Making a # of it

hashtag-twitter-instagram1It’s nearly Christmas and, you know what they say: ‘tis better to give than to receive’. So, I thought I would temporarily cease my usual blogging stance of high-horsing cynicism in favour of giving something back. I mean, why should a great leader keep all their effectiveness to themselves rather than dish it out to the hoi polloi?

Thing is, there doesn’t seem to be anything left to talk about. Every educational sacred cow seems to be already slaughtered. I can’t advise about lesson observations because they’re now considered to be illegal in some counties. Anything on behaviour and I’ll be crushed in between the Inclusionists and the Excludedites. You can’t even mention staff appraisal without being accused of sending teachers to work down coal mines. The government messed up astute use of data analysis for all of us. Don’t mention curriculum unless you want to get bored to tears by a progressive/traditionalist debate. And even Ofsted are giving marking a kick in the praise sandwiches.

So, what is there left to talk about?

Maybe I could talk about my school? Thing is, if I start doing that people will begin thinking I’m setting up some kind of edu-cult. They’ll expect me to start writing manifestos with messages about education that are so strong they make Trump’s election campaign look like Joanna Lumley advertising Mellow Birds coffee.

Maybe I should tell the world that the reason our disadvantaged children’s scaled score in maths was 302 was because we put them all in isolation tanks during their lunch hour and piped times tables raps into the disorientating darkness. (Admittedly they now all have skin like sultanas but by Gove they know what six sevens are.) But I just can’t be bothered.

I can’t be bothered to pretend that I have an uncompromising approach to education. I can’t be bothered to be misinterpreted and end up being defined by something I happen to believe in. Not because I don’t have strong beliefs. But because I’m quite up for changing my mind. I enjoy adapting. My beliefs are very strong but they are also apt to change depending on situation and context.

I don’t think that makes me a nightmare to work with. I’d like to think it makes me someone you can rely on. Allowing myself the luxury of accepting the subtleties and complexities of life has enabled me to adapt systems and policy in favour of trying to get the best out of every situation.

All very convenient but where does this leave me in terms of doling out guaranteed wisdom? You can’t take ‘we’ll see what’s around the corner and act accordingly’ and write it on your school action plan can you? Especially if you’re not actually any good! I mean, I can just about get away with it, but you? No, no, no. You need something a little more concrete if you’re to scale the dizzying heights of my headship.

So, let me think.

The only thing I can think of is something so dry and dusty you may as well close this window and go back to looking at mannequin challenge videos. It’s not sexy. It’s not nu-ed. You won’t find a hashtag of it anywhere on Twitter. It’s not appropriate for pinterest. And it certainly won’t win me blogger of the year.

Ladies and gentlemen, middle and senior leaders, I give you:

@theprimaryhead’s approach to school development planning.

Forget what you thought you knew. Throw away your smart targets. Get rid of the ‘who’ ‘how’ ‘cost’ columns and, best of all, delete the ‘by when’ column because it’s absolutely useless. Prepare yourself for a new age of action planning that will set you free in its simplicity. And no, this isn’t leading up to a big groovy joke where I say ‘action planning is for squares’, I’m being serious. It needs to be done and too many people do it badly. But luckily, I have the answer.




Where have you all gone?


That’s typical, isn’t it? If this was a blog about the educational research that suggests lesson observations are best done blindfolded so as to prevent the observer from making preconceived judgements on the quality of teaching, or, that phonics through music results in children being good at drawing polygons, you’d be all over it wouldn’t you? This blog would be trending Twitter right now.

But it isn’t. Because nobody cares about the boring bread and butter of leadership. Bread and butter doesn’t interest people, does it? People today want their bread and butter covered in bashed avocado or prosecco dust. I mean let’s be honest, once you’d all clicked on the Mellow Birds link you never came back.

Well fine. I know my place. Somebody, help me up onto this high horse.

Oops, wait a minute, I’m there already.

Leaders, Assemble!

In recent years, the education conference landscape has changed dramatically. There are still the same traditional conferences knocking about the place but they are being eclipsed by a grass roots movement of pedagogy platforms. Teachers are doing it for themselves. What’s more, they’re doing it at weekends and they’re loving it.

I’ve been to my fair share of these and I’ve always left feeling the same things:

  1. Teachers are cool!
  2. Teaching is exciting!
  3. Why does everyone hate SLT?

In my opinion it’s time for leaders to get in on the action and start a revolution of their own.

And, it was with this thought in mind that I jumped at the chance to be involved in a new education conference for the South West. At the moment, it has a date, Saturday 1st July 2017, but no name: #ConferenceWithNoName.

I am determined that, as well as being an incredible day of pedagogical wonder, it will be an opportunity for everyday leaders to have their say too.

I’m looking for leaders who are passionate about education and who unite teachers through their leadership.

  • Leaders who unify.
  • Leaders who strengthen.
  • Leaders who inspire whilst keeping it real.
  • Leaders who understand.
  • Leaders who care beyond ofsted and themselves.

If you think you could talk for about an hour, on an element of your leadership, and after that hour people would leave thinking:

  1. Leaders can be cool!
  2. Leading can be exciting!
  3. Who knew you could love SLT?

Then I want to hear from you.

I can’t promise you money. I can’t promise you fame or fortune. But I can promise you a firm handshake and a roomful of people who will be interested and a free drink if it all goes wrong.

If you fancy inspiring the next generation of school leaders, or just want to show people that leadership is a force for good, then please get in touch.

Leave me a comment under this post stating the area of leadership you would be interested in talking about and a way of contacting you (Twitter handle or email) and I will get back to you.

Thanks for reading.


The targets are strong with this one



I was so pleased with this year’s appraisal process. I kept it simple. I stripped it back. More importantly – I thought – the teachers had ownership over their targets.* You may not believe me but most teachers seemed to leave the meeting with a spring in their step. They were, dare I say, excited that we’d identified something for them to focus on throughout the year. We didn’t worry too much about past lesson observations or previous years’ foci. Instead, we had an honest conversation about their year so far. This may sound odd but I like to expect my teachers to struggle. No matter how good they are, or successful they have been in the past, I find it’s healthier to presume that this could be the year it all goes wrong! I appreciate that on the surface that sounds quite negative but I assure you it’s not. I think it’s quite positive. It certainly takes the pressure of feeling that past successes must be improved upon without fail or else it’s capability time. This way you’re allowed to be human. You can be faced with whatever challenge is in your classroom safe in the knowledge that you can come to me and I won’t say ‘A teacher of your calibre shouldn’t find that a challenge. Oh my, I thought you were good!’ So, in they came with comments like:

  • Man, I thought I was good with behaviour but this class, WOW! I’m going to need some help with this, Boss.
  • I’ve got three new arrivals, Chief. I can’t understand them. They can’t understand me. Help me out please.
  • Crikey these lot are clever! I’ll need some advice about how to stretch them, Big Guy.
  • Hey Ice, what’s PDA? Our SENCO says I’ve got four kids with it. Help me out.

It was great. Honest conversations about areas of professional development they needed help with. That’s what appraisals are for. Not regurgitating tired Ofsted criteria or vanilla statements from the school development plan. This year, we were keeping it real. Teachers felt good because they could talk about a difficulty without being judged for it. I felt good because all these targets would improve what we were putting in place for the children.

I was psyched. I was pumped. I was totally ready for my own appraisal.

My Chair of Governors asked me to consider what targets I would want and email them across before the meeting. I dutifully reflected on the SDP and came up with four or five robust targets that would surely improve the school. They were linked to achievement, teaching, learning, behaviour, leadership and my personal development.

I attended my appraisal with a panel of governors and was shown four targets that pretty much had nothing to do with what I had prepared. Only one of them contained the briefest of nods towards what I thought should be my focus. I was a little stunned and a little more than disappointed.

One of the governors asked how I felt. I was respectful, but it was pretty clear to everyone in the room that I wasn’t exactly sold on the four targets I was clearly going to be given.

We discussed them. The cases put forward were:

ME: These don’t have anything to do with the areas of the school that I am actually accountable for.

THEM: We totally trust you to lead successfully on teaching and behaviour so why not push you out of your comfort zone.

ME: School improvement isn’t comfortable!

THEM: School improvement is what you will always do. These targets reflect the unique challenging circumstances the school, nay all schools, are facing.

ME: Oh very bloody clever!

I won’t go into detail about what the targets were but, to be fair to the governors, they had a point. Their target suggestions may have less to do with my job description than previous years but they do represent the reality of running a school in 2016-17. It is not going to be easy and, on reflection, it is only right that my targets be focussed on the nitty-gritty of the school I am leading. Without us knowing it, the governors and I had approached the appraisal process in almost identical ways. We had both asked our appraisees to consider the year ahead, focusing on the potential failures before making that the subject of the future. And the fact that the teachers seemed more excited about their targets than I did about mine maybe says more about the state of education rather than the appraisal focus.

Reflecting back, I now consider the teachers, walking out of their appraisals with a spring in their step, to be like children walking out of the cinema after watching ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’. Whereas I felt more like a depressed child crying all the way home after watching Luke get his hand chopped off in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. It may be stark. It may appear bleak.  But it is exactly what it needs to be. I am slowly concluding that my appraisal targets for this year may be the best I’ve ever had.

Now all I need to do is make sure that, in a year’s time, my appraisal review completes the trilogy and the governors will celebrate ‘The Return of the Jedi’.


*Well, not the achievement targets; I still set those. ‘SLT scum!’ I hear some of you scream. Yeah, I know, I know. It’s old-fashioned, but it’s my school and I’m setting achievement targets.