A new mantra………

I spend most of my time working in schools that have fallen foul of Ofsted – so are either RI or Special Measures, and it can be a very unforgiving place. Colleagues feeling battered and bruised and are reeling with the mountain of work and the expectations they face to bring their schools around. Most are stoic and determined to move onwards and upwards. For staff, that comes with huge amounts of scrutiny; data analysis, observations, book scrutinies, constant accountability and, for Governors; a critical self-review, a re-evaluation of their role and a huge re- commitment to spending time and energy in a voluntary role. An intense environment for everyone involved.

There are key pieces of advice that I share with Governors:

1. No matter how hard the decision, it’s got to be about the children;

2. impact and evidence – any decision you make as a Governing Body, what’s the impact and what’s the supporting evidence?

3. learn from it, draw a line and move on.

This week I have picked up a nugget of advice from a fellow tutor at Essex Governor Service which has just gone to the top of my mantra list for Governors – “Monitor the joy”. Perhaps we should all make that a starting point.

Is stressing teens proving anything? Just asking………………..

I don’t know the answer to the above question………….. but I am wondering whether our current approach to assessing learning is working?

A quick web search reveals a plethora of information about the teenage brain (ok, so let’s get the predictable quips of “oh, teenagers have brains do they?” out the way and move on) and the turmoil it’s in. According to the NHS we (as responsible parents) should be advising the following:

  1. “Eat a healthy diet” – that’s going to go well
  2. “Encourage exercise” – after confiscating the computer, i-pad and mobile
  3. “Encourage 8 -10 hours sleep” – have you tried sending a teen to bed recently?
  4. “Discuss anything that might be causing them stress” – that’ll be starting with their parents then

You get the picture…….. “normal” life for 14 to 17 year olds is stressful enough. Add hormones and the opposite, or same sex, to the mix and there’s no wonder they want to spend 90% of their free time in a darkened room listening to unfathomable music.

Now obviously, I’m being a bit “tongue in cheek” about this. I love “my” teen to pieces; he can be very funny, surprisingly caring and extraordinarily perceptive, but I recognise that for a lot of the time, the adult world, as tantalizing as it is, is also a big, scary,  challenging place and its hurtling towards him at an amazing pace.

So on top of this, we (that same adult world) impose 6 to 7 weeks of pure stress, to assess 12 years of learning. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely agree that kids need to leave school as literate and numerate, fully functioning members of society. But when else in our lives do we face an imposed  “no alternative” series of  hoops to jump through? As adults we opt for job interviews, driving tests and house moves – all over in a couple of days at the most. Surely, rather than asking our young adults to face over a month’s worth of hi-adrenaline anxiety making sessions, we would get a better picture of their academic abilities by continuous assessment and course work ?

Oh, I’ve just remembered ……………….. we’ve dropped that approach haven’t we?

Where to begin……………

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the subject of my first post. There is so much going on in the field of education at the moment it’s difficult to choose: life without levels; British Values; Secondary ready (whatever that might be) but I’ve actual come down to a personal anecdote. A story that is probably being reflected right across the country and I suspect, is doing immeasurable damage to the morale of many a committed professional.

On the way home this evening, I bumped into someone I have a great deal of respect for, but who I haven’t seen for a while. I had, however, heard on the grape vine, that a recent Ofsted inspection carried out at their school hadn’t gone smoothly. The Head, Governors and indeed the LA felt the subsequent report was unsound in some of its findings and that there was a huge discrepancy between the inspector’s judgements and what the data is consistently showing. But that’s not really the issue; the issue for me is the manner in which the inspection was carried out and the attitude of the inspector and her dealings with the staff and governors during her limited time in school.

Describing the experience as “brutal” (the second time in as many months I have heard this word used) as a result of this two day inspection, this colleague has seriously contemplated whether or not to continue in the teaching profession. A very experienced teacher and Head, they know their school inside out, care passionately for the pupils, staff and local community, have great vision for and expectations of their students and plan long and hard to provide a rich and varied curriculum. So what they deserve is basic courtesy; some kind of acknowledgement that any school is a “work in progress” and to be given the opportunity to present their story in a constructive and professional atmosphere.

In another life, I have been on the receiving end of an “unsuccessful” Ofsted, with an inspector who may have already made his mind up before he came into school but who remained courteous, listened to what we had to say,  and was ultimately, professional in his dealings with us.  It didn’t soften the blow when we went into Special Measures, (there’s a whole other blog here) but, it was a fair judgement and eventually enabled the school to move to a much better place. The following 13 months, the time it took to turn the school round to be judged as “good” were a huge challenge, gruelling in many ways, and not everyone was able to complete the tremendous learning curve – but it would have been a whole lot harder if the staff and governors had been disrespected, demeaned and devalued by the Inspector.

I’m not arguing that schools should not be held accountable for the education they are providing – I think that argument has been done to death, and I understand that Ofsted inspectors need to be rigorous  and thorough, but Michael Gove’s much lauded British Values advocate fairness, tolerance and respect. Perhaps Mr Wilshaw, as Head of Ofsted, would like to revisit some of these values with his inspectors, before too many more committed and experienced staff do decide that this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and leave the profession.