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 DidauÂ 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 – Â 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 Â about OFSTED advisory films on the teaching of Phonics, show why there was some initialÂ scepticismÂ about the impact of the meeting. There was also a post from a blogger called ‘Danielle’ who countered Mike Cladingbowl’sÂ 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 â€™2â€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 asÂ 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:
Now, I missed off the word criticise on the second tweet but I feel that I Â 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.Â 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. Â 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.Â 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.