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.

Don’t believe the hype


Lea owned a car. The car worked. It could go forwards and backwards; it could go slowly and quickly. The mechanic helped Lea look after the car. The mechanic made sure the brakes worked and the gears were smooth and the exhaust was healthy. The mechanic did this for all cars. Lea really liked the car and knew how to look after it. She put petrol in it and regularly checked the oil. She took it to the car wash every third Saturday of the month and occasionally she even cleaned the foot-well with a mini vacuum cleaner she had once bought from a service station. Lea liked her car.

Lea had a friend called Matt. Matt had just bought a shiny new car. Matt told Lea that his car was better than hers because it was shiny. Lea questioned him about why it was so good. Matt claimed that his shiny car could not only go forwards but that it could also go backwards. Lea said her car could do that too. Matt said yes, but his car did that and was shiny. Matt said that he could make his shiny car go really fast. Matt said he could drive at 120mph. Lea asked if he ever had. Matt said he hadn’t because you’re not allowed to drive that fast but he was sure his shiny car would find 120mph a breeze.

Lea didn’t think much of it until she read a review of Matt’s car in a car magazine. The review was written by a man who really liked fast and shiny cars. The man in the review said that Matt’s car was one of the shiniest cars he’d ever driven. The man in the review said that it could go forwards, backwards and that it could go 120mph. He even said that the gears were smooth. The best thing about this car, said the man in the review, was that it was shiny. The man in the review said that one day all cars would be shiny and therefore one day all cars would be great.

Matt was really pleased with this review and shared it with Lea. Lea said that she had read it and was pleased for Matt. Matt said Lea should get a shiny car because then her car could go forwards, backwards and 120 mph. Lea said her car could go forwards and backwards and that, for all she knew, her car already could go 120mph. Matt said he didn’t think this was true because her car was not shiny.

After that Lea started to see loads of adverts for shiny cars. The man who had reviewed Matt’s car started writing other reviews saying that all these shiny cars were amazing feats of engineering. They could all go forwards and backwards. Some cars, when you put petrol inside their tummies, could keep on driving for ages. Lea thought that this had been the case for a while, but the man in the review was pretty sure we were entering a new age of the car. Old cars could not compete with the new shiny cars.

Lea started to think that maybe her car wasn’t very shiny. She found herself dreaming about driving a shiny car at the legal speed limit but knowing she could go faster. She began to think how good it would be to have a shiny car that could go forwards and backwards. Lea went to car shop and asked to see the shiniest car for sale. She was shown a very shiny car. She asked what made this car so good. The salesman said that because it was shiny you could put petrol in it and that would make the car could go forwards and backwards. Lea asked about how smooth the gears were. The salesman said that what was amazing about these new shiny cars was that they used oil to make everything work properly. The salesman said that in his experience, what made these shiny cars so unique was the fact that the shiny cars could be looked after by a mechanic. Lea said that sounded really good and the salesman laughed and said that he knew it sounded good.

Lea walked home from the car shop. She rang Matt to talk about shiny cars. Matt said that if it wasn’t for shiny cars, people would literally be walking on motorways pulling their unshiny cars behind them with massive ropes. It was as if car builders didn’t know what they had been doing until they had invented shine. Then, suddenly, the cars were able to go forwards and backwards and possibly 120 mph. Lea agreed. Lea thought she might have to buy herself a shiny car.

On her way home she passed her own mechanic’s garage. Out of curiosity she popped in to ask what her mechanic thought of shiny cars. Her mechanic laughed and said that shiny cars were the same as any other car and that what made a car go forward and backwards was putting petrol in it, checking the oil regularly and generally looking after it. Lea asked about shiny cars going 120mph and the mechanic said that no car was allowed to go that fast so it didn’t really matter. Lea said that she had read a review saying that these new shiny cars were the best because they were so shiny. The mechanic said that this was nonsense and what made a car good was what had always made a car good. Lea asked what that was. The mechanic said that as long as a car had oil in it, a place to put the petrol in and an owner who didn’t try and drive at 120pmh, it would go forwards, backwards and as fast as you would ever need.

Lea couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Lea went home and went on the internet. She searched for stories of shiny cars. So many shiny car owners believed their cars to be good because they were shiny. Could they all be wrong? Even the man who reviewed all the cars said that shiny cars were the best sort of car. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the advice her mechanic had given her about all cars needing the same things in order to go forwards and backwards. Lea was so confused.

In the morning she rang Matt and asked if he could drive round. Matt said he’d love to but that his car was in the repair shop. Lea asked what had happened. Matt explained that he had tried to drive his shiny car through a small tunnel. Unfortunately his shiny car was a bit too big. His shiny car had made an awful scraping noise as it squeezed through the tunnel and when he had got through he had stopped his shiny car and got out. To his dismay all the shine and had been removed and his car was now all dull. Matt said that this was a disaster and that now it was completely undriveable. Lea asked how he had got his car to the repair shop. Matt said he’d driven it. Lea sounded surprised and asked if the car had driven alright. Matt said yes, in fact he thought it had gone a bit faster but that was probably just the shock. Lea asked him how much it was going to cost to get the shine back. Matt said about a million pounds. Lea asked him if he thought it was worth getting it re-shined. Matt said yes because without the shine his car wouldn’t go forwards or backwards and it certainly wouldn’t possibly go 120mph.

Lea hung up.

Matt was an idiot.

Lea got into her car and drove, perfectly well, to work.


Letting go

Mr Rochester
“I am no bird: and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Jane Eyre to Mr Rochester



I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills that I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you go now that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you…and I will blog.

Liam Neeson in Taken 4 (probably)

I have moved on. In short, earlier this year my school suffered a terrible Ofsted. At the helm was a bull-headed and bullying lead inspector who steered her team and drove forward, regardless of any evidence, a judgement that was as inaccurate as it was cruel. We fought it. The report was overturned and re-written. I complained. Numerous aspects of my complaint were upheld. That felt like closure. My school remained afloat and moving forward, but I was left feeling battered and bruised, to the point that I’ll happily take issue with any teacher who claims leaders are not on the ‘front line’ of education.

I have moved on but I can’t let go. I think the reason is because this lead inspector is a practising Head Teacher. I just can’t get my head around that. Why would a fellow Head go into a school that had improved so much over the last two years and seek to destroy it? Why would a fellow Head seem hell-bent on opposing the views of HMI, the local authority, the parents, the school itself and the fact that levels of achievement, for all children, had risen year on year? I just couldn’t understand why another professional wouldn’t play fair, favouring instead to discredit the achievements of a whole school and belittle the school in front of its community.

Like an itch you just have to scratch, I began to research her school. I wanted to know what her school was like. It must be something pretty special in order for her to have the chutzpah to give my moderately successful school such a ticking off. I was rather surprised, therefore, to see that achievement in her school had been steadily declining for the last three years, with the 2014 results hitting an all-time low of 64% of pupils achieving Level 4 in reading, writing and maths. When looking at the socio-economic context of her school, I learned that it is situated in a highly disadvantaged area, unlike mine, but our value added scores for 2014 were identical: 99.5 – both of our scores having dipped from the year before (hers for reading, mine for maths). And so, when I saw that she had been visited by Ofsted two months after me, I wondered if her team had been as unforgiving of her as she had of me.

Apparently not.

Her report came out as good, with outstanding features. And, as far as I can tell from comparing our two reports, there had been some pretty conflicting messages communicated during our two inspections. Whereas she had clearly told me that because only 87% of pupils made expected progress in maths, we should consider ourselves inadequate; her team judged her dip, resulting in 85% of pupils making expected progress in reading, to be nothing more than a blip. Whereas her team then went on to judge her leadership to be outstanding because she knew about the dip and promised that it would never happen again, she categorically told me that I was inadequate for letting it happen in the first place and ‘over-optimistic’ and clueless because I suggested that it wasn’t going to happen again. Whereas her team praised her internal data that showed things were improving, she discredited mine, claiming it was bogus and that my predictions were ludicrously inflated.

Now I know that inspections are not based on data alone and that maybe during her inspection she showed that she was a highly effective leader, whereas I apparently showed myself to be a…what was it she called me? A man with his ‘head in the clouds’. Maybe in 2015 she would be proved right, justifying the praise and adoration outlined in her Ofsted report. But imagine my surprise when I clicked on this year’s performance tables and saw that her reading progress had, well, not exactly swelled, from 85% to 87%. Not only that, but her value added score has fallen to 98.1. As I say, I know it’s not all about the data, but doesn’t this contradict Ofsted’s judgement of her leadership? Does this not mean that her promises to rectify her ineffectiveness to raise standards of reading have ended up sounding rather hollow?

What will Ofsted do now? Will they return and question her as to how this happened on her watch? Again.

I know they will visit me again. I know that they will return to question this Head who has, according to the last report, ‘over-inflated’ opinions about the standards his school achieves. Maybe they will be confused as to how the outcomes we achieved in 2015 were almost identical to the ones I predicted we would get during the last inspection. Maybe they will wonder as to how this incompetent leader got any green on his Raise Online and achieved an above average value added score with results that placed his school in the top ten performing schools within the city? Maybe they will dismiss our three year 20% growth in achievement and complete close of the gap between our disadvantaged pupils and their peers as nothing more than a blip. A long, three-year blip. Who knows?

But back to this lead inspector. It was with some personal interest that, upon hearing the news that Ofsted were culling a large number of their inspectors as they were considered to be unfit for purpose, I enquired if my very own lead inspector would end up on the slagheap. To my dismay, I learned that she is still inspecting. Despite having had one of her inspection reports completely re-written due to the fact that it was proved to be highly inaccurate; despite the fact that her knowledge of data analysis was deeply flawed; despite the fact that she did in fact judge individual lessons; despite the fact that one of the complaints that was upheld, based on evidence provided by one of the additional inspectors, was about her bullying behaviour throughout the inspection; despite the fact that HMI found her evidence base to be lacking, in order for her to make the judgements she did; despite the fact that she mis-represented comments from the school’s senior leaders when writing up her report; despite the fact that she did not follow protocol during the final feedback meeting with the local authority; despite the fact that other schools have complained to the local press about her; despite the fact that she came into a school with a fixed agenda and stuck rigidly to it and despite the fact that she is not HMI accredited…she is still inspecting. I have been told that she will no longer lead inspections but she is still out thete.

Finally, and because, unlike her, I like to be thorough, I couldn’t help but click on her school’s website to see how she had presented her 2014 poor results to her community. At first I thought I had got the wrong school. Because, the results that were being publicised were not the same as the results on the performance tables. According to her, 83% of pupils achieved a level 4 in reading in 2014. And yet, according to the DfE only 71% did. A similar pattern occurs for all other subjects: she claims 95% achieved level 4 in maths when only 83% did; she claims 85% of pupils achieved level 4 in the grammar test and yet the DfE seem pretty certain only 67% did. Maybe her school results omit certain pupils that DfE hasn’t updated, or maybe she forgot to change the date on the website, or maybe these were her unvalidated 2015 results. But guess what? I checked. These are not her 2015 results, according to the DfE. Far from it. Sadly, I can’t actually check what she is claiming for this year’s results because her school’s website is currently under construction.

So why can’t I let go? Am I just bitter? Is it just sour grapes? Is this just a petty grudge?


I think schools have a right to know that rogue, unprofessional and incompetent inspectors are still out there. I think Ofsted should know that one of their own is a living breathing disgrace to their organisation. I think Ofsted should go back and question the claims made in a ‘good with outstanding features’ report when promises are not delivered. I think the professional community should know that when a Head is falsifying information on their website it is followed up and dealt with. I think the professional community should know that Ofsted does not give Heads who are also inspectors an easy ride when inspecting their schools. I think the professional community should know that inspectors who ride roughshod over the inspection framework get punished.

In short, I think we all deserve better than her.

When I know that, I’ll let it go.