Bring me the head of @oldprimaryhead1

Dear National College (if that is indeed your real name),

I am writing to inform you of the resignation of @oldprimaryhead1 as a national leader of education.

It would appear that you have already written to him to outline your fears that he no longer fits the bill as a national leader and, I must say, I couldn’t agree with you more. One of the strengths required of a true leader is to make knee-jerk reactions based on an extremely limited set of data. The fact that he didn’t telegram you (your favourite method of communication I believe, second only to carrier pigeon) the moment his results crashed through his letterbox is a clear signal that this guy ain’t got the chops to be a national leader. A real national leader would have handed in their NLE dressing gown and matching sash before the results had even come through. They would have smelt it in the air. They would have known how the unknown thresholds and secret scoring system of last year’s SATs was going to impact on their school and they would have acted accordingly: told you about it rather than sort it out. The fact that @oldprimaryhead1 (like the rest of us peasants) didn’t know what the heck was going on with Gibb’s quiz last year is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Secondly, why has he not turned the results around already? He should have been working day and night to get better results and he should have sent you weekly data updates to show you that he was still worthy of your endorsement. Instead, he has chosen to spurn you with his blatant disregard of your narrow-minded criteria and concentrated on ‘other stuff’ to do with his school. What a chump.

There is also the matter that he has been supporting others. And by that I don’t mean poncing into other people’s schools telling them that ‘marking in this way is what you need to do’ whilst declaring ‘I’m an NLE don’t you know?’ like some demented cat in a hat. Instead, he has chosen to quietly support others with no fanfare. This is unacceptable from a national leader of education.

I have also heard that he has himself received support and advice from others. As if peer support is some kind of reciprocal process? I mean, take me for example: I know my place. Don’t get me wrong, I lord it up at my own school, but the minute another Head walks in who is a) from a better/richer/tougher/larger/smaller/different school, b) is wearing the special national leader hat, c) has a better class of beard than me, I immediately defer to them. That’s the way it should be. And he has been engaging with other school leaders as an equal. I’ve read his blogs. He’s even taken other people’s ideas and not had the common decency to pass them off as his own!

In short, I am glad you have requested that he prove himself to you. And I’m particularly​ pleased that you’ve asked him to do so in a 1000 word essay that is only concerned with SATs data. Ofsted may be reforming but thank the Lord you are not. You shouldn’t have to listen to a load of other reasons justifying his status that are all tediously linked to leadership in the real world; you’re far too busy (probably, I guess? You’re not actually bothering to talk to him or visit his school so you must be doing something).

No, the world of national leadership will be better off without @oldprimaryhead1. Without him we can carry on treating all those accredited leaders with the true honour and respect they deserve.

Keep up the good work fellas.

From his sworn enemy,

@theprimaryhead

Nurture 16/17

2017Leadership 2016

I am a very driven person. I want to be successful and by that, I mean, I want to be good at my job. I admire people who are good at what they do. I am motivated through substance. I have little time for people who seem to do nothing more than repeatedly vocalise their virtues. I want my success to have substance. More importantly I want to be a substantive success. I know that obsessing about a singular drive won’t get me that. High results can be a hollow victory. Happy staff can hide a lazy leader. An obsession with Ofsted can tear a school apart. To be a truly successful Head is a near-impossible goal. But, in 2016, I had a taste. Granted, it was during an Ofsted inspection, but when the lead inspector told me that he had never received such a positive response from the staff survey concerning the school’s leadership, I felt pretty good. Reading in the report that the ‘innovative and inspirational leadership of the headteacher has established a professional learning community…staff overwhelmingly support school leaders’ I must admit, I allowed myself to think ‘that’ll do pig, that’ll do’.

Leadership 2017

Where next for the most inspirational Head of the century? Well, it won’t surprise you to learn that about two days after that report was written I had forgotten all about it because, you guessed it: I have a school to run (Yay!) and that’s a full-time job (Yay!) and it’s really hard (Yay!) and it takes over your life (Yay!) and I’m really tired (Yay!) when will it end (when you’re able to retire at 92-Yay!)  No, my hopes for a book deal and @theprimaryhead stadium tour quickly dissolved into a distant dream. Ah well. Still, it’s not all school, school, school. I’ve said that I’d say something at #PrimaryRocksLive in 2017 so that should be, interesting? And I’ll be helping put on the biggest education conference the South West has ever seen! Save the date you edu-keeners because on July 1st #InspireSouthWest launches and it’s going to be EPIC! So, there’s that and rescuing the school from budget annihilation. (Yay!)

Governors 2016

Despite being a marvellous leader (I’ll stop soon, honest) governance has never been my strong suit. I have, in the past, tended to find it a time draining distraction. The boundaries can so easily be blurred so that too much time is spent sweating the operational stuff which, in my opinion, is my business. I blame everyone! But if I genuinely think this ship is ‘mine’ then the bulk of the fault must lie with me. Near the end of the year I reflected on my performance in relation to governance. I found myself to be too quick to frustration and this, I know, led to governors perceiving me to be difficult. That ain’t classy. I can blame stress. I can blame personality. But the next step of blaming is doing something about it otherwise you’re just a schmuck. So, it’s time to have a change in mind-set.

Governors 2017

I feel born again! OK, that’s going a little too far but I do think I’m ready to believe in the power of governance! Seriously. I feel that there is now some clearer understanding between me and the governors regarding what we’re going to be getting up to this year. My performance management, earlier on this year, helped with some of the granularity on this. There was recognition, on both sides, that maintained schools have some pretty huge challenges coming their way so we should probably focus on them rather than the school at an operational level. In short, they trust me to run the school. Likewise, I need their help with the bigger stuff! As for me personally? I need to relax and not take every discussion at governors so personally. I may be the Head but, during those meetings, I am but one governor in a room full of governors.

Behaviour 2016

So, as you know, we had Ofsted this year. I know I’ve already mentioned it, but, did I tell you that we got an outstanding judgement for ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’? Our children are polite and respectful and they know that teachers care for them. All staff are relentless in their efforts to meet the needs of all pupils Everyone thinks that behaviour in, and around, school is excellent and pupils are very respectful about all aspects of their learning. You can imagine how proud we felt as we read these words. Creating a school capable of garnering such plaudits is not easy. It takes time, effort and a clarity of ethos that everyone needs to adhere to. Nothing that we put in place was designed so that it would reflect well in an Ofsted report. We did it because we wanted to create a lovely school. I choose the word lovely on purpose. Yes, I wanted an inspiring, super-effective, dynamic school with high standards. But I also wanted it to be lovely. I’m very pleased that we got it all.

So, behaviour was sorted.

Then September arrived.

Behaviour 2017

I’m cheating a little here because most of what I’m about to say happened post September. But anyway…about three weeks into the new academic year and the school was in crisis. For a variety of reasons, there was now a small group of children who were presenting extreme and challenging behaviours in school. To challenge us further, due to the city’s financial cuts, we also found that we were completely on our own in trying to support children who were, if I’m honest, dangerously close to being permanently excluded.

After a few more weeks of trying to manage children, who had incredibly complex needs but who were also demonstrating angry and violent behaviour, I decided to do something radical.

Admit that we were totally out of our depth.

This was the turning point. Admitting this, and being totally honest about these challenges freed us up to think differently. Having no money or outside help forced us to think creatively. We talked openly to the staff about the situation and about our plans. We re-designed a couple of rooms in the school. We wrote a scheme of work that the Deputy and I delivered every morning to a key group of pupils – complete with songs, puppets and dancing. We spent time building relationships with the children, the families and with the staff who were working so hard, every day, with these children. What’s more, it started to work.

It’s early days and we have much further to go in 2017. When I come to reflect on my successes, this time next year, how I managed this behaviour crisis is going to weigh heavily in my judgement. I’m confident I’ll be able to say that I better understand these children. I will support my staff so they do too. I’m also determined that we will do all this whilst  maintaining our high standards. Finally, I promise you this: my school will still be lovely.

Edu-Twitter 2016

I have thoroughly enjoyed myself on Twitter this year. I’ve read some marvellous blogs and I follow some great people. The little DM groups that emerged during SATs week were a particular highlight. As were all of @jpembroke’s support with the new RaiseOnline data. The sense of goodwill and camaraderie that you get on Twitter is often unparalleled. I would like to thank everyone I’ve engaged with and I look forward to seeing you all again next year.

Edu-Twitter 2017

2016 also had its fair share of negative Twitter. The arguments. The hyperbole. As far as I’m concerned…I love it. Yes, at times it is infuriating and I empathise with those who have felt bullied. I haven’t experienced that but it can’t be nice. But will 2017 be any different? No, of course it won’t. I may be different though. I may join in a bit more. I’m getting to the point where I think I’ve reached a limit in how much I can ignore nonsense that I fundamentally disagree with. The only thing that puts me off is the time it would take to disagree. Twitter hasn’t really grasped how to do arguments properly. They go on and on and on and on! I think, for 2017, I will invent a special code, or symbol, that indicates the number of tweets you can be bothered to use up on any particular topic. That way, the next time you’re fifty tweets in, justifying the tone of a word you once used in a tweet back in 2014, you simply unleash ‘the grape’ (or whatever I decide the symbol is) and everyone knows that you’re stopping this madness in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 tweet’s time.

This time it’s personal 2016

Still standing, 2016, still standing!

This time it’s personal 2017

I’ve become a runner! Can you believe it? And like an over enthusiastic puppy I’ve even signed up for the Bristol half marathon in September. Get ready 2017, here I run!

 

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.

 

Wait?

 

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.