Blimey, where did that come from?

Yesterday, there was a flurry of blog activity to celebrate the fact that Mike Cladingbowl had invited a range of edu bloggers to OFSTED towers to discuss issues they had included in their blogs. These were Tom Bennett, Ross McGill, Sheena Lewington, David Didau and Tom Sherrington

The blogs written were pleasing to see and there were some incredibly important matters discussed which covered the main issues in education. They can be found here
Ross McGill – An edu-blogger mandate for @ofstednews by @teachertoolkit
Tom Bennett – Meet the Fockers: Ofsted talks to the Bloggers
David Didau –  What I learned from my visit to Ofsted
Tom Sherrington – Meeting OFSTED: The game has changed

These blogs are all significant and very much worth a read. There are some comments left, particularly on David’s blog which demonstrate the reason that this meeting was so vital.The comments from Debbie Hepplewhite and Elizabeth Nonweiler, about their frustrations with meeting with Mike Cladingbowl  about OFSTED advisory films on the teaching of Phonics, show why there was some initial scepticism about the impact of the meeting. There was also a post from a blogger called ‘Danielle’ who countered Mike Cladingbowl’s assertion that inspectors now longer give individual lesson grades

I was observed by OFSTED yesterday, was told I could receive feedback at designated time- went for feedback, was told my lesson was graded as a ’2′ and why. Everybody else observed offered same opportunity! Certainly in need of clarification!

These comments and many more on Twitter being brought to Mike Cladingbowl’s attention justify the time all of these people spent attending the meeting particularly with the insightful questions and points posed by the attendees. But there was something which irked me through reading each of the posts.

Where were the Primary practitioners? In the panel you had prominent bloggers from the Secondary phase and one who is the most incredible advocate for governance but no-one from a clear Primary background. (I should point out at this stage that Sheena has taught in Primary).

I have a great interest in anything to do with HMIs and OFSTED as the Head of a Primary school which currently requires improvement to be good. I have no complaint with that judgement but have blogged about our incredibly negative experience during our Section 5 and also about the very positive experience we had working with our HMI. I would also point out that, with Mike Cladingbowl suggesting that 90% of schools report a good experience, I did not complain about a plethora of issues as we did not dare risk taking on OFSTED. Being blunt, we did not trust OFSTED sufficiently after our inspection to put in a complaint about inspectors arguing in front of us and an appalling series of comments about ‘national phonics advice’ which was entirely erroneous.

Since blogging about it, we have been told that there has been a change in process which means that, unlike what was announced by Sir Michael Wilshaw, we do not have two years between our two inspections to get to good as we will be inspected in the fourth term since the inspection.We also found that we would no longer receive any support from the HMI. Bluntly, there has been a change in the role of HMIs from being supportive to RI schools to get them to good to something described by another head as ‘trying to make it even harder to improve our school.’

This is something I feel quite keenly as I moved from advisory to the headship of my school in a one year secondment with this accord in place. I then applied for the substantive post with this accord in place. We had our Section 5 inspection with this accord in place and then, to an outside observer, there was a spat between Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw and things started to change. The impact on our school could be significant due to the fact that we will now be inspected defending our current raise online data which is not good at all. If we don’t get a strong inspection team we could have someone coming to put us into a category before reading our SEF.

So in the light of this I posted two, what I considered to be fairly innocuous, tweets about the meeting:

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 08.33.10



Now, I missed off the word criticise on the second tweet but I feel that I  made it clear in subsequent posts that I was pleased with the fact that the meeting had taken place just puzzled by the absence of Primary.

This is in the context that there are more than 17,000 Primary schools compared to the 3,000 secondaries and statistically as there is higher proportion of secondary academies as compared to primaries. This means that with the government’s forced academisation agenda and the fact that there is a statutory curriculum being introduced in September for all maintained schools; Primary schools would have loved to have been included.

I genuinely didn’t believe that I had said anything too contentious but found myself in what is commonly known as a shitstorm. I am not one of those who seeks arguments online and see myself as fairly world weary and benign in my posting so was a little surprised at my unwillingness to let it go and also some of the criticism it garnered. I am not going to rehearse the debate from last night other than to stress that it was not intended as self aggrandisement as there are thousands of Primary Head teachers more qualified than I am to meet with Mike Cladingbowl and that I hope that there are follow up meetings as a result of Tuesday’s event.
I found it described as being of the playground, comments about the moaning teachers’ stream and one from Stuart Lock who I do enjoy reading and engaging with on Twitter. Stuart tweeted:

I’m a little worried that some Primary school teachers are setting themselves up as an oppressed minority. And secondary teachers doing opp.

This pulled me up a little as I do respect Stuart and so I contacted him and he ended the conversation with a request to blog on why I felt Primary was marginalised and why a range of educational professionals was insufficient to make our voice heard. So here goes!

These are my thoughts on why Primary teachers feel that they are slightly marginalised within education.

In 2013 there were 24,238 schools in England of which more than 17,000 were Primaries. It is therefore a source of frustration that there has always been a cross industry bias towards secondary.

With the exception of phonics, whenever there is a debate in the press about education matters, those who are called upon from the industry always to come from post 11 education. This seems to either point to a problem in Primary education or a problem in perception of those in it.

To my knowledge, there is one Primary school Head Teacher who has taken on the leadership of a Secondary school as part of the federation of struggling schools whilst there are countless examples of the opposite happening. It was once described to me by a Senior inspector in a Local Authority as ‘inconceivable” to think of a primary Head taking on responsibility for a secondary but the same person expressed the opinion that it was sensible for a secondary to take responsibility for a failing feeder primary.

As an advisor, I have seen colleagues from Secondary appointed on an enhanced salary because they are from secondary. This may reflect ‘market value’ and the fact that it is possible to earn significantly more in Secondary than in Primary but it again serves to underpin the view in Primaries that they are seen as of slightly lower value.

Look at the working parties and enquiries into education. What proportion of them come from Primary against Secondary? In the case of the work taking place on Computing in preparation for the new curriculum – there was initially no-one from primary involved although I understand that this has been remedied.

Look at the important posts within educational inspection and advisory bodies. Of all of the HMCIs appointed Sir David Bell is the only one who had a background in Primary. This belies an orthodoxy across a plethora of different educational organisations where a secondary background appears to have greater cachet in getting you the top jobs. I experienced this in the National Strategies on several occasions when I was surrounded by people of great intelligence and drive. At times, the only conclusion that was drawn by myself and other Primary colleagues was that we were considered of lesser import.

The relationship between secondary schools and their Primary feeders in many cases is barely functional and there are too many instances where the primaries feel like something that is tolerated by their colleagues up the road. I am in the lucky position of having a good relationship with the Head of the school where approximately 65% of our pupils attend in Year 7 however if I wish to speak to the next two largest inheriters of our children all communication is through the Head’s PA. In 18 months I have never heard from either Head about anything.  Now this is a two way thing and I am sure that Primaries could do more but again the perception from the Primary side is that they are sometimes seen as school roll creators and little else.

Transition is wonderfully mixed beast – in our case it ranges from largely indifference to child centred, pastorally driven and an approach which has allowed our children to make cracking starts to their secondary career. I know that it takes two to tango but as an advisor to Primary schools across a large area I found this to be a common occurrence. There is suspicion both face to face and often online about the data which is sent up to Year 7 from the feeders and, at times, open mockery of it. That is the result of high stakes testing in Year 6 which is the key measure for Section 5 inspections but to see ex-pupils in September and October repeating comments from their teachers about what level they are “really working at” is quite frustrating and professionally demeaning. The fact that the first thing Secondaries are advised to do in Year 7 is to re-test pupils shows that not only does transition not work but also that Primary staff have some reason to feel mistrusted.

When politicians talk about education, there is a debate on teaching or the news announce important changes to education, it is all too often largely about matters from 11 onwards. The frustration mainly comes from the lack of a metalanguage in the press for the vast difference there is across the different disciplines within the trade.

There are many things which happen which I fully get:

  • I understand that the funding for a secondary pupil school is by necessity higher than for a primary due to the wider range of subjects, the need for greater staffing and larger school sites
  • I understand that, whilst, we have such a large number of primaries with fewer than 180 pupils then it is necessary for so many schools to have teaching Heads and operate without Deputy Head teachers
  • I understand that as Secondaries take the child and turn them into adults they will get more headlines
  • I understand that too many Primary colleagues hide their talents and there is insufficient reliance on action research with the Primary sector
  • I understand that not enough Primary colleagues go on to study for MAs or PHDs (myself included)

None of this is the fault of Secondary colleagues but again it does reflect why there were sensitivities this week about the OFSTED meeting. To be blunt, there are many issues which are impact on Primary schools differently to how they do on Nursery schools, Secondary schools or FE.

Footnote: I have read and re-read this blog so any times and am concerned that I come across as someone whining about hard their lot is. I do not seek to bemoan my fate; I love the job I do and am privileged to lead our school. I simply hope that this serves to explain why so many of my colleagues in Primary feel sidelined when it comes to national debate.


16 Responses to “Blimey, where did that come from?”

  1. Stuart Lock
    February 20, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Good read Bill.

    I think some of your complaints are well made, and I think the not hearing from some secondary heads is a valid and serious concern. I think secondary colleagues can do better.

    I also think that there is a sense that because primaries are smaller, they are more hands-on to manage. So when I was a head of year responsible for 300 students, I went on a training course which was actually about how to train others to deal with difficult parents. I was the only secondary teacher there – everyone else was a primary headteacher. I was somewhat concerned that I was out of my depth, but as the day progressed it was apparent that there is a lot of similarity between primary headship and being a head of year (of course there are all sorts of direct accountabilities I would at the time have had no idea about and hence I would have underestimated the primary job). So I wonder if secondary heads usually have more experience than primary colleagues when they get to that level – and hence are easier go-to people for consultation. I don’t mean that in an incendiary way at all.

    One of the things I will do when I am a head is contact all feeder primaries and meet with the Headteachers. I know from my current experience that Primary Heads are really keen on stuff like Level 6 Maths, or getting access to facilities like Science laboratories. I also know the difference this kind of marketing makes (in comparison with billboards or glossy brochures).

    I think there are uniquely Primary focussed things I cannot have a view on – teaching lots of different subjects is one – because I don’t have the experience. I need to listen.

    However, on OFSTED, I just don’t know what was missed out yesterday because of the absence of a Primary colleague. It occurred to me that the absence of a primary colleague just meant that people said “oh look it’s the oppressive secondary lot again” in the same way that someone might have said “well why isn’t there anyone non-white?” Actually I didn’t think either of these things mattered because the message that primary and secondary colleagues seem to be trying to get to OFSTED seems to be getting there. I thought the complaints were a bit of a diversion and people should have just focussed on whether OFSTED are capable of following up on some of the criticisms, or exactly what the gaps were – instead I saw people moaning about who was there rather than what was said.

    It is entirely possible there are a whole raft of things that a primary colleague would have added to the debate. But instead of actually telling us that, I just saw people complaining there wasn’t a primary colleague there!

    I don’t know why I tweeted it though – because I made them much more of a diversion!

    Where you write: “To be blunt, there are many issues which are impact on Primary schools differently to how they do on Nursery schools, Secondary schools or FE.” ….bluntly I’d like to know how they impact differently. That’s what I’d like to see more written about (and maybe by writing about it, policymakers will read it).

    I get that primary colleagues feel marginalised. I think the solution is to work closer with us in secondary and encourage us to do similar, rather than going down a version of positive discrimination.

    • Smallschoolhead
      February 20, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

      Oh Stuart where to start!
      I cannot see where you comparison between head of year and primary Headteacher comes from, it is crass in the extreme.
      As a primary head, I am responsible for every aspect of everything that goes on in my school, from performance management of staff, to health and safety, to balancing the budget etc, etc. I am also the Senco and the assessment leader for the whole school, co-ordinate 4 subjects including maths and ICT, and teach all day once a week.
      Everything eventually gets laid at my door, and requires my agreement, not because I am power crazy, but because I am the head, and the reputation of the school is left in my hands.
      As a primary head, you have to walk a fine line every day, ensuring that your pupils achieve well, and that your staff and parents are buying into the ethos that you have set, and that is in a successful school. I also have to be able to teach in any class in my school if a member of staff is ill or absent, from EYFS to year 6, and be able to support and improve these teachers practice.
      Honestly, the job is impossible, but we all do the best we can, for the children in our care, as I am sure do all our secondary colleagues. However we can be hamstrung by limitations surrounding budgets, limited staffing, limited release time, limited expertise in certain areas, and a lack of support from external agencies such as the local county.
      In primary schools at the moment we are facing the implementation of a new curriculum, a curriculum where there is currently no form of assessment in place and we have all been told to devise our own-I wonder how you would cope with this in secondary schools? Especially as few of us can afford enough release time to allow staff to engage with the document fully. We are also looking at huge changes to the SEN laws and the ‘local offer’ which will cause us more headaches.
      I don’t see how working closer with secondaries will solve any of these huge issues as our jobs are very different, and expectations of staff also differ massively. We can work at the peripheries, and improve things like language teaching, specialist arts and PE provision and extension at Year 6, but in areas such as curriculum design, we can only work with other primary phase colleagues.
      As for OFSTED, my biggest bugbear would be the way inspections seem to be undertaken in such an inconsistent manner, local heads discussing an inspection all say such different things, how is that possible? Why are schools not being judged in a similar manner?
      I also cannot see how we can achieve the requirements of mr Gove’s new good behaviour directive when we have so many pupils in school with so many different needs who require specialist help. There is little external support for schools and teachers who are managing children with huge difficulties, who’s behaviour is a reflection of their damaged early lives, what are we supposed to do?
      I’d like to wish Bill Lord well with his campaign to get primaries involved in working with OFSTED, I fear the biggest problem will be that the primary heads will be too busy to attend meetings!

      • Stuart Lock
        February 20, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

        Yes. I should have expanded on that point. When I was a naive Head of Year I noted the similarities. I note the significant differences now, particularly with regard to accountabilities – which I said.

        As for the rest, well that’s a manifesto for not working together I suppose.

  2. Debbie Hepplewhite
    February 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    Very good post indeed – both professionally written and heartfelt.

    I think this issue is more about the need for genuine collegiality amongst everyone and actual access to people whose role in life happens to be in an authoritative position so, in a sense, it is perhaps less about the need for representation from primary/secondary, or black/white and more about ACCESS TO the people who hold the health and career chances of (many) others in their hands – and by this I include the pupils, their parents and communities – because our current inspection process destroys lives, actually – and the fear of inspection is stripping the teaching profession of health and happiness.

    And there is no need for this – there is another way.

    For years I have been banging on about the need for ‘upwards evaluation’ and have even raised this with Gove, Balls and Laws during a TES conference. They didn’t even know what I was talking about.

    It’s about being able to express one’s views, professionally, holding people in authority to account (whatever that authority – so this could refer to teachers or assistants raising their worries about senior management, or governors – or anyone -over any relevant issue), professionally, rather than, always, only the top-down accountability regime under which English schools currently exist. In other words, changing the top-down one way process to a professional two-way accountability process.

    It puts everyone on the SAME level -but just with different roles in life. It might make everyone think more carefully about the consequences of their behaviour and decisions.

    It is the advent of the internet, however – the bloggers – the forums – which has forced those in authority, now, to make gestures of ‘listening’ and ‘discussing’ these matters.

    It seems to me that this miraculous meeting wasn’t so much a sector issue as being about the consequence of key bloggers and their sustained and collective exposure of national misery and unhappiness and unfairness REVEALED in the public domain via the internet – always well-reasoned and evidenced – if a little irreverent along the way in places!

    My follow-up posting on David Didau’s blog about an issue that six of us collectively took up with Ofsted behind the scenes (over many months) revealed an unsatisfactory state of affairs which actually mirrored many of Andrew Old’s raised issues about Ofsted inspectors’ apparent biases of lesson formats.

    Raising our particular circumstance was to suggest that it is important that such meetings as this bloggers’ meeting with Michael Cladingbowl HMI amount to more than just paying lip-service to two-way communication – it has to result in changes if the changes can be professionally well-justified.

    I wanted to provide an example of how the same gentleman – Michael Cladingbowl, has, in effect, paid lip-service in our circumstances to very professionally, collectively delivered arguments as to why Ofsted should not be showing certain video footage. We think Ofsted’s position could not be justified and no matter how many lengthy letters and phone conversation and meetings were held, who was it that was judge and jury in the end? Ofsted of course!

    And, when we complained formally to Gove, the complaint ended up back in the hands of Michael Cladingbowl. Hmm…..

    So, please don’t let our dedicated profession focus on representation, or not, of the different sectors – let’s take our hats off to the bloggers simply as ‘bloggers’ and then let’s discuss collaboratively, all sectors, what it is that we would change in our current inspection system.

    We need some form of inspection – but this should surely be a positive, supportive experience – as described here where the input of the HMI was very constructive and welcomed. Why couldn’t it be like that in the first instance rather than as second tier of involvement?

    Teachers DO appreciate constructive analysis and observations. No-one wants to fail pupils. The vast majority of people in the teaching profession welcome specific support – so this can surely be provided without the stressful rubbish and public humiliation and game playing that so many in the teaching profession currently have to put up with.

    I urge everyone to put their roles, titles, sectors to one side – and work together for the good of us all – not just the pupils – but everyone.

    We only have one life – let’s make it a good one.

    This could be the start of a genuine collaboration but make sure it continues – hold Ofsted to account.


  3. Debbie Hepplewhite
    February 20, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    Smallschoolhead – I have now just read your response to Stuart and understand every last word of it having been a small school head myself once upon a time.

    During inspection, we were judged by the same formula applied to much bigger primary schools – but you know full well that they are different beasts with different contexts.

    For example, the number of teaching staff in the school was so small, how could each member possibly do justice to multiple coordinator roles – expected by the system – as well as provide multiple teaching and caring roles, and extra-curricular roles all day and every day? Each staff member only had one pair of hands and there are only so many hours in a day.

    So, the small number of staff members were allocated the ‘main-subjects-and-absolutely-essential’ coordinator roles, and we decided to tackle professional development of various other subjects in a collective and collaborative way systematically as we could manage them.

    This was not acceptable to Ofsted despite the sensible, practical solution that it provided for us in our context and it was just a case of ‘tough luck’ not realistic and fair adaptation.

    I’m not meaning to personalise this, just offering support and empathy.

    • MsHJS
      February 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      Great post Bill
      I wrote you a message last night thanking you for being brave enough to suggest that a primary presence at this meeting would have added another perspective to the debate. I deleted it not wanting to be embroiled in any contentious debate.. it’s half term after all and I like a quiet life.
      I agree that issues affect each phase differently and my disappointment is that Mike didn’t specifically invite representatives from each. I would hope that he is keen to listen to all voices.
      I have a lot of admiration for those blogging about their work in education. I read all with interest and although I am a primary practitioner, I learn a lot from the voices out there. However I know that it is not representative of the sector as those working and blogging in primary and early years are very few and far between. The reasons for this are numerous and not needed here; what is important is to be mindful of the distortion it might cause. I also realise that it is up to us to try and remedy the balance and in an ideal world I would manage a full teaching timetable, SLT responsibilities, an SLE role, a considerable after school pastoral commitment and family life better so that I did in fact have time to tweet and blog. I would also need the confidence that my voice matters and that anyone would want to listen.
      So, in the meantime, thank you for the points you have so eloquently made and for the time you have given it. I follow your blog, your school sounds like a fantastic place to work and learn and I have squirelled away a few of the inspirations you have shared to use next year.

  4. Michael Tidd
    February 20, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    I’m grateful for both Bill and Stuart’s inputs in this blog and the resulting post. Bill does a marvellous job of avoiding the temptation to cry “unfair” by putting into context some of the perspectives shared by primary practitioners, and Stuart does an excellent job of challenging without patronising.
    I want to write a good deal more, and will blog shortly, but my general view is that the impetus to change that perception can only come from within primary. In my view, we are not overtly oppressed, we are simply not standing up to be counted. Partly that may be because of previous indirect oppression, but the freedom exists now for us to change that; and change it we must!

  5. Debbie Hepplewhite
    February 20, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Michael, I think you are mistaken.

    I know of many schools and of many teachers and headteachers who are definitely ‘overtly oppressed’.

    It is all too easy if you are teaching in a reasonably run school to be unaware of, or blase about, schools in very pressurised scenarios.

    It’s a bit of an ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude.

    I do agree with you, however, that people DO need to stand up and be counted – but the oppression can often be ‘in school’ as a consequence of the general inspection regime and the game-playing and politics – for example, forced academisation as just one example.

    And because teachers and headteachers are so extraordinarily overwhelmed with the sheer quantity and minutiae of their daily work, they are often not in a fit state to ‘stand up and be counted’ because that takes not only courage – but an inordinate amount of time.


  6. Debbie Hepplewhite
    February 20, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    On reflection, Michael, perhaps we are on cross purposes.

    I’m referring to individual teachers and schools – and your posting might be referring to the ‘primary sector’ generally.

    Forgive me I have misunderstood your point.

    I know that the original post was focused on possible neglect of ‘primary sector’ issues whereas I have been focusing on the meeting with the bloggers and the role of Ofsted and inspection pressures generally.


    • Michael Tidd
      February 21, 2014 at 10:43 am #

      Yes, Debbie – I sensed you were talking about something different at first, although I agree is an issue. It’s just not over that’s unique to primary schools. I was talking about the sector more widely.

  7. Adam matthews
    February 21, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Nice Blog Bill
    As ever, very considered.
    I don’t believe primary are oppressed, just suppressed by the secondary spin. The word “specialist” has crept into the educational headlines / babble over the past few years.
    Given the laughable amount of progress/value added made in secondary- I take this to be typically a person possessing a non-specific liberal arts degree, who found their only open avenue to employment post uni was via a PGCE, they now teach????
    English as a “specialist” based on their second class Modern Studies degree from an ex polytechnic. A cliché I know, but not a million miles from fact!

    The secondary sector has worked hard to disguise their failings: over focus on attainment; strategic examination selection for pupils; large PR expenditure; being on message, to name but 3, however the sectors strength is really held in its solidarity. This is facilitated by a smaller number of schools led by Principals whose establishments afford them the time to participate fully in networking/strategic discussion/focus groups which provides an effective and efficient communication conduit to all, which means that messages to and from the powers at be are clearly relayed.
    These established methods are welcomed by the DFE as they are very cost effective and hold gravitas.

    Communicating with Primary phase heads do not, generally, have the time or desire to set up such influential networks, and the phase suffers as a result.

    Of course those that really suffer from the divided phases are the children, whose needs are not met, which, if you believe the spin is because the children are not “secondary ready”!! Which I take to mean “Year 9 ready” given the number of level 5 and 6 children now leaving primary schools. Perhaps it will give secondary schools the opportunity to get rid of their failing KS3 staff!
    As a head of a large primary school I can honestly say I feel my job can be compared to a Secondary Head of Year as a single cell amoeba can be compared to a human being!


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