What dreams may come?


I started a new school in September. Compared to my last school, it’s twice the size, is in a more challenging area and has an almost reversed picture of achievement over the last three years. In short: I’ve got my work cut out.

I was told yesterday that I had just passed the 50 days of new headship milestone. That sounded weird. In some ways I already feel such a connection with the school but at the same time, my time here has passed in the blink of an eye. My Deputies and I chuckled at their ‘favourite moments so far’ – which mainly consisted of me being a) lost, b) swearing, c) swearing whilst lost.

My new team are under no illusion about the challenges the school faces. We have a lot to do to turn this big old ‘supertanker’ (as one Head described the school to me) around. But, everyone seems up for it. It all started with the development plan. That was written at a pace that surprised even me – turns out it’s quite easy to write a development plan when the data is only showing one colour, and when the staff are committed to improvement. Despite being only 50 days in, the road to improvement has started in earnest. Although, when my Chair of Governors asked me how far the ‘supertanker’ had already turned I did have to make clear that all we had really done was get the map out on the table for everyone to see…but it’s a start!

In terms of scale, I can’t decide whether this is the biggest challenge I’ve faced as a leader. In terms of ‘bums on seats’, then yes, this school is the biggest. In terms of the scale standards need to improve, then yes, probably.

And yet…

People who know me have commented that I seem more relaxed than I ever have in my entire career. I can’t deny that, for the first time in my adult life, I am sleeping really well. Odd, considering the scale of the challenge I am facing.

Why is this?

Some of this must be down to the ‘honeymoon’ period. I can sleep at night because none of it’s my fault! I don’t mean that I am regularly throwing my predecessor under the bus…that wouldn’t be classy, fair, or truthful. But it is so exhilarating to be the fresh pair of eyes. You can be open to the school’s issues in a way that becomes harder to do once you are entrenched in the systems yourself. I am relishing every opportunity to listen without prejudice and put in place lessons learned. In doing so I can feel other staff members ‘loosen up’ and not take criticism or complaints personally. (I only hope that they can do the same for me later on!)

On reflection, some of my new-found peace and tranquillity is down to having left my previous school behind. There is so much I loved and still treasure about that place. But there were elements that were impacting on me in ways that I now see were causing me immense stress. I shan’t go into details, but it has been incredibly cathartic to experience a new setting where these elements operate differently. Again, I fully expect my new setting to present its own stresses later on down the line, but I feel more confident that I will be able to identify the warning signs and put in place measures to maintain organisational appropriateness as well as my own well-being.

Another reason why I am so cock-a-hoop at the moment is: why wouldn’t I be? It’s a new start, baby! This is the fun bit. This is the time you get to know the school and the people in it, you find its groove and you work out how best to help it evolve into something even stronger. What’s not to love? I focus on three things: equity, unity and responsibility. Get everyone (staff, pupils, governors and parents) approaching their work in school with those three ideas at the forefront of their mind and nothing seems impossible.

Plus, at the moment, it all seems to be going alright…woohoo!

The one catch, of course, is Ofsted. Technically, we’re due an inspection in January. And how sad that the one thing causing me anxiety is a 24 hour (although most likely 48 hour) visitation? The fact is, I don’t trust them. I don’t trust them – and by ‘them’ I mean each individual inspector – to make the right call. I worry that (and I am not a data denier) they could come in, be heavy handed with the stats, presume I don’t know or care, and ultimately, mess up my plan. You see, I know that improvement takes time. There’s loads I want to do at my new school but it’s not all in my SDP. It couldn’t be. If I put everything I wanted to improve inside the plan the school would suffocate. I believe you’ve got to take things one step at a time. Some of that means that not everything is going to be up to ‘my’ standard for quite a while. I am OK with that.

But will that be good enough for Ofsted?

The problem with that question is that there are multiple answers depending on the team you get. And that is nub of the Ofsted issue. I used to think that I would always want Ofsted to visit in the first year of any headship. They’d add weight to my convictions and support my journey to improvement. Now, I’m not so sure. I don’t feel I need them to come in and judge what I already know. I certainly don’t want them advising on what my development plan should be covering because they won’t know the school like I do. I definitely don’t want my school derailed by a wonky report.

Most of all though, I don’t want to lose any sleep because I’m afraid of what Ofsted dreams may come.