Derek & Clive – redacted

So, very exciting, me and @PrimaryHead1 were out having a bank holiday drink when to our surprise we found ourselves sitting next to two other primary school head teachers. Luckily we had our own dicta-phones to hand (of course, we’re two modern men) and we were able to record a transcript of it. It’s very interesting but we would both like to stress that the following conversation does not represent either of our own personal views or the views of our schools or local authorities. I mean, anyone would wonder why we bothered recording it and typing it up and to be honest, they’d be right to think that. But nevertheless, here it is anyway. Enjoy.

TheParentHead

I suppose as a non-parent Head teacher you probably think you only see the bad side of parents.

TheNonParentHead

No not at all,

Apology and Retraction

It has come to our attention that we did not have the right to record and publish the private conversation that Derek and Clive were having very loudly on the table next to us. They believe that we have infringed upon their personal liberties and right to freedom of speech. Although they are keen to point out to any parent or governor that may have read our post that neither of them were intoxicated to the point of being unable to know what they were saying; however they do not remember or agree with any of the views that they loudly made and we wrote down. We respect their views (about this not what they did/didn’t say/mean last night) and would like to apologise as sincerely as we possibly can for, as they put it, ‘stitching them up like a pair of oversmoked kippers’. We therefore have no choice but to remove the post and ask all eight people who read it to forget it. Sorry Derek, sorry Clive.

From

@theprimaryhead and @PrimaryHead1

 

Baffled by Insets? Really?

Parent power…I get it. Schools work in order to serve the community: the children, the local area, other organisations and, of course, the parents. I don’t write that sardonically; I mean it. Of course we serve the parents. All good schools will listen to its parental community and through doing so will judge how best to serve it. This can sometimes mean listening to what they want and trying as hard as possible to cater for it.

It can mean something very different of course.

There are times when a school, after listening to its parent voices, may have to challenge the community in order to best serve it. For example, if there was a significantly vocal homophobic element permeating through the collective voices, a school would have to tackle this. Not in the way that these voices may want: the removal of any positive gay relationship education and the banning of any suspected homosexuals from the school site. That would be unethical, immoral and, um, oh yes…insane. Instead you would engage with these voices and be very clear about how you would have to promote homosexuality within the school’s sex and relationship education (and by ‘promote’ I mean give it equal standing to heterosexual relationships and not make out that being gay is unusual or ‘not normal’). You would also have to now point out the fact that, due to their misguided and vocal opinions, the school would now really have to commit to this in order to make up for the moral deficit the children are probably experiencing at home.

I don’t think anyone would argue that this use of parental voice is correct. Like I said, the role of the school is to understand its community in order to best judge how to serve it and its children successfully. It is also the role of the school because we are (and I think at this point anyone reading this who works in education should stand on a chair and shout it) the professionals!

Somewhere along the line though, the concept of schools listening to the parent community has become a little warped. It has become a one-way street. I truly blame politicians for this. They have taken the concept that schools should listen to parents and twisted it into the idea that schools are now at the beck and call of each individual parent’s whim and fancy. They have given the general public the idea that schools don’t know how to run themselves and that parents have the right and, by golly, the entitlement to dictate school decisions.

This has in turn degraded the status of schools and teachers. We are no longer deemed to be trusted and respected professionals; we are bumbling practitioners who rely on getting buffeted around by popular and vocal ideas in order to be successful. To the extent that now, we must explain ourselves ad nauseam. No element of school life is allowed to be respected just because the professionals deem it appropriate to do so; this, it would seem, just ain’t good enough anymore.

School websites are now groaning with information, not about when PE is so the children remember their kit on time, but why it considers what it does for PE to be justifiable and how it will add to the nation’s Olympic legacy. The delicate nature of using pupil premium funding effectively now has to be public knowledge…why? I mean what concern is it to the parents how a school spends its entire pupil premium funding. That is what Ofsted and the local authority do. If a parent is concerned that their child is not making sufficient progress, they should come and talk to the teacher – I would like to think that teachers would get there first and would be able to say what else they’re going to put in place which may or may not require some cash. Surely that is a healthier and more professional approach?

What schools are being asked to do is oversharing, and it carries with it sinister and damaging undertones. It is creating a system where schools are not trusted and producing a level of over-dependency on information for parents that takes time away from doing what matters – working hard to serve the community through action rather than through justification.

The latest idea, suggested by @TristramHuntMP is that schools should now tell parents what their insets are about surely must be the lamest example yet. We should do so not because we might like to share with parents some new and exciting developments, but because we ‘have a duty to explain to parents how these days improved children’s education’. As if for all these years schools have been secretly plotting five additional special days off and have now been rumbled; Can I really hear every parent up and down the land shaking their head and saying ‘I knew it!’ or is this further political meddling in an attempt to garner votes by further undermining of schools?

The media also contributes to the myth of parent voice equating to parent power. I can still remember those scenes of parents pushing Mars bars and burgers through the school fence because the school was attempting to improve the quality of its school dinners as a result of Jamie Oliver’s initiative. How dare the school try and dictate what our children eat was the opinion of the parents. Well, look what the school is up against. A proportion of the parent community (larger in girth rather than in number I imagine) is pushing fatty food through a fence in opposition of healthy food? In my mind that only strengthens the school’s resolve; if it buckled as a result of these parents’ actions and opinions, how on earth would it be serving the children in its care? But the media loves a story. Sadly, the repetitive cycle of tales of parents being unhappy with a school’s decision, and feeling entitled to change it purely because they think something different, only breeds further suspicion and doubt towards a profession that is one of the most selfless on this earth.

Schools are becoming weakened to such an extent that I wouldn’t blame the thousands of educators we have in this country to seriously consider why they bother. Being a teacher with qualifications, working alongside a leadership team who have proved their worth is no longer good enough it would seem. Parent power is a cheap political weapon which gives parents the illusion that they know best, and I’m really sorry to say this but…you don’t. On many, many educational and organisational issues you just don’t. We do. If you genuinely don’t like it then you can exercise parent power: you can go to another school with principles and policies more in line with your own. Failing that, I guess you can create your own free school. But I promise you, as a professional educator who makes responsible decisions on behalf of not just yours but all children, and as someone who works with committed teachers who love working for your kids, if you give us time and space, we’ll show you that we did know best after all and you will thank us later.

All you have to do is trust me.

Today we are learning how to do the things your parents should have taught you

I’ve worked in three schools that had a Nursery as part of its early years setting. Two out of three of them were, in my opinion, outstanding examples of what provision at that age should be. They were lovely and fun places to be; the children expressed themselves and enjoyed all manner of child initiated learning; the adults did more monitoring and assessment in one day than a SATS marker would do in a lifetime and, most importantly, there was rigorous literacy and numeracy teaching every day.

Occasionally, especially if talking to certain Early Years experts, you had to keep that last bit quiet. If you told them that you had just seen a great maths lesson in a nursery class where the children sat in a circle for about twenty minutes whilst being taught number bonds (sometimes up to 20) followed up by some investigative practical maths activities, well first you would have to help them back onto their feet after they had fainted from the shock and then you would have to suffer a telling off that would go on for so long you couldn’t help but think it contradicted their own advice about inputs being very short.

Their argument: ‘You’re not meant to teach them, they’re not at school, they need to be nurtured, they need to explore the world, they need to be led by their own curiosity not by formal lesson structures…you evil, evil man.’

My response: ‘You see that child there? He’s just made a hat out of leaves and that one has just learnt paint isn’t tasty. Pretty sure they’re being led by their own curiosity thanks. And as a bonus they’re learning loads about maths because they can do it and they seem to enjoy it.’

I was often never more impressed at what schools can achieve than when I visited Nursery classrooms. When the teachers and support staff refused to adhere to a glass ceiling of what the youngest children in our system could learn and how far you could stretch their understanding. None of this ‘but they only need to count objects up to 10’ nonsense. They’ve done that, they did it really easily; imagine if you put two more counting bears on the carpet? All of that PLUS more creative and child centred learning than you could shake a bead bar at. All that PLUS a level of assessment that is thorough to the point of lunacy.

I do think the aforementioned Early Years Specialist is a now a rather dated gross stereotype-but I have met those ‘types’ in my career. And I normally ended such a meeting with a swift word in the nursery teacher’s ear to say ‘yeah, ignore what they said, keep doing what you’re doing.’

So, imagine my delight when I heard that Sir Michael Wilshaw was suggesting that children should be taught more and taught earlier. Bring it on, I thought. At last someone understands. The ‘gap’ that develops between many of our disadvantaged children and their peers is often there at the very start. It should be our job to give them a leg up before we’re even aware they need it. Don’t wait until you know they’ve fallen behind. Crack on and teach them how to enjoy stories, make them love putting crayon to paper, get them counting, adding, taking away, grouping anything that can be grouped. In short, exploit the time you have with them to the max. They’ll enjoy it, they’ll associate school with learning which will fuel their curiosity and they’ll have a better chance of succeeding later on. Good on you Sir Michael, you’re a star.

But wait…

What about that checklist though? How’s that going to work? Is he saying that children won’t be able to attend full time school until they can successfully hold a knife and fork, ask to go to the toilet in a complete sentence and then sort themselves out after they’ve done a poo? Are nurseries now going to have less time to teach all the stuff I went on about because they’re going to be modelling the sentence ‘Please Miss, may I nip to the loo as I really need a wee?’ on flashcards to a distressed child who is now bent double from trying to keep the wolf from the door (as it were)?

What if they can’t do it? When they join Reception are we going to have to split the class into two groups: those that can eat spaghetti correctly using the fork and spoon method and those that consider cutlery to be a distraction that they have neither the time nor the inclination for? Are we going to lose half a year of potential literacy, numeracy and wider curriculum progress because the autumn topic is now ‘putting on a coat and asking for things nicely’?

Why is it now the school’s job to teach children how to put on outer layers of clothing and using a type of knife that isn’t preceded by ‘craft’ or ‘stanley’? Forgive me, Sir Michael, but it feels like you’re dumping society’s failings onto us again and expecting us to fix it. Responding to the challenges of a changing society is one thing but I know how this works; you’ve put it out there now. You’ve released this concept that schools should teach this rubbish so pretty soon every parent up and down the land is going to expect it. Mums and dads across the country will gradually absolve their parental responsibility as it will be deemed the school’s job to sort it.

Call me a weak minded, moaning quitter if you will, but we can’t have complete responsibility for the holistic development of every child…that ain’t fair!