One more sleep

I’ve got loads of stuff to do. Tens of thousands of emails that I should read and respond to; a multitude of holiday request forms to stamp a big fat unauthorised sticker on, all for the last two days of term; hundreds of reports to read, send back, re-read and add my words of enlightenment to; a school’s worth of final data to analyse; a final head’s report to write; a SEF to finish and a school development plan to invent. But I can’t seem to settle down and do anything.

I keep glancing at the NCA tools shortcut on my toolbar. I keep checking my password and logging in just in case it’s come early. But of course it hasn’t and I have to continue to wait. Wait for the 8th July when I will be able to unlock an Aladdin’s cave of secrets and dreams or alternatively, a Pandora’s box of locusts and P45s.

For tomorrow is the day that the SATs results will be released. Finally, the means that were meant to justify the ends will become evaluable; next year’s official line about school improvement measures will gain clarity, and, judgements about me and the school will, for a brief few moments, be pulled sharply into focus. Because self-evaluations and school improvement core visit notes and HMI monitoring letters and governor walkthroughs and teacher assessments are all well and good, but there ain’t nothing like scores on the doors to slap you about the chops and tell you how it really is – or at least, how it really looks.

The whole SATS process is like a macabre game of life and death controlled by a maniacal psychopath – I can only imagine the person in charge this year once went to see the film ‘Saw’ and has never quite been the same since. We should have been worried when we read the rule book – how anybody managed to administer the SATs without triggering a ‘maladministration beheading’ I’ll never know. Then after we’ve wrapped them in more plastic than Laura Palmer, the papers get sent to the markers. Not in one go of course – oh no. In pieces, bit by bit. How sick is that? The poor SPAG papers are all cut up, dissected and scanned before being emailed all around the country to get marked by desperate men and women all trying to save up for a summer holiday abroad – and hey, if that means not awarding a point because some poor kid, although correctly identifying two connectives, foolishly circled both when the question only asked them to circle ‘a’ connective, then so be it.

Finally, once the other papers have been forensically marked (I heard that the markers of the maths papers were given magnifying glasses to check for different shades of pencils in the ‘workings out’ sections which could be evidence of cheating, but then again @PrimaryHead1 is prone to exaggerate) they are sent back to school. And this is where you get a real glimpse of the twisted genius behind the Grand Master who got this game going in the first place. We get the scores – not the thresholds or the levels – just the raw scores. Trying to understand what these scores actually tell you is a bit like reading Chaucer or listening to a conversation in Welsh: you think you sort of know what it might mean but after a while your brain hurts and you realise none of it makes any sense. (And I can say that because I am half Welsh – Diolch yn fawr;  and I read ‘A Miller’s Tale’ at A-level – something about smelling of liquorice and hot pokers.)

I mean, if you were to find out what was the most googled thing during the week when the SATs papers came back, I guarantee it would be: ‘KS2 SATS threshold 2013’. Every Head up and down the land, after counting up all the scores, was desperately trying to remember last year’s thresholds in order to second guess their results a week early.

‘Well if the threshold is the same we’re on for about 65%, however, if it drops three marks we could be looking at 127%, so you know…we could be alright.’

Never before has such pointless maths been undertaken by so many – well apart from a few weeks earlier when a load of children were made to sit the Level 6 maths paper.

It was like trying to crack an impossible code and one by one we all collapsed, exhausted. We threw away our calculators and declared that we didn’t bloody care anymore anyway! Much to the delight of the Grand Master who knew that we didn’t mean it, knew that he had broken us, knew that we had finally become the submissive slaves he so cravenly desired. He knew that for the next two weeks, life beyond school (Glastonbury, Wimbledon, my mother’s birthday…) would hold no power over us – we would simply shut everything out and patiently wait. Wait for 8th July. And when that day loomed, like dutiful puppets we would try to stay up until midnight in the hope that we could end our misery there and then. But of course we won’t manage it – it’s like waiting for Father Christmas: you always fall asleep.

One more sleep.

One more sleep before we can go to NCA tools, enter our passwords, and click upon our fates.

Good luck everybody.

“Ofsted should not inspire us”

So said @steve_munby to a packed hall during the Inspiring Leadership conference last week in Birmingham. He went on to clarify that Ofsted are regulators and have a clear and important purpose in ensuring standards are met by schools but they should not dictate school development plans. That, implied Steve, is what Headteachers get paid for. The strategic direction and the overarching vision that drives a school forward should be the work of school professionals not school regulators.

I agree.


…before I attended the conference I was having a professional chin-wag with @PrimaryHead1 (and it was professional; we didn’t talk about game of thrones, vinyl or what he wanted as a leaving present from his school (he wants money, no gift, just money so he can update his ‘assembly book’ collection-I’ve never heard such nonsense. Trust me, Threshers will do very well that day)). Anyway, we were having a professional conversation and I was saying that what this country needs more than a no notice inspection is a system of education that considers itself RI.

Yes, I said it. Consider yourselves all requiring improvement.

Why do I say this? Not because I’m lonely being an RI head. Not because I’m jealous of all you good and outstanding swines. Not because I have a Govian mind-set that we’re all rubbish until we’ve proved that we’re not completely rubbish. Not because I’m not creative. Not because I’m negative. Not because I don’t think my teachers are good or that my pupils achieve.

No, I think this because sometimes being RI is great. It’s liberating. It focuses the mind and forces you to go back to basics:

  • Make sure the primary experience is brilliant.
  • Get the teaching of English and maths tip top.
  • Make topics fun and interesting.
  • Get children to love learning.
  • Show them that positive behaviour works and is easier than being an aggressive, rude little grumpy boots.
  • Help out the disadvantaged so they have a fighting chance in life.
  • Enable the staff to lead and enjoy the challenge of working hard.

See, easy. Nice and simple ain’t it.

The best thing is that when you’re RI you’re allowed to ignore stuff. Well, I don’t know if you’re actually allowed, but I have, on many occasion, ignored emails, hit delete, replied ‘no’ and told people to just leave me alone. I have freed myself from gubbins and trust me, it feels good.

If it isn’t on ofsted’s ‘what this school needs to do list’ I’m not interested. So far, I seem to be getting away with it too. More importantly, the school is improving and, in case you’re wondering, it’s a nice school to work at and it’s a lovely school to be educated in. We’re not boring. I’m not a SATS dragon. I just want to focus on great teaching, achievement and making the school a really, really, really good school.

Occasionally another head will ask me: how are you preparing for this or that. At this point I normally pop on my shades, put a matchstick between my teeth, smile and say ‘Don’t bother me Daddio, I’m RI’ then I hit the duke box and we all start jiving.

Imagine if we could all do that? British Values curriculum…behave, we’ve got children to teach. An Olympic legacy plan…um no, that’s just silly. Nonsense word phonic test…I think I’ll just get them to read normally thanks.

We wouldn’t have to put up with the reactionary nationwide initiatives that come about because something not good happened to one school somewhere in Britain and the government think the public expects them to make us all do something new so that it doesn’t happen to us. Being RI gives you the strength to pick and choose and be bloody minded – that isn’t going to help raise my standards so I’m not going to do it, sorry.

So my SDP is gleefully littered with Ofsted inspiration. What would Steve say? What will I do when we get judged ‘good’? I don’t know. And that’s why Steve Munby’s speech has made me think. At the moment I am using Ofsted; they are my weapon for getting the school where I want it. What happens when I get there is another issue. I will no longer be able to hide; I’ll have to join in with all the other schools and do as I’m told. More importantly, I’ll have to think for myself and come up with some grand vision for the school that, at the moment, is mysteriously out of my reach.

Hey, maybe I’ll have greater capacity to improve so I can bolt these initiatives and expectations onto my SDP and it will be fine…or maybe that will cause me to take my eye off the ball: I’ve failed to make floor targets but on the other hand the school does now have a solar panel roof.

I want to have grand visions. I want to create a school that is a shining example of 21st century education. I want to go to outstanding and beyond. But I’m scared. I’m scared that just wanting a really good primary school isn’t good enough, and soon I’ll be powerless to stop myself from getting overblown and overstretched.

So please, can we all decide to be RI and get on with teaching and learning? (Sorry Steve)

The real problem with insets


Planning an inset can be difficult. Lofty ambitions can often descend into days that are just easier to manage. I personally tend to fall into the trap of not thinking broad enough; I’ll have a brilliant idea as to how we’ll solve a particular issue and then the night before I’ll realise that Early Years or support staff will literally have nothing to do. This leaves me with two options: run around looking for middle leaders to come up with an additional focus within twelve hours or do nothing, buy loads of cakes and avoid making eye contact with any poor member of staff who is feeling undervalued.

There are, in my experience, three types of inset: the guest, the initiative, the catch-up.

The guest

This can be a high risk (it’s normally high cost too come to think of it) and involves booking an outsider; an expert to teach, motivate and inspire the staff. The Head’s dream is that in one day this person will have the educational Midas touch: transforming tired, stuck-in-a-rut teachers into energetic and free-thinking practitioners with the click of a PowerPoint. The fear is that the guest will come out like some c-beebies presenter coked up to the eyeballs and annoy everyone with their energy and jokes. Never mind that the content is golden, I can tell within five minutes that Sandra (the teacher who has been teaching Year 5 in this school since before I was born) has decided that whatever this performing little monkey is going on about is just a fad and that I’ve only booked them to put a tick on my school development plan. I can literally see the £2800 I convinced the bursar to spend on this clown swirling down the drain. Some of them are responding and making notes but in my heart I know that within two terms the impact of this will be hard to see. It’s a shame because all I wanted was to get the staff excited to remind them that teaching is fun and an opportunity to take risks but I can see that they have other things on their mind.

The initiative

I don’t need any guest this time because I can do it. I’ll stand up and present a ‘new dawn’ and a new way to do things. It’s been really carefully thought out by SLT, it is something we have to address and none of us can fail to see how it won’t transform the teaching and learning in this school and make us a step closer to ‘outstanding’. We plan the day really well too. Time to listen and learn, time to discuss and then loads of time in the afternoon to start putting ideas into action. It’s the perfect inset. So when the day comes and I’ve again forgotten about the support staff and have had to max out my visa on cakes to placate them, I’m still convinced today is going to be talked about for years to come as the inset that changed everything. It starts badly as the PowerPoint version in school is different to the one at home so none of the nice graphics have loaded properly and the font has reverted to comic-sans which makes me physically retch every time I click onto the next slide. Then I realise that the great idea doesn’t sound so simple now I’m actually speaking it out loud and then there are the questions. The annoying, niggly, not part of the big picture questions. SLT, I notice, remain mute at this point leaving me to respond to such weighty educational issues such as ‘will it interfere with PE timetables’ and ‘but I have PPA on that day’ and ‘so is this instead of maths or as well as maths?’. But I solider on, knowing that when they split up in the afternoons and start planning it out, they’ll see the genius behind it. At 2:30pm when I go for a wander I notice that every teacher has decided that they’ll plan it next week and for now, if it’s ok with me, they’ll mark their big writes from last week and try and organise next term’s trip. At 2:45pm I decide to go home and console myself that at least this inset failure didn’t cost me a fortune but then I remember about the cakes.

The catch-up

Even though every inset, no matter how focussed and inspiring, ends up with teachers doing some form of catch-up work, sometimes a whole day given over to this is no bad thing. Especially at the beginning or end of years when teachers can organise their classrooms, establish systems with their new teaching teams and really map out the year ahead. This is a strategic decision. Staff will welcome the space to breathe and get their ‘houses in order’.  This day has nothing, nothing to do with the fact that I’m too tired to try and think of anything exciting or that the bank has frozen my account due to the four excessive bakery orders that I keep failing to make the minimum payment on.

But then sometimes you get lucky all your strategic planning comes together. Your guest was perfect (and affordable) the idea is sound and all staff are involved and excited by the changes ahead. I am thrilled to say that I speak from experience having had a two day inset where my school managed to book @deputymitchell who worked with staff during the first day on blogging followed by a day of 2014 national curriculum topic mapping. The days were awesome.

I cannot recommend @deputymitchell enough. He was enthusiastic but grounded in reality that made all the teachers think that they can do this blogging thing and more importantly made them want to do it. By the end of the first session I knew that the inset was going to be ok and in a year’s time I genuinely think I’ll be able to point to some of the things going on in school and at some of our achievements and say ‘that inset caused this’.

The next day, I presented how our curriculum was going to evolve and teachers had the day to map out their breadths of studies, piece together topics and identify resources. They were focussed on that all day and I was continually interrupted by excited teachers checking if their big ideas for this topic and that topic were ok…I said yes to all of them after all I had told them about the ‘freedoms’ this curriculum gave us so could hardly so no.

And…all the support staff had two days of bespoke training and development and they loved it. Finally, they weren’t just sitting in on what the teachers were talking about or putting up displays. They were learning too and they were extra pleased that they will be expected to feed their training and skills back to teachers next term.

So in short, it was great but then that’s the real problem with good insets. All this motivation and seeing how the teaching is going to improve and knowing how excited the children are going to be and the difference it’s all going to make.

It’s annoying.


It makes me miss the classroom.