#WeeklyBlogChallenge17

#WBC17 [Week 23]

Election Night

I LOVE election night! Even when you know the outcome is going to depress you (which it has for pretty much every election since 2010) I still enjoy the night itself. From Dimbles and Swing-o-meters to the anxiety-ridden politicians listening to their returning officer at 4 in the morning.

This year it was even more exciting. Theresa May had effectively shot her campaign in the foot (and every other conceivable appendage) as Corbyn had gone from strength to strength as he promoted a manifesto that engaged the many (not the few).

Plus, I was at conference baby!

As luck would have it the election fell on the same date as the annual Inspiring Leadership Conference in Birmingham. This meant that, as well as having to do my first ever postal vote, I got to watch the conference in a hotel room.

Armed with an array of snacks, a bottle of Amaretto and two fellow headteachers I managed to watch all the coverage until about 3:30am. When I finally left my colleague’s hotel room and returned to my own (nothing dodgy going on although we were all in our pyjamas) I went to sleep safe in the knowledge that, in the morning, things were not going to be quite as awful as I feared they might have been.

And what of the conference? It was great. It must have been because even though I had stayed up half the night I was there at 9:00am to enjoy the first speaker.

 

#WBC17 [Week 22]

Half Term

Having felt understandably distracted the previous week due to moving house it was a pleasure to spend a whole week away from school:

  • waiting for numerous deliveries to not make their appointed delivery time-slot,
  • failing to get a chest of drawers up the stairwell and having to beg John Lewis for a refund,
  • recycling the world’s supply of cardboard every day,
  • caning my 4G as I existed without Wi-Fi,
  • wrestling with the rug underlay as I tried to get it flat (it still isn’t),
  • drilling into walls even when the ‘live electrics’ machine was beeping like an epileptic microwave because, quite frankly, I wanted the picture to go there more than I wanted to not die,
  • decanting six different types of rice and four different types of flour into jars whilst kidding myself that I was always going to do this now I had finally moved,
  • visiting charity shops to donate a load of stuff that I still don’t understand why I bothered to put in storage,
  • eating an unprecedented number of pizzas and burgers.

I think I’m ready for Term 6.

 

#WBC17 [Week 21]

Year 6 camp

With SATS a distant memory already it was a pleasure to accompany the Year 6s on their residential camp. Plus, my school wanted me out of the way as they recruited a new headteacher to replace me in September.

It’s always a pleasure to go on camp. It’s true what they say about you seeing a different side to the children. You do. They are an endless source of surprise as they react to, and conquer, challenges that, at first, appear too daunting for them. You get to see friendships develop too. New friendships (even at this late stage) are formed and existing ones are tested. A week away from their parents and you see them growing up right in front of you as well as their more vulnerable child-like side betray their wish not to be viewed as little kids.

As Head, you also get to see some of your staff in different lights too. You have the time to get to know them in ways that you can’t during the school week. You see individual demonstrations of leadership at every turn from the teachers, support staff and students who have all committed a week of their own life to giving the children the best camp possible.

It’s a great time of year.

 

#WBC17 [Week 20]

Shifting sands

I attended a meeting regarding the future of a child who recently left my school. They left because we were no longer able to meet their incredibly complex SEMH needs. It was a dark moment in my career as I finally said to the local authority: ‘My school is not enough for this child.’ When I had been reviewing the evidence and compiling the paperwork, I had been struck by the chaos that had surrounded this child for years. I suddenly felt culpable. Why hadn’t I escalated things sooner?  Had I allowed the school to ‘cope’ for too long and had this only served to disadvantage the child more?

I shared this concern with another Head. This is what she said:

When you’re in the moment you are painfully aware that the only stability the child has in their life is school. Therefore, you deem it necessary to hold onto them for dear life. We’ve all seen children’s lives ripped apart by chaos. It’s only natural that we seek to provide stability and, in so many cases, we are enough…just. In retrospect, it can look like we remained static while the sand around the child was shifting. But you know how much you adapted your care to protect the child from going under. The key is to know when you can’t adapt any more. You have to know when to let go. You have to know when you’re no longer enough.

As I write this, I think I did the right thing. I suspect the child, in year to come, will add me to the list of people who failed them.

 

#WBC17 [Week 19]

Filling my shoes

I met a number of people this week who want my job. Lots of staff have asked how involved I will be in the appointment of my successor. I have explained how I will have very little to do with the whole process. Many people can’t understand this. I’ll admit it feels weird. But I understand that it is correct and proper. Imagine if I wasn’t a nice and normal person who was leaving the school on good terms and sincerely wanted the best for the school’s future? Imagine how easily it would be to influence a terrible decision? Even though I am a nice and normal person I am glad that I am out of it.

I have however offered anyone who is interested the chance to talk to me during their pre-application walkabout. I have been open and honest about the challenges facing the school as much as I have made clear to them what a special place they will find themselves leading should they be lucky enough to be appointed.

In doing so I am reminding myself of how much I love the school and the people I work alongside. I wonder if I’ve missed the closing date?

 

#WBC17 [Week 18]

10K

I can’t believe it. Despite not running for weeks due to a bad back and suffering from sciatica, I achieved my goal and ran the Bristol 10k race. The key to my success? Drugs. Yes, I’m not afraid to admit it but I planned my pain relief expertly. Starting with a 4:00am dose of codeine.  Followed by a 7:00am dose of naproxen with breakfast and a final shot of codeine an hour before the race.  Suitably drugged up I happily ran across the finishing line in a ‘personal best’ time. I’m right chuffed. Although I think it’s time to quit the drugs, get better and then train for the Bristol Half Marathon in September.

 

#WBC17 [Week 17]

Happy Birthday

I quite like having my birthday in school. Not because I make the whole school sing to me or because I get lots of presents. I don’t – for either. And not because I spend a fortune on providing enough cake to provide universal free school meals for the rest of the year. I like it because you’re guaranteed to have a good day. I’m not a miserable sausage at the best of times but nothing quite puts a spring in your step than remembering that it’s officially a good day. It feels like an added bonus when there are children in your school who share your birthday. It literally blows their mind! Although telling them that you can’t wait to receive their party invitation because, of course, they wouldn’t not invite someone who shares their birthday, does seem to take the edge of their day. I wonder why?

 

#WBC17 [Week 15-16]

Easter Holidays

I’m on holiday. Leave me alone.

 

#WBC17 [Week 14]

INSET

It’s not often I buy in ‘inspirational’ training for a school inset. I am well aware of the pitfalls but occasionally it really works. We had a visit from Pivotal Education to support us with our whole school approach to behaviour. It was great. Everyone got on board. I was very pleased that the trainer, Mike, declared that this was one of the most enjoyable sessions he’d ever done and that he absolutely loved our school.

Getting in ‘professionals’ gets a bad press on Twitter, especially consultants, especially behaviour consultants. But I think this INSET proved it can be successful. I think there are several key things that enabled the day to be successful:

  1. It was an extension of what we already do.

I’ve known the Pivotal approach for a while and have gradually been adopting bits of it to our whole school approach to behaviour. That’s not to say that Pivotal have a way of ‘doing’ behaviour but they do have some fundamental (and pretty sensible) ideological parameters that form the basis of consistent and whole school approaches to behaviour management and perceptions around challenging behaviours. So, the INSET felt like the next logical step.

  1. I wasn’t looking for validation.

You won’t find quotes from the Pivotal report on my school’s self-evaluation. I won’t be arguing about the standard of behaviour in my school using the sentence opener ‘But Mike said…’ I ordered the INSET because it will help the school become an even better place but in our own way.

  1. I wasn’t seeking inspiration to make everyone feel better.

The day was about developing attitudes and approaches to behaviour management. It wasn’t about making staff feel good for a day, making some impossible pledges and forgetting everything when the real world kicked in afterwards. Could I have delivered the INSET? Probably. Mike didn’t say anything that I don’t already believe in. But sometimes it helps that the Head is also a recipient of information and training. And, of course, I did learn things too. More importantly the training allowed all of us to reflect on our situation, our knowledge and consider where we want to go next.

  1. It is not behaviour ‘ticked’.

If anything, we have more work to do than we did before the INSET. Mike has opened our eyes wider and made us reflect deeper about what we need to do…what we want to do, as a school.

So, the next time you’re thinking of buying in some professionals to deliver training don’t worry about the naysayers. It can be one of the best things you’ll ever do.

 

#WBC17 [week 13]

Saying goodbye (but not just yet)

I informed my school community that I will be moving on after the summer. I told staff first. Gathered them together on Tuesday morning (after meeting with the Chair of Governors to officially hand in my resignation) and told them the news. Then I wrote to parents. Then I told the children.

One child cried, telling a member of staff that ‘But he read my Dr Who book, he’s the only one who understands!’. This was balanced with another child who starting crying because he had picked a scab off his knee. Most children wanted to know why, and, who was going to be their new headteacher.

Two reasonable questions.

I wasn’t sure how to answer the first. I didn’t want them to think that I’d simply found a better offer. I talked about challenges and opportunities and what a great school we were. I tried to get across the idea that this was simply part of the natural order of things. I also tried to get across just how much I’ll miss them.

As for the second question…who knows? I’m excited for the school. So much potential, so much promise, so many opportunities. I can’t wait to see who the governors appoint. I find it so strange that it will all be done without me. After being in control for so many years, to have such a decision out of my influence feels very odd. It also feels odd because I’m still here, and will be for the rest of the year.

Letting everyone know, and saying a preliminary goodbye, was hard. By the end of the summer I’ll be an absolute wreck!

 

#WBC17 [week 12]

Onwards and upwards

So, I got a new job this Friday! As of September, I will be the Headteacher of a four (count them) four-form entry primary school. It still all feels a bit surreal. Four weeks ago, the thought of leaving my current school hadn’t even entered my head. But then, you hear of an opportunity and, before you know it, you’re writing your application, then you’re going to interview, then you’re being asked if you would accept the job and finally you’re ringing up your Mum saying, ‘Guess what?’

It was a two-day interview process and, on the evening of the first day, I had to hot-foot it to a headteacher’s residential conference where I was providing the evening ‘entertainment’. Plus, I thought, if I wasn’t invited back to day two, I could take advantage of the conference bar and enjoy a lie-in, and, if I did make it to the second day it would at least take my mind of it for a few hours.

Whilst there, I tentatively whispered to one of my friends that I was slap-bang in the middle of a headteacher’s interview. How, he asked, had I prepared? I replied by saying that I hadn’t. Not because I’m an arrogant swine but because, well, I’m already a Headteacher, surely, I wouldn’t experience anything at interview that I hadn’t already dealt with over the last five years? He agreed that this was a fine idea and offered to buy me a drink. I smiled and said I may have a plucky interview preparation technique but I wasn’t an idiot.

And so, I made it to day two. The pre-prepared presentation and the interview. My advice, to anyone going for a senior leadership position, is to be completely honest during the interview process. Be open about your weaknesses, your opinions and your feelings about the role you’re applying for and your past experiences. Why? Because I can only think of one thing that is worse than not being successful at interview…getting the job because you managed to sell them an enhanced version of yourself.

So, I got a new job this Friday! All I have to do now is let my current school community know.

#WBC17 [week 11]

#PrimaryRocks LIVE 2017

It’s #PrimaryRocks LIVE! What a weekend. In a week where I have driven to Cheltenham and back (to sell my teenage drum-kit that has been sat in my mother’s house for decades), driven to Dorset and back (to see my niece perform in a production of ‘Calamity Jane’) what better way to relax than driving to Manchester for an education conference?

I was very excited, although, having to put up with @OldPrimaryHead1 in the passenger seat and finding out that Manchester has gotten rid of all its incoming roundabouts forcing me to go ‘off-sat-nav’ slightly took the edge off.

But what a weekend. I honestly don’t think that a more positive education event exists. I was privileged to be one of the speakers (alongside, you know who). And, apart from needing fifteen minutes more material I think we managed to transform the leadership stylings of everyone who attended our session. People: you’re welcome!

A huge thanks to the #PrimaryRocks team and I sincerely hope you’re all able to make it down South for our very own #InspireSW conference on 1.7.17.

#WBC17 [week 10]

Don’t tell him I said so

I visited @OldPrimaryHead1’s school this week. It’s only taken three years for me to find the time to visit. It was funny seeing him ‘at work’ again after all these years. His boundless enthusiasm as he strides around the corridors and interrupts classes. As a professional I know him well (better than he knows himself) and I could quite happily list all his faults and things I find irritating about him. You cannot, however, fault his passion for education and his school. He bloody loves it. And although he seems to have developed an odd habit of not calling his teachers by their names (it is a big school to be fair…it has its own roundabout!) I would guess they all know this. He’s wasn’t such a bad boss after all. I’m also pleased to report that he can finally tie a decent Windsor knot.

#WBC17 [week 9]

SEND in the clowns

My SENCO is now on maternity. This has meant that myself and the Deputy are acting SECNOs. We have spent the last few weeks being inducted into everything SEND. I was acting SENCO a few years ago. I seem to remember spending a lot of my time stripping back the paperwork and streamlining systems so that ‘SEND’ was better understood by staff and families. It would seem that, in the intervening years, complex paperwork has come back with a vengeance. This is not, I hasten to add, the fault of the SENCO. Our school systems are great. But the systems for getting external support and making applications…crikey, you can lose the will to live whilst writing out an EHCP application. I wonder if it’s because money is scarce? Forget the needs of the children, only those SENCOs strong enough to fill in all the forms will receive any money. Meanwhile, my school’s photocopying budget is going through the roof.

#WBC17 [week 8]

Lying Loyalties

My days are spent being pushed and pulled between two realities.

Two truths that both, independently make sense.

People call on me to provide ‘the answer’.

Like Solomon, I can usually call it: putting forward a case where logic and the ‘big picture’ reign triumphant.

But now…not so much.

Maybe I am the one who will be cut in two?

Unless I choose.

Who gains the most from my decision, I wonder?

Who will hurt me most, once I go against them?

Whose side am I really on?

Maybe the decision will be made for me?

I doubt it.

solomon-hk2037-lg

#WBC17 [week 7]

World Book Day 2017.

And so began the debate on Twitter about dressing up…

It’s just a bit of fun.

– Trying to teach a class of 30 Harry Potters is not fun.

It’s the only way to get reluctant readers to engage in books.

– No, it’s not. Good books do that.

But it gets kids to use their imagination when making their own costumes.

– Wearing a muscly spiderman outfit from Asda is not creative.

It’s once a year and helps promotes books.

– It’s once a year and it help promotes a cheap capitalist endeavour that puts undue pressure on poor families.

Oh…don’t dress up then.

– I won’t.

Well, why are you dressed as Oscar Wilde then?

– I just happen to like fur coats, silk ties and floppy hair.

It’s easy to become tired of dressing up days. It usually results in a load of kids running around the playground in supermarket costumes trying to hit each other with wizard wands and sonic screwdrivers. Gone are the days I bothered to get dressed up myself…the last time I did, I went as Arthur Dent which, if I’m honest, was motivated by the fact that I wouldn’t have to get dressed to go to work.

But this year, as I saw the children come through the school gates, I genuinely thought: this is cool!

I saw:

  • Multiple copies of Thing 1 and Thing 2
  • Portia, from Merchant of Venice
  • Alice, exploding out of a house
  • Ted Hughes
  • A cow jumping over the moon
  • A grandfather clock with a mouse running up it
  • The owl
  • The pussycat
  • A member of the light brigade
  • Michael Rosen
  • Three little pigs
  • Mafia cats
  • Mad Hatters
  • Old McDonald
  • War poets
  • A fox in socks
  • A pink crayon

But, more than that, I witnessed children all discussing who they were and explaining why their costumes were ‘so’ spot on and you couldn’t walk more than two steps without hearing children reciting their favourite lines off by heart.

All in all, I think it was a pretty good day for books.

2017%20logo

#WBC17 [week 6]

Fake News

I have never worked in a school where it was felt communication was perfect. And yet, in every school I have worked at, the levels, and quality, of communication have increased, and improved, dramitically. Communication, however, is one of those issues where the communicator will seldom win.

You can communicate a message with clarity. You cannot always determine how people will interpret your message. It can be tempting to correct every piece of mis-communication that makes its way back to you.

Social media is a case in point. There are many times when a mass of interpreted information will get confused with the school’s message and this can create tension and concern. At worst, untruths can be shared with the implication that the school’s word is being represented.

As painful, and frustrating, as it can be, my approach is to ignore social media that isn’t directly linked to a school’s authorship. It is seldom serious enough to warrant legal action and people, who have read messages from others and are really concerned, will find the correct channels and communicate with you directly.

In the meantime…tune it out.

fakebook

 

#WBC17 [week 5]

Guilt

I honestly think I work hard. Always have. Well, my student days were less than 100% studious and, during my NQT year, I seem to remember going clubbing…a lot! But, now that I have grown up, I think I keep my nose, pretty firmly, to the grindstone.

Nobody has ever accused me of shirking and I put in the hours…and then some.

I think most decent educators would say the same. I am not unique. As a species, teachers (including senior leaders) work very, very hard.

And yet, I feel such guilt when I’m not at school.

I don’t mean the holidays. Oh no. When they rock up I can kick back and literally forget about school with no worries whatsoever. (Now there I may be different to others.)

I mean if I am ‘caught’ out of school during work hours. I attend many meetings away from school and occasionally – occasionally – I’ll pop into a supermarket on my way back, to get that ingredient I forget to pick up the previous night, or, I’ll dash to the dry cleaners to pick up my suit before heading back to work, or, maybe, yeah maybe, I’ll go into a coffee shop and get a proper coffee before heading back to school.

And all I feel during these brief moments in time is guilt and paranoia that someone will ‘spot’ me and hold me to account. They will use it against me. It will justify their point of view that I am a sham.

Sometimes I have met parents out and about. Like an idiot I end up going up to them and spluttering some justification as to why I’m there and assuring them that I had an important meeting and that I’ll be working late tonight so it sort of cancels itself out doesn’t it?

I have never had anyone accuse me of not fulfilling my roles and responsibilities on account of them seeing me buy an egg sandwich during the school day. I have never received a formal complaint because I was spotted filling up my car with petrol at a time when I am usually doing assembly.

And yet, these feelings of guilt never go away.

shadow-of-guilt

 

#WBC17 [Week 4]

The sponge

Sometimes I feel like a sponge. Swelling, as the week progresses, until I feel like I cannot possibly take on any more…what?

  • Information
  • Pressure
  • Emotions
  • Problems
  • Jobs
  • Worries

Yeah, all that.

Occasionally, I notice that I’m leaking. I feel this ‘stuff’ drip out of me, saturating others. Sometimes it seems fair – why should I be the only one dealing with it all? Sometimes it doesn’t. I feel guilty because I haven’t been able to keep it all in. Sometimes I worry that one day it will all get squeezed out of me in one big squelch. I’ll open my eyes and everyone will be looking at me, a dry husk of a man surrounded by my own mental and emotional widdle, and they’ll know: he was never fit for this job.

And then, something happens:

  • A meeting outside of school
  • An act of kindness
  • A conversation
  • Progress
  • Something funny
  • The weekend

And I realise: I’m no soggier a sponge than anyone else.

natural-sea-sponge

#WBC17 [Week 3]

Intelligence Lost

I attended a Head’s meeting a while ago where our RSC spoke about the educational landscape’s future. (Missed it? Do not fret, you can find it here.) By the end of the talk, I wasn’t exactly won over by the heavily implied message of only MAT = good. I’m still not. I find the endlessly pro-MAT rhetoric, that pours from every commissioner’s communication outlet, wearisome, to say the least. I object, ideologically, to the concept that MATs are the future of education. They’re not. Oh, they may be the future financially speaking, I’ll give them that. What with every local authority getting royally fleeced by the treasury it stands to reason that schools will soon have to adopt a Trumpesque dogma of ‘our school first’ and stop agreeing to top-slicing their budgets to fund local authority services that are diminishing.

So that, by default, leads schools down the road to academisation. If I close my eyes I can already hear the RSC’s roar of self-triumphalist hooting as they announce that their ‘strategy’ has been proven right; kidding themselves that every school is now part of a MAT because school leaders saw the light as opposed to it being the only way they could afford to put teachers in the classrooms.

Just because something is going to happen, doesn’t mean it’s happening for the right reason.

Which leads me to a specific chink in the RSC’s logic: intentional design. For too long, claim the RSCs, MATs have been created, and have grown, with no thought as to why particular schools have joined particular MATs. Thus, our cities are now covered in a variety of patchwork MATs. Failing schools have been swallowed up. MATs have grown due to their own hunger rather than down to educational strategy. This, apparently, must end. MATs must now be intentionally designed. Sounds dandy. I agree,

However, paradoxically, the RSCs do not want new MATs. But, says I, won’t this leads to an educational case of catch 22?

School A, wishes to become an academy and must do so by being part of an intentionally designed MAT. School A joins in discussions with other schools who are considering the same survival plan. Together, through sound reasoning and a shared ethos, they decide to MAT. The RSC says that this all sounds lovely but they can’t start a new MAT. School A must now, cap in hand, ask to join an already existing MAT and hope that they can find a decent enough reason to justify their choice to all the stakeholders.

This sort of logic sounds neither intentional nor intelligent.

But hey, like I said, just because something is going to happen, doesn’t mean it’ happening for the right reason.

#WBC17 [week 2]
I heard a story the other day, about a person’s experience of being reassessed for their disability allowance. Nothing had changed in terms of their disability, they still could barely see. Still, the letter arrived saying that to continue receiving their disability allowance they needed to take part in this assessment. This person dutifully organised their train journey and, with the help of their children, they made their way to the assessment centre.

A couple of days later a letter arrived. Here is the summary:

  1. Well, you made it to the appointment. I guess you’re able to get around.
  2. You travelled with children. I guess you consider yourself to be safe looking after them.
  3. Your children helped you get around the assessment centre. I guess you’ve trained them to help you.

Conclusion: Some people are worse off. You seem to be managing your disability. You don’t need our support anymore.

PS This assessment was not carried out by a health professional

At no point does the letter say: you’re no longer blind! They are still blind but, compared to others, they’re able to make it work.

We should not be surprised by this. After all, this is what happens when the money does the talking.

  • You qualify for support.
  • Others also qualify but cannot support themselves as well as you.
  • You no longer qualify for support.

Maybe you think this is fair. Maybe you don’t. It doesn’t really matter. Just know that this way of thinking is going to become standard, everywhere, as money becomes tighter.

Here are two school examples that I imagine will soon become standard:

Parents

  • Your child has SEND.
  • You can afford support privately.
  • Your child will not be supported in school.

Schools

  • Your budget won’t support a full complement of staff.
  • Roles and responsibilities will be forced to change.
  • Your Head has just proved that the school doesn’t need a bigger budget.

We are our own worst enemy. Because we make it work. Because we seek solutions. Because we attempt to succeed despite the circumstances that are not our making.

PS These circumstances are not being carried out by educational professionals.

I just hope that while we’re busy creatively avoiding a deficit budget we don’t end up losing the purpose of our buildings: providing equitable support to those that need it, whatever the cost.

Somehow though, I think the money will end up winning.

Shame.

#WBC17 [week 1]

Testing, testing, 1 2 3!

Well, we’re one day into the first day of school of 2017 and it’s only just dawned on me that I’ve signed up for the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17.

As I consider myself to be a fairly regular blogger I think I’ll use this as a random mini-thought diary.

Fascinating, I’m sure.

Yours truly,

@theprimaryhead

2017