I have also done my very best to protect one night a week for training or exercise (but then go home and work after dinner!) I am lucky to have a wonderful family and I need to ensure that I am not only there in the holidays.
9) Union Membership
I have been a member of the N.U.T. since the late 80s and was lucky to receive some excellent support from them during a particularly bad time when I had a child transferred to my class of 38 from a London PRU unit with an adult to pupil ratio of 3:7 . It remains the toughest time of my career and I will always be grateful for the support from Liam Conway. As a result of this, I have maintained membership of Notts NUT and have greatly dismayed by the infighting which is taking place between senior officers in the division which involves claims of corruption and counter claims of bullying. This, tied into my grave misgivings over strike calls based upon aÂ ballot in September 2012 where 82.5% voted in favour of strike action with a turnout of 27%. I simply cannot accept that strike action has validity on such a small turnout. I always vote in ballots and think very poorly of those who choose not to do so but when the only ballot I have taken part in with a lower turnout has been for the farce which is Â the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Alan Hardwick. I have therefore, reluctantly, chosen to move to NAHT to represent me as a Head Teacher.
Unfortunately, although we were able to demonstrate good to outstanding progress in the last academic year our end of Key Stage results were disappointing. Unlike The Primary Head’s school our Raise is more dominated by blue than green which was wholly expected. The net result of all of this is that we will have to wait until next year’s results until we can have our return OFSTED inspection.
11) Took a risk
This year I was lucky enough to be Â on holiday whilst there was a meteor shower and so my wife and I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning and sat on an inflatable sofa on a french campsite to watch them fly by. It was a truly magical moment and even better for sharing it with her. At October half term, we visited Pembrokeshire with my parents and I took the risk in contacting the wonderful Jackie MorrisÂ to see where we could see her work. Wonderfully, not only did she offer to meet my wife and I for a coffee at the Solva Woollen Mill but then she took us to her studio in St. Davids. It was one of the most wonderful afternoons Â we have recently spent. We must make things like this happen next year.
1)Â School standards
We continue on a journey to ensuring that there is a clear progression in children’s passage through our school. We have changed this dramatically over the last four terms but this is a long term thing which we need to ensure remains at the core of our work. This is happening through developing the quality of teaching but most importantly, through changing the way all of our children view their educational opportunities. We need to help to raise the general expectations within our area. One idea which we are trying to bring to fruition is a careers fair for our junior children. I am not certain how we will make this work but it would be good to invite former pupils and local people to talk about their jobs and how they achieved their position.
I am thoroughly looking to meeting our new HMI and working with them. They will come in time to see our new School Development Plan and a school completely changed from February 2012. There is a real pride in everything we do at school and it will be wonderful to discuss our next steps with them.
3) Distributed Leadership
As I said in theÂ staffing paragraph above, I am incredibly lucky with the staff I have both inherited and appointed. The key thing is to develop them and bring the best out of them. We have invested in significant CPD and I need to learn to take even more of a step back this year as we develop Outdoor Learning and ICT. The team can’t do it, can I let them?
4) Plate spinning
This calendar year we will be introducing a new national curriculum, trying to square the circle of introducing Free School Meals to all Key Stage One children in a school without a kitchen and the nearest kitchens are more than an hour’s drive away, Sports Premium being extended, increase in the provision of Pupil Premium to Â£1300, the implications of the SEND changes to the Children and Families Bill which are incredibly serious for schools as well as in-school developments such as the building of a series of dipping ponds, ICT purchases and development of Outdoor provision from FS up to Year 6.
5) Keeping Fit
This year my weight has fluctuated between strict dieting with exercise and giving up the ghost over the last year. This year I aim to compete in all of the Lincolnshire League athletics matches (I am a veteran Hammer and Discus thrower of low ability) and will do a decathlon at one of those matches. I will also sign up for more 10k races as well. I have to remember that I can only be good at my job when I have time to think and relax.
I will continue to read children’s books and must start blogging about them again. I will also notch up another Dickens which is an annual target – Great Expectations this year.
7) New hobby
Each year I try to take up a new hobby or pastime – this has included in recent years hammer and discus throwing, distance running, blogging and reading Dickens. In 2014 I will look to do something new and only have 3 days to decide what this will be.