Who do you think I am?






I am anonymous. I am aware that some people know exactly who I am and that doesn’t particularly bother me. I am also aware that it probably wouldn’t take a particularly highly skilled hacker a lot of time to uncover my identity. But the truth is, I am happier blogging and tweeting anonymously. Why? Because I think it provides me with a smidgen of freedom. Now don’t misunderstand me, I do not consider myself to be an influential underground freedom fighter relentlessly sticking it to the man. There is nothing that I blog or tweet about that I wouldn’t say in person to anyone else, and, as my blog is about me, I have often shared my thoughts with people in the real world before posting them online.

So why, you may ask, do I bother with anonymity?

For the simple reason that it makes my life easier. It frees me from any line blurring. My Twitter timeline isn’t a mixture of my own comments juxtaposed with updates on the school tombola. @theprimaryhead* can ask for help, moan, celebrate, mock, support, and comment on anything, without members of staff, governors or parents explicitly being exposed to it and judging me accordingly. That, believe me, is quite liberating. By being anonymous I have a little bit less accountability too, which, as any Head will tell you, is a blessing. Less accountability, however, does not give me licence to be a pillock. It is unlikely, even when I’m at my most annoyed (and therefore most vulnerable to making a misplaced online comment), that I will broadcast anything so controversial so as to upset anyone who stumbles across it. I understand my real world responsibilities and don’t wish to make someone cry, resign, or, take a law suit out against me so I end up getting sacked.

With regards to my blog, being anonymous allows me to exist within a very comfortable ‘grey area’ between writing as an actual Head and as an aspirational one. I have never lied about my experiences and I do not use the blog to create a fictionalised ‘better’ version of me, but, by committing to ‘blog-print’ my beliefs and values, it helps me stay on the straight and narrow when I’m back in reality and trying to lead a school. I know the leader I want to be and my blog can help me explore that.

One criticism about anonymity online is that others cannot trust your credentials and therefore your words carry with them little or no validity. ‘If you’re so right about everything why don’t you come out into the open and stop hiding? What’s the problem? Worried that people will see you for what you are?’ No. But I’m not writing my blog for them; I’m writing it for me. If my words resonate with people, for whatever reason, then that’s just swell, but them knowing or not knowing who I am does not strengthen or weaken that resonance. You can either choose to believe me or you can choose not to-it’s all the same to me. Who you choose to think I am is not my concern and I am not asking to be anything else than one among a million voices, contributing to the online world of educational debate. I do not need to stand up and be counted, but that doesn’t mean that my anonymous views don’t count for something.

*If you ever hear me talk about myself in the third person again, please unfollow me immediately.


My highly esteemed friend on twitter @emmaannhardy posed a question the other evening:

I keep hearing about Mocksteds in schs & the crazy pressure they put staff under.  I wondered what you thought to Mocksteds @HarfordSean?

Now, I am not Sean Harford and I don’t know what one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and the National Director for Schools has to say on the matter, but Emma’s tweet got me thinking. I have never experienced a Mocksted and I don’t think I would ever organise one for my school. Not least because I agree with Emma’s point about the ‘crazy pressure they put staff under’ but more for the simple reason that I don’t see the point.
Why would a Head decide to carry out a pretend Ofsted in their school? As far as I can work out, there are three reasons:

1. They just can’t wait!
It’s like a child who simply has to open a Christmas present on Christmas Eve because they can’t bear the tension anymore! The inspection could be a result of two things, one being that the school is long overdue an inspection and the Head can’t resist a sneaky peak at what the judgement might be, so they draft in an ‘in it for the cash’ A-team bunch of Ofsted mercenaries who will put you through your paces and give you a judgement that you may or may not get in the real world. The second is that the Head can’t wait to leave the school but Ofsted aren’t going to turn up in the foreseeable future and they need something to put on the CV, so, again, they draft in the Mocksted team and hope that the sentence: ‘A group of paid people visited my school and gave me a judgement that has all the validity of a forged passport’ will get them the job. My advice: patience my friends, patience. They’ll come eventually and, when they do, you won’t be able to wave your Mocksted judgement in the air while spluttering ‘But, but but…’ when it hasn’t gone your way.

2. They just don’t know!
Far more distressing is the possibility that a Head doesn’t know how good the school is and considers the Mocksted to be some kind of fortune telling genie that’ll do the job for them. There is the argument that a new Head, who has arrived at a point where the last Ofsted was a long time ago and the next one may be a long way ahead, may wish to draw a line in the sand by getting the Mockers in. But, in all honesty, surely the cons outweigh the pros? If you’re trying to prove to a school that they’re not as good as they think they are, then for your own sanity, find a more inclusive way of getting that message across to the people you’re meant to be leading. If you’re not a new Head, then shame on you. I mean, come on, muster up a smidgen of courage and put your own judgement on the SEF and see if it sticks. If you honestly don’t know, then, if you’re a locally maintained school ask your school improvement officer; if you’re an academy, ask the executive Head; and if you’re a Free school, well, go and ask a Toby Young, I suppose.

3. They don’t know you!
This is basically the same as number 2 insofar as it suggests that the senior leaders don’t have a strong enough handle on your capabilities as a teacher. Now, this may be because they don’t know how to judge teaching or it may be that they know their judgement of you but they want to check how you ‘perform’. This is rather distasteful and belies the whole point of triangulated evidence over time (which is soooooo 2015) and would suggest the SLT don’t keep very good evidence. It could of course mean that they do know you and are wise to the fact that you literally have a nervous breakdown whenever you’re observed and they’re worried how you’re going to react when an inspector walks in. Again though, I don’t see how a Mocksted is going to help, especially as you actually may need some help, as in support, not just practice in crying into your book corner until the nasty inspector walks away.

Whatever the reason for a Mocksted, I personally think that there are more effective ways for a leader to a) judge and b) improve their own school. My biggest reason for not conducting a Mocksted of my own, however, is consistency. There is just no guarantee that on any given day, any given observers will judge a school the same way. When anyone visits your school, the only variable is the group of visitors filling in the forms and yet the variability in consequences is gargantuan. Judgements can vary between senior leaders conducting observations in the same school; school improvement officers will think differently when visiting the same school; and the same goes for HMI inspectors and Ofsted inspection teams. To conduct a Mocksted and to then expect consistency in judgements forever after is a nonsense. Now I’m not saying that is correct, but it’s the way it is. So, why put your staff through it? Why put yourself through it? Save your money, get into your classrooms, work with your teachers and forget all about Mocksted and Ofsted…well, between 12:15pm on Wednesday and Monday morning anyway.


A piece of advice I heard about ten years too late but am now going to try out…

Don’t make judgements anyway.

There is no law that says your self-evaluation has to contain an actual judgement based on the Ofsted framework. So, don’t bother. Know what is good. Know what needs improving. Get on with it. Let the external observers do the dirty work of judging for you and allow yourself the dignity of carrying on improving outcomes for your children with the professionalism you’ve earned.

The subtle art of giving praise

I can still remember, as a young NQT, having the school’s celebration book presented to me at 2:00pm on a Friday afternoon, an hour before the weekly celebration assembly was due to begin. I can remember staring at it blankly whilst the direct order to nominate a child was being barked in my ear by a slightly harassed secretary who was running out of time to print the certificates. I remember standing there and thinking, trying to pluck a child’s name out of thin air and then trying to conjure up some reason as to why they had got it. I would frustratingly flick back through the pages to see who I had already picked, as I cursed the boy who I would have nominated had they not flushed someone’s homework down the toilet half an hour earlier. Finally, I would scribble the name of some child, and make up some flaccid justification to explain their nomination – something that would normally result in them looking more surprised than their peers when their name got called out by the Head.

And there I would sit, shifting uncomfortably in my chair, as the celebration assembly played out – the longest of all the assemblies – and curse the school for making us all endure this weekly façade of praise.

Yes, I remember that all too well. Luckily, I also remember that I was a highly inexperienced and disorganised moob of an NQT who didn’t quite get the point of celebration at all.

As a Head, I thoroughly enjoy celebration assemblies, but I know that is because the culture of praise within my school is solid – providing those pesky teachers make sure that they give themselves enough time to consider their nominations seriously. I won’t bore you with my over-rehearsed Ofsted spiel, but if you think giving praise is about:

  • rewarding achievement
  • celebrating hard graft
  • recognising children who have done something that was once, for them, unthinkable
  • taking the time to praise ‘bigger picture’ achievements
  • noticing a child’s personal development

then I recommend that when I advertise for a teacher you apply, because we’d get on just fine.

It is of course imperative that the celebration is meaningful. Yes, be mindful that you consider all children during your nomination process, and be grown up enough to recognise all levels of achievement. Please remember that this assembly is one tiny part of the teaching and learning or behaviour policy – I expect you to be spotting achievements all the time and giving them due recognition. Please don’t feel the need to put the class on a rota so that everyone gets a celebration certificate – use your judgement. Oh, and if there are some children who can’t cope when others get praised, please know that I expect you to deal with that…I don’t tolerate booing or selfish expectations, so some one-to-one conversations or circle times may be appropriate.

Giving praise must not be a blanket experience that each child dutifully receives. It is a nuanced process and only the most Subtle-ist of subtle teachers will get it right. You must give praise effectively so it does what it is intended to do: reward, motivate and teach everyone that perseverance is one of the most key elements to success.

So I no longer view whole school systems of praise as pointless, although, when I’m presented with all the certificates (returned because I hadn’t found time to sign them all), I do roll my eyes and think why am I still so disorganised? Why, at times, do I still come across as an inexperienced moob? And most importantly, when is Ofsted going to give me my certificate?