Dipping in and out of Twitter today, it is clear that some conversations have been active throughout the day. It seems as if a school (Michaela) has written a book. I know that because the head and the tweachers have tweeted and retweeted as such and spent much time in keeping that in the public eye. There’s even been commentary in Sunday papers.
The responses have ranged in tone, style and substance, from the “Yosser” approach of “Gi’s a job” (Boys from the Black Stuff), through to outright opposition, neither of which necessarily helps the distant reader to fully comprehend the school and it’s context.
It may well be that, in the context of it’s neighbourhood that it’s idiosyncratic, and much vaunted, traditionalism suits the local need. Where there have been anecdotal reports of a “take it or leave it” approach to discipline, this has occasionally suggested that not everyone is happy. There are always two sides to every story.
If, as a headteacher,
· you are starting a school to a particular vision;
· have a building that suits the growing needs of the anticipated population of a quality that should not need too much regular “firefighting” of defective fabric;
· have broad availability of high quality staff and therefore the opportunity to hand pick team members who will work within and be part of the creative development of the ethos and the offered curriculum,
· it’s a very high possibility that those teachers will perform at a high level, with confidence.
If you add into that that Ofsted will not inspect for three years, the development period is long enough to embed the desired practice and be able to refine to evident need.
In other words, it’ll work. The school is actually enjoying many of the curricular and pedagogic freedoms associated with the 1970s.
Would that every school should be so lucky. Many are continually looking over their shoulders at “make or break” Ofsted visits.
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about my own school team, when I became a head. It took around three years to really settle the staff into a clear development period, as the inherited staff moved off to new challenges. Having settled, developed and succeeded, there was a period of instability when the development team moved on for promotions. Their replacements took varying amounts of time to take stock, understand their new working context and to be effective. Periodically, promotions happened at the tail end of resignation periods, so strategic decisions had to be made about replacement over a longer timescale. Sometimes it was difficult to find short term cover, to enable strategic decisions.
On a number of occasions, I had to assume the class-teacher role, at least to start the term. When the school caretaker had a heart attack, I was accustomed to donning the wellies and gloves and wielding the mop to clean the toilets, so that we could open, until one of my TAs offered to cover the role until the County found a short term replacement. As a head, the buck very firmly stops…
So, reflecting on today’s Twitter journey, it’s a pity that one (self-promoting) school is singled out for particular attention, especially as there will be many, many more, within the 25000 schools in the country who achieve at an exceptionally high level, often when facing significant levels of (possibly greater) difficulty, offering opportunities that may need to be broader than the single school currently does, to counteract locality deprivation.
There are so many ways to be a good school.
The best suit their locality, develop and work well with their community, enjoy high quality communications that furthers both the school and community agendas and effectively give their children a good deal in educational and social terms, that sets them up for the next phase of their learning, or the world of work.
I’ve been lucky to see examples from Essex to Cornwall and north as far as Northampton, with many within London. As a result, I was able to distil these school into a nutshell, as they showed similar traits.
It is a school at a particular stage of it’s development, but it faces change with personnel changes; promotion, life, children. It is very rare to make perfect “like for like” changes and change can create a period of instability. And if the staff stay too long, it can become a case of “group think”, which can develop into negative traits.
If one takes a look at political change at the moment, across the world, it’s possible to anticipate significant changes in direction. Schools can sometimes go through similar seismic change, by design or by happenstance.
That’s the nature of institutional change.
Life happens… and we rarely plan for unplanned events. That seems to be the lot of education in 2016.