A Gift From Above

I know that Twitter is occasionally like the online staffroom – that safe haven where teachers and staff can (quite rightly) get things off their chest. And I know that what staff quite often want to get off their chest is the latest initiative that is causing their workload to resemble the never-ending story –except that at the end of term you won’t be flying atop a massive flying rodent with a moustache. Occasionally, the staff room is also the place to (whisper it) BITCH about senior leaders.

It is this element of the staffroom/Twitter comparison that I find the most uncomfortable. Not just because I am pathetically needy and want everyone in the real and virtual work to think that I’m great. Nor because it is necessarily untrue.

No, I find it most uncomfortable because

  1. Nothing I say about the virtues of my leadership or the fantastic Heads I know will stop others from thinking ‘Yeah but what do you know, you’re a Head…you probably wouldn’t know a successful lesson if it kicked you in the Ed Balls*: you’re too busy chasing the Ofsted golden ticket of outstanding like some deranged OmpaLumpa in a suit: you disgust me.’
  2. Nothing I say will make those depressed, deflated or damaged teachers feel better.
  3. Nothing I say will improve YOUR SLTs.

So what’s a Head to do?

Well, all I will say is this:

If you truly see absolutely no value in the people who are leading your school then you should leave. I know, I know: that’s not fair; it’s not you who should have to leave it’s them. But face it, if you’re in a situation where their exit looks unlikely then why put yourself through it? Please don’t say ‘for the sake of the children’. Again, I know that sounds mean and callous but the damage being done to them by poor leadership is greater than the good they have with you for one year. If you want to feel valued as a teacher you must work in a place where you feel valued and where that sense of worth is reflected back onto the SLT. It is the strategic direction of the school that impacts most heavily on the achievement and future achievement of children. I truly believe this.

As a teacher I worked in a school where the thought of me ‘not’ being there for the children sickened me. They were disadvantaged, didn’t see the point in school and were deemed so unlikely to succeed it would break your heart. It was a privilege to teach them and to see them succeed. But when the leadership of the school began to crumble I could see that no matter what I did, no matter what magic I achieved in the classroom: it wouldn’t have a lasting impact. Except maybe in years to come some of them might think back and say that they quite enjoyed my lessons but that isn’t good enough.

So I left. Did I run away? Did I let those children down? Maybe. But not as much as those getting paid a lot more than me let them down. I saw a window of opportunity where I could have a greater impact on more children for a sustained period of time and I took it. And I’ve never looked back-partly because it was too painful.

Ok, let’s cheer things up.

If you really don’t want to leave then try this: Even though I’m a wonderful leader to the point where I’m probably written into most staff members’ last will and testament, I do think that ensuring a school’s leadership team are effective, strategic, good at their job and nice to people is pretty darn important.

So to achieve this in my current school my SLT are at this very moment creating a code of conduct for SLT. I am very happy to share its current daft with you fine people. It is a draft based on discussions we have had about taking the school forward and represents what we want to say about ourselves and hopefully what others will say about us.

You will see that the draft is in two colours: the black writing is the official document and the red writing is the official document but in plain English. I call this version the ‘idiot’s guide to SLT’ and we’re using it to make sure that everyone in SLT gets it…because you can’t be too sure!

SLT Code of Conduct idiot’s guide

So, read it, tell me what you think.  If you like it why not photocopy it and leave it in the Head’s office or under their windscreen wipers or use it as their screensaver. All I know is that I’m proud to be a school leader. I think I’m good at it. I think I can unify and lead a load of people in a direction that could help children achieve. But I also respect the job too much to risk it being ruined by some of the behaviours described on Twitter in recent months so I won’t let it happen and here is how I intend to start.

*I appreciate Ed Balls is a rather old education reference but I could hardly have used Tristram Hunt could I…that would be rude.

Come on Mr Mayor…don’t just plant a tree, sow the seeds of change!


Bristol has a Mayor. This is fine, I have nothing against Bristol having a Mayor; in fact I imagine it could be quite exciting, shake things up a bit. Bristol’s Mayor is a man called George Ferguson. So far there are three things that I know about him:

  1. He wears red trousers a lot.
  2. He played a significant and important role in the redevelopment of Bedminster’s Tobacco Factory.
  3. He wants every child in Bristol to plant a tree.

Of these three statements one impresses me and causes me to think all is not lost; one has made me confine the wearing of my own pair of red trousers to when I’m gardening; and one of these statements really, really annoys me. I think it should be clear to most people that the red trousers issue is taken care of; I think the Tobacco Factory is great so that leaves us with statement three: he wants every child in Bristol to plant a tree.

It was a couple of days after his election victory that Mr Ferguson addressed a room full of Head Teachers at the University of the West of England. Poor bugger, he was probably still hung over from celebrating but his PA had obviously said ‘Get on that stage Mr Mayor, this is an opportunity’. So he came on and I remember two feelings: slight surprise because close up his red trousers were actually tartan, but more than that I remember feeling a bit sorry for him. He seemed a bit flustered and who could blame him? He hadn’t talked that much about education before and suddenly here he was talking to a load of Head Teachers, I mean what was he meant to say? Turned out he did some crowd pleasing material on us all being heroes and then, in what I imagined was a stream of consciousness, he said that he wanted every child in Bristol to plant a tree.

I quite naturally ignored this as did most people on my table. It was just a bit of fluff and nonsense designed to sound inspirational in a ‘children are the future of this planet and so are trees’ kind of way. It didn’t carry any weight, no we would forget about this idea. Put it at the back of the cupboard with the other ‘big’ ideas like building a solar powered snow plough and running a competition to find Bristol’s favourite soup.

So imagine my surprise when I received an email asking me to sign up for the Mayor’s big scheme of getting every child in Bristol to plant a tree. Why? Will it make Bristol a green city? Will it provide a safe canopy for our children to walk under on their way to school? I don’t think it will. It might make Bristol a better shaded city in the summer months and it may encourage more tree climbing therein creating a more risk taking generation which could be a good thing but…I think that might be it.

No, what really annoys me about this idea is that it is in danger of being really small minded and for a man who displayed such vision when saving such a culturally significant building as the beloved Tobacco Factory and who proudly wears red tartan trousers in public, this paper thin initiative is a massive disappointment. Education at this precise moment in time is not in the best of places and I would have thought that the proposed National Curriculum, which seems to be unifying all educators through their hatred of it, would be seen as the golden egg squeezed out from Gove’s massive egghole (urgh) to be picked up and capitalised on.

Imagine a whole city turning its back on a badly formatted and politically engineered curriculum and instead creating something truly inspiring and meaningful for its children. A City Curriculum with local and global dimensions agreed upon by all educators and pushed forward by the city’s Mayor. A newly elected Mayor should seize this opportunity to engage with school leaders and play a part in developing something far greater than the sum of its parts. A city curriculum could truly lay the foundations that would allow an entire city becoming ‘outstanding’ based on any set of criteria from anybody’s score-book. Schools may not be able to do it on their own, they carry with them too much baggage, but with a leader or a figurehead to help facilitate the journey we could do it. The Mayor is in the correct neutral position to at least give it a try. Or…we could plant a tree and then get on with teaching 7 year olds about the house of Plantagenet. Your call Mr Mayor.

Closing your school is ‘snow’ joke.

Well, it’s snowing and lots of schools have closed…and, with snow closures, come the usual blizzard of opinions.

1. If it snows: schools should close because it don’t snow that often and it’s nice for the kids to have a day sledging.

2. It if snows: stay open! Why does this county grind to a halt when there is more than 2 mm of snow on the ground? It’s a disgrace!

Chances are, where you stand on this opinion depends on how easy it is for you to not go to work. If you don’t work, work from home, or can easily work from home (or hate work so much the notion of ringing up saying you can’t make it in because your kid’s school is closed fills you with joy) then you probably support school snow closures. If it is very difficult for you and your family to take unplanned time off work then you will probably be irritated by a school closure. (This is also true if you are the sort of person who feels the need to leave your comment on local news websites or the Daily Mail – these two types (hard workers and idiots) are not mutually exclusive but, well I’m just saying, there are all types of folks out there)

What about the Head Teachers who make these decisions? Despite what people may think, it is a difficult decision to make and is not one that is made lightly-unlike the snowfall (ha ha). I love school and I love hard work, and, I hate not being able to work and my school not being able to provide its service. So, the thought of closing the school is not something that fills me with cheer. I’ve got children to educate, targets to meet, mouths to feed, meetings to have, assemblies to do, achievements to praise, reports to write, emails to delete: I haven’t got time for a snow day!

But, sometimes tough decisions need to be made. The irritating fact that others may not perceive them to be tough decisions must not cloud your judgement.

In case you’re wondering, here is how a snow day starts:

You wake up way earlier than your alarm because you know snow be coming, and, before you check the weather outside you check your phone to see if any member of staff has already contacted you to say they can’t come in. You look outside and everything is white and it’s still snowing and then your phone goes. It will be your Deputy, site manager, or other member of your SLT to ask what is going to happen. You start calculating how many staff are local, desperately trying to remember how many staff you could do without and still open. You try to find out of the school kitchen team are going to make it or if your breakfast club leader is already stranded somewhere. All the time it’s getting closer to the deadline for contacting the LA and, even though the view from outside your window is whiter than a ghost holidaying in the Arctic, you keep thinking: I need a clear sign!

The last thing you want to do is make a bad decision. If you make the decision to close at 7:15am, but by 9:00am the snow has stopped, the sun is out and snow is melting you will feel a bit of a chump. The Director of Education will then arrive at your front door, throw a snowball at your crotch, slap you in the face and tell you that you’re fired for being an IDIOT Head teacher! All of your parents were ambulance drivers and none of them could go to work because you closed the school and now every driver in the city is dead because of your decision to have a snow day!

If you don’t close and it gets worse what have you done? You’ve made your staff come in and now the conditions are worse than ever so it’s even more dangerous for them to get home. Half of the pupils have decided not to come in anyway (attendance figures go down the toilet), real lessons can’t continue so the driving force behind your reason to stay open is redundant. Worse than all of this is the thought that if conditions do get worse you may have to close early and that won’t be a popular decision with anybody. (The only thing worse than a school closure is a partial school closure.)

So, when I’m stood in my pyjamas, at 7:10am with my phone in my hand, I hope that all major roads are closed, that public transport services have stopped. I hope that the weather forecasts are predicting worse to come and that all my staff live in isolated country villages. I wish for this not because I want to close but because it will make my decision easier. But even more than all this, I hope the school down the road makes the decision before I do.