Be the light

SpotlightTeaching is a tough job. I don’t care which way you cut it, teaching is hard. Anyone that says otherwise is wrong. If they’re outside education they don’t know what they’re talking about. If they’re in education, well, they probably aren’t doing it right.

And yet…

Schools are happy places. Corridors and classrooms are bright and brimming with life learning, positivity and possibility. Teachers are enablers. They are driven by the knowledge that they are making a difference. Yes, teaching is hard but it’s worth it.

And yet…

Doing the job, day in and day out, can make you forget. Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees – or in the case of teaching, you can’t see the difference you’re making for all the planning, marking, targets, assessment deadlines and meetings.


Enter the Headteacher.

For we are the keepers of peace in a world of chaos. We are the bastions of sanity in a landscape carved out by the insane. We are the shepherds tending our flock of bruised and battered sheep. We are the moral compass, the heartbeat of the community. We are the guiding light.

And yet…

Sometimes teachers find themselves in the dark. And lurking in the shadows are whispers of discontent. The tired will cry, the bruised will vent, and the vulnerable will seek help. Good Heads will respond. Good Heads will listen and reflect. Good Heads will feel the pain that, under their watch, good teachers may be suffering. Good Heads will be big enough to make changes. Good Heads will provide the light.


Some teachers seek out the darkness. They prefer to undermine, resist change, hide from accountability. Challenge is something to be avoided: to some teachers ‘digging deep’ is staying at work until 4pm. These teachers prefer not to empathise with the difficult children in their class but view them as unacceptable performance management targets. These teachers seek unwarranted asylum from their own job description. They do not seek the light.


Good Heads will feel the pain when anyone isn’t happy. Good Heads will ask themselves, again and again, is there something more that they could do. Good Heads will doubt themselves and wonder if they are to blame. Good Heads will secretly hope that someone else will come along and fix it.


Deep down they know. Good Heads understand that self-selecting darkness is bad for business. So good Heads will always find the torch. To do anything else would be unfair and disloyal to the hardworking, and then, well, even the best Head in the world would have a big problem.


Teaching may be hard but so is Headship. Being fair and firm is never an easy task. Maintaining your moral compass whilst making sure your staff aren’t working themselves into early retirement is tricky – but then again, if you find Headship easy, you’re probably not doing it right.

Welcome back!


The top five things that probably happened to you this week

Week one done. We did it. A full week. Well done everyone. We all managed to somehow set our alarm, get up, squeeze into some now ill-fitting item of clothing (because we never got round to buying a new work wardrobe) and dragged ourselves, blinking into the early morning light as we did so, into work.

Now whether you were dreading it or whether you were in fact a little bit excited about the prospect of returning to work I guarantee that one, if not all, of the following things happened to you during your first week back at school.

Number one: Your password has expired

Full of fresh ideas and invigorated by the summer you simply can’t wait to get going. You rock up to the school gates and suddenly realise that you’ve forgotten your security key. Damn it. Still you’re not alone, there’s an NQT waiting anxiously to be let it and the Head is trying to scale the fence rather than admit defeat. Finally someone comes along who is at least half-awake and you’re in. This progress however is short lived. For some reason you forgot to turn your PC off last summer and you’ve been locked out and try as you might you simply can’t remember your password. You try all the combinations it could possibly be but to no avail – luckily you wrote it in pencil underneath your desk in case of emergency – success! However once you are logged on you are immediately told to change it. Someone comes in and tells you to check your email as the inset agenda has just been sent around – something about inspiring a creative masterful mind-set within a de-radicalised society – you click on outlook only to be told that your password has expired, please re-enter your old one and then choose a new one. Sod that, you’ll just photocopy a paper version. As you join the back of the line you ask the person in front what’s taking so long? The reply: no one can remember their code for the photocopier. It’s going to be a long day.

Number two: I don’t want to know what you did last summer.

In between the inspirational inset talks, the blue sky thinking focus groups, the queues for coffee and the tussles over the laminator, people tend to chat about their summer. There’s always one though isn’t there. In between all the happy tales of sunburn, duty free and idyllic island retreats, there’s always one. One person who has had the worst holiday ever…Your passport had expired, the car wouldn’t start, the plane was delayed, the hotel wasn’t booked, the hotel was filthy, you hadn’t realised it was a hostel, the kids got shingles on the first day, the food was terrible, someone stole your travellers cheques, the sea was full of sewage, it wasn’t all inclusive, it rained, it was too hot, you were called back early, you missed your flight, you’d left the bathroom light on, squatters had moved in, you’re more tired now than when you left…well, thank goodness I asked.

Number three: The first lunch

After six weeks of brunches, liquid lunches and late night suppers, being back in school is quite a shock to the system. At about 10:00am your stomach, confused as to why it’s been active for the last four hours, begins to send your brain some very clear messages. Animal, vegetable or mineral, it doesn’t matter: just fill me. By 10:30am you can’t think of anything else. You need some food. You excuse yourself and make your way to the staff room where a host of ‘back to term treats’ had been spread out, alas, there is nothing left but crumbs. You hoover up the crumbs but it’s not enough. By 10:45am you realise that there is nothing else to do but open your lunch. Anyone looking at you tear open your sandwiches, eating yoghurt with your fingers and licking the inside of the crisp packet would be forgiven for thinking you had just relapsed after going cold turkey….sshhh, did someone say turkey?

Number four: The not so deep clean

Now, you seem to remember being told, at the end of last term, to make sure that you moved everything into the centre of the room, in preparation for the deep clean. Well you did that and every week through the holidays you popped back into school, just to see if the cleaners had been, so you could organise your classroom again before September. But each time, based on the layers of dust that had settled around the central island of book-corners and plastic drawer units, you had assumed that they still hadn’t been. By the last week, it was pretty evident that they weren’t coming, so you quickly sorted out your room and put up your new displays, smugly posting pictures of your tidy room on Instagram and Pinterest for the world to see #RaringToGo! Imagine your dismay when you walk into your classroom on Monday to find all your carefully organised pencil pots, book trays and personalised resources piled up in the middle of the carpet, your carefully negotiated tables all randomly scattered around the place and worst still, streaks of dried bleach spray running down your new maths mastery display. The caretaker wryly saying ‘Well I did warn you’ does not help, nor does the fact that every time you close the classroom door a snowstorm of dust falls on top of your head. Deep clean indeed!

Number five: Work in progress

‘We have lots of exciting developments going on over the summer’ boasted the last newsletter of the summer term. Tales of new ICT suites, adventure playgrounds, cookery stations, sports hall floors, woodland areas, additional classrooms, kitchens…left everyone feeling excited about the new lease of life that would be given to the school in September. The Head is absent for most of the inset and can occasionally be heard screaming down the phone such sentiments as ‘There’s a hole in my bloody playground the size of Gove’s ego, how exactly does that represent a service level agreement?’ On the first real day of school, all the children are ushered in via a side gate and playtimes are restricted to one class at a time because there aren’t enough hard-hats to go around. On Friday, the first newsletter ends: ‘We look forward to the new wing of our school being completed in the October half term, in the meantime our Year 6 children are really enjoying themselves taking turn sharing seats with Reception.’

Number six: Ofsted calls

Only joking. Right?

(For Kath)



I’m not going to lie. It’s been a hell of a year.

Ofsted broke my heart.

I cried.

I ranted.

I blogged.

I fought.

It took three months for the inspection to materialise into a final published report. Many inaccuracies of the draft report were changed but the tone of the report had become damning and cruel.

For a while I considered packing it in. Over three years I had given everything to that school. I believed I had made a difference. I believed that it was a better place than it was when I first arrived.

I was obviously wrong.

I turned to others for help. I got it. Little by little I began to regain shreds of self-belief. Shards of evidence that suggested I wasn’t off my nut and that I did, despite the report, know what I was doing.

I kept my chin up, you know, for the kids. But deep down I still felt it. I mean, how many RIs have I got left? Better jump than be pushed. But then again, what does a failed Head do?

After a while people said – move on. It was like when somebody dies in a soap. Three episodes later and everyone’s forgotten about them. Well, I was still mourning the loss of my ‘good’ Ofsted. I couldn’t move on.

I complained.

My complaint came back. Many points had been upheld. Victory! Some hadn’t. And I’m a teacher at heart, so, of course, I focussed on those bits.

Then people began to say: seriously, move on.

And I did.

I went to a conference. I got some ideas. I worked with some inspirational people. I threw a few ideas around with my Deputy. Pretty soon I was feeling the spark. That moment when you think you’ve hit upon something big. My SDP was starting to take shape.

Momentum gathered.

Every now and then I would stop and realise that I hadn’t thought about Ofsted for days.

On 7th July the results came out.

O M G!

Well whadda y’know?

We did really well. We got the results a certain inspector said we never would.


Then I started to think that it wasn’t fair. What is the point of results if you don’t have a good Ofsted to go with it?

Then three things were said to me at the school summer fair.

  1. The ex-governor: When I saw that every disadvantaged pupil had made a level 4 I thought, that’s it, we’ve done it. We’ve closed that gap. We’ve made a difference. I was so proud. Well done, everyone!
  2. The parent: Isn’t there something parents could do to tell Ofsted that they’ve just got it wrong? This is a great school.
  3. The Year 6 pupil: Thank you for being a Head that didn’t leave us straight away.

Those three statements hit me like a cliché hitting me really hard.

I was reminded about what is important.

  1. Helping those children who need it the most is important.
  2. Enabling parents to support their local school is important.
  3. Leaders that stick around are important.

I realised why I had begun to be excited in the preceding weeks. Because in September I’m going to help secure those three very important things. Not for Ofsted, but for us. I’m going to work with my team and help the school get better and better at doing the right thing and we’re going to measure it ourselves using the right instruments.

Ofsted can choose to see what they like but I’m not doing it for them.

I’m over it.

I’m in love with my job again.

It’s going to be a hell of a year.