I completed my nurture 13/14 blog which you can read here. A couple of days later I also wrote a blog ‘I want to be a Primary teacher’Â which reflected on my wholly negative reaction to my niece’s comment that she wanted to be a teacher when she left university.
I was obviously tired after my first full year as a Primary Head but I set myself 7 targets.
1)Â School standards
We have made such pleasing progress across the school with our quality of teaching and learning. Â As a result, it has been a real pleasure watching standards rise and children gain real pleasure from their work. I believe that we are really building something quite special at Long Sutton Â but obviously this has to be our absolute focus of attention.
This was a disaster for us as our HMI’s role was changed almost immediately in the new year when the HMCI reneged on promises to those running RI schools. We never met her and had only scant contact before a surprise inspection only 14 months after our previous RI judgement. Indeed, it was only 2 days into Sir Michael Wilshaw’s new fourth term of inspection window for grade 3 schools. As I have mentioned on Twitter before, our inspection feltÂ clearly based on an intention to fail us and academise us. The truth was more frightening as our Senior HMI informed us that the timing was accidental and that we had been unlucky. This meant that rather a conspiracy we were subject to incompetence and inconsistency. I have never felt so let down by “the system” in my timeÂ in education (and I have had a few run ins in my time.)
3) Distributed Leadership
The period after the OFSTED was the lowest in my career and I ended up in period where I was struggling to motivate myself to even go into work. I started looking very seriously at job opportunities out of mainstream education. This is where I realised that I had been successful in meeting this target.
I once worked as a consultant to a school in the early 2000s where the Head said “I am not overtly religious but I wake up every day and thank god for our staff.” I know exactly how he felt. We have a fantastic staff led by a superb team of leaders who put up with my nonsense, convert it into fantastic experiences and learning for the children and rarely complain. We are still working on how we build their roles and are looking at developing more in school CPD for them to aid this. It has reinforced the importance of the things we have put in place to support our staff and to show them how valuable they are to us.
4) Plate spinning
Anyone who works in a Primary school will know that 2014 was the year of plate spinning. We did it, Â survived to tell the tale and should be so proud of what we have put on for the children.
5) Keeping Fit
I am a stone and a half heavier than I was this time last year and have had to drop out of two races due to a combination of lack of fitness and ongoing ill health / low energy. I have to overcome my poor relationship with food, keep the weight off and get my mileage up.
No Dickens this year but lots of reading undertaken this year with many new authors. I have focused a lot more on 21st century history.
7) New hobby
There was no chance of this but in November I did agree to become Chair of Grantham Athletic Club which is a real privilege. It is a wonderful club with 200 athletes and a fine group of coaches and volunteers. I do hope that this will be a year of growth for us.
So what now?
So I find myself at the end of the hardest year I have had professionally and sadly quite convinced that working in Primary education is, at present, toxic. I have real concerns, as we approach a general election, about the brickbats which will be thrown at educationalists over the next six months. We have already seen two parties try the sop of workload challenge type activities whilst we are in the worst time for innovations and changes in primary education, a teacher oath and other such fripperies. I find myself feeling quite negative about the short term future for professional life in schools. Just look at how many respected Primary Heads are leaving their schools or the profession. Talk to primary teachers, they are on the floor. That said, I have made the choice to stay in education and have to find a way of getting myself through this.
1) Engage – I have signed up for the January meeting organised in Birmingham about proposals for a Teaching college and will be attending BETT again. Â It is easy to become isolated working in a rural school particularly with the hour each way commute but it is too easy to allow it to happen as well.. I must make sure that we Â engage with the opportunities which exist both locally and nationally as a school but also individually. In December, we were successful in a bid to the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) for a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) of new approaches to using projection technology. We are removing the interactive whiteboard and chalkboard in randomised classrooms and replacing them with more than 6 square metres of wipeable, magnetic whiteboards. It is important to me that we undertake research like this.
2) Celebrate the good things – It has been a such a tough and demoralising year but it was brought into perspective by one of the nicest telling offs I have had. A parent commented after our carnival which we held in a local park that we hadn’t advertised it particularly widely; after pressing I admitted that I was still defensive after the OFSTED. Her comments have stuck with me ever since. “Forget them, they only come every few years and they know nothing about the school. We know this school and it is fantastic so celebrate that.”
These words stuck with me through rest of Â the year and they are so true. Whilst OFSTED are so important in our development, (and no more so than after two RI judgements which leaves my tenure as Head vulnerable) we have to focus on our core business of giving our children the best opportunities possible to achieve their full potential. So this year, we should celebrate our
- week of random acts of kindness which included giving out free chocolates to more than 350 people in the town centre
- work with Night Zoo Keeper who opened aÂ nightÂ zoo in our school grounds in January. It was a great event for the children and produced some highly impressive writing
- carnival which attracted more than 200 parents and grandparents to join in with our samba dancing
- sports teams which performed so well this year including our girls’ cricket team who got to the national finals
- development of blogs at the school which have brought writing to life for so many of our pupils
- partnership with the school’s PTA to build four dipping ponds
- our new outdoor learning environments for Foundation Stage children
- hosting of Sam Rudduck, the inspirational Paralympian, who spoke to a group of our children
- successful bid for funding to support our children to join sports clubs in the local area
- candlelit outdoor carol service complete with old piano rolled onto the yard to accompany the singing
On top of that, Dughall and I reprised CampEd at Cliffe House, Shepley in May. It was such an uplifting event which reminded me why I am in teaching. In fact, I have used three different things I learned at our camping conference in my own teaching in year 5 and 6. I was also so pleased that Alex Bellars curated his own CampEd South. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend but am proud that our silly idea has grown into a viable and useful CPD event.
3)Â Continue to explore what we can achieve -Â two days before our outdoor carol service, I panicked about how many would attend. A governor commented that if only thirty turned up then it would be thirty who wouldn’t have had the chance to attend if we didn’t hold it. This is something which actually really matters. If it is right to do something then it doesn’t matter if it is always heavily attended or highly popular.Our e-safety training is a prime example of this. We are doing innovative and different things at our school and we need to keep pushing ourselves. We have moved from the early days of my headship where I was suggesting strange ideas to a position where I cannot keep up with the creativity of our team. This is a privilege.
We have decided to put on opportunities for the children to watch live theatre whether through digital theatre or recorded versions. This may not attract many children at first but it is an important thing to do.
4) Consider cultural capital – The last point leads into this one. I am increasingly convinced of the need for schools to take on responsibility for adding to their pupils’ cultural knowledge. In our area, where the average wage and employment rates are low; we are setting the children up for life and this is something we will be exploring this year. My son gained a B grade in General Studies ‘A’ level; jokingly I asked him who he had done that. His response was that he had been made to go to watch things at the theatre and cinema, listen to Radio 4, visit galleries and watch obscure things on YouTube and that this had stood him in good stead. My question then was “Who is doing this for the Pupil Premium kids?” I will be always grateful to Eylan EzekielÂ who has guided me my thoughts in this area. It also reminds me how lucky I am with the friends and contacts I have.
5)Â Remember how important my family areÂ – I must spend far more time with my family this year and be a little bit more selfish at times. My family get up as I am leaving for work and I am not the best at leaving work particularly early. We are now looking at our eldest leaving home for a gap year in September, I am aware that I have a small amount of time left to share with him before he ventures off. I have lost contact with several good friends since taking on this headship and must make sure that I invest time in the things which are important. This means I have got to lose weight and keep it off. I will try to emulate David Rogers and get my mileage up to 1000 miles this year. I will go to see more bands and I will finally decorate our bedroom.
I am afraid that much of this reads a world weary and negative. I get such a kick out of being a head but I am afraid that taking on a struggling schools means that that the system can give you a kicking.
When I am at work the children and staff energise me and I know we are providing a securely good education for our children and we are doing great things. What is so important that in a year’s time I am feeling far more upbeat and well than I have in the last two nurture posts.
I love my job, I love knowing that I am making things better for our kids but I just must ensure that it isn’t at a cost both personally and to my family life. I have to find a work life balance.
Most of all, I need to remember how lucky I am both in work and life.