Eyes Wide Shut

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After a rather busy year that was my first year in headship I feel that I have reached a turning point in my outlook on education. It feels a bit like an epiphany with the clouds of educational fuzz parting as a singular beam of light illuminates the true path to educational success. Over the year, one word has repeatedly entered my subconscious and this word is now at the centre of everything I do. It has given me a clarity that I have never experienced so far and has become a filter through which everything else must pass through. The only problem I have is that I can’t tell if through my experiences over the last year with Ofsted, HMI etc whether my eyes have truly been opened or if I have been brain-washed.

Oh, the word is ‘achievement’, sorry probably should have cleared that up at the start. Although at times I feel so stupid that this word has not always been at the forefront of my brain-I imagine many of you didn’t even have to get half-way through the first paragraph before you thought ‘the boy’s talking about achievement’. Some of you may even have spurted out your holiday Pina Coladas in disgust thinking ‘the idiot’s a Head and he’s only just started thinking about achievement; find out where he works and acadamise the damn place now, put the poor children out of their misery’.

I know, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But before you judge me too harshly, I haven’t not been thinking about achievement but I haven’t always linked everything and I mean everything back to it. I now believe that everything a school does can only be judged successful if judged through academic achievement:

Teaching, behaviour management, your relationship with pupils, your relationship with other staff members, marking, marking all your books, marking all your books every night, planning, getting the right resources, the way you deal with bullying, the way you promote anti-racism/anti-sexism/anti-homophobic views and behaviours, using your data, setting targets, effective child-protection procedures, effective governance, reward systems, assembly themes, after school clubs, the use of pupil-premium monies, the use of all school monies, leadership structures, use of support staff, use of child-mentors…

All of this, if done effectively, will impact on achievement (that bit I’ve always known) but my epiphany/brain-washed bit is that all those elements should be judged through achievement too. Oh and that everyone else in your organisation MUST believe that this is why they do all of the above as well as they can.

We don’t develop a good relationship with our class because we enjoy working with children: we do it because it will have a positive impact on achievement. We don’t challenge racist/sexist/homophobic views just because they are morally abhorrent: we do it because it will ensure a right to equality and ambition which in turn will impact positively on the achievement for as many pupils as possible. We don’t sit down with a pile of books and mark them because it’s part of the job description: we do it because if the school’s policy is effective it will allow us to support achievement.

I could go on but I think you get the point.

Achievement is not just the marker by which we measure how well a school happens to be doing: it is the reason why we turn up. It is the reason why working in schools is so hard. It should be the reason why working in schools is so rewarding. Too often ‘soft’ successes that provide no actual evidence of success are seen as being adequate in themselves and I think that this should change. It is not good enough that a child is happy in your class unless you are capitalising on that happiness to further their chances later on. It is not good enough that you have worked your magic on an angry/violent child if you are not then pushing that child to achieve. You should not feel proud of your achievement as a teacher if all you have done is create a happy, caring and safe environment and convinced yourself that this is enough…it isn’t!

I know…I sound like a monster. I sound like my Ofsted inspector. What have I become?

I think I’ve become a better Head (I hope I have otherwise the last year was a monumental waste of time). I still passionately believe in enjoying teaching and working with children and still believe in creative freedoms and that working in schools can be fun for everyone. But I’m moving away from thinking that some perceived successes cannot be judged or measured. I think that if you hold a pupil’s academic achievement as your ultimate goal you will not rest until you can link everything we work so hard in putting in place to achievement.

So, if you’re reading this thinking ’well it took him a year but bless him, the kid’s on the right path now’ thank you very much. If you’re reading it thinking ‘we need to take him out, he no longer has a soul’ please help me have another epiphany.

5 thoughts on “Eyes Wide Shut

  1. jfb57 August 2, 2013 / 8:08 pm

    Now your next task is sharing the word for everyone else in the school community to understand!

  2. Phil H August 4, 2013 / 7:28 am

    Just to disagree with the comment above: perhaps the best approach here is not sharing the word. I’m sure I’m not the only one who dislikes big abstract words being lobbed at me as if they should mean something. There are lots of ways in which this epiphany – which sounds all good to me, by the way – can be shared. And it’s very possible that small practical adjustments might precede any announcement of the overarching, underlying “acheivement” theme.
    Great post, though. It does sound like an interesting and meaningful way of thinking about the stuff you do.

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