PRIMARY HEADTEACHERS

Chapter 1

A Successful School – The Basics

A Good Headteacher

Good schools have a firm, purposeful and caring leadership. A good headteacher(HT) understands the job is people based with members of staff who are educated and intelligent. If these teachers feel appreciated and supported by senior management, in turn the children and hence parents will feel they are part of a valued   “family”. The trick then is to marry strength of character, leadership, eternal optimism and human understanding. Humour is a huge bonus in every single aspect of school life. In short, the performance of the school depends upon the performance of the teachers in the classroom. Thus, the absolute number one priority for every HT is to provide an environment where as many hurdles to education as possible are removed, so those teachers feel empowered to teach and not have their precious time wasted by narrow minded leadership and its imagined, beneficial extra tasks. The point of this book is to provide pointers on how to achieve a unity of purpose, sometimes by providing true life examples of bad practice that still make me cringe today. It is definitely not designed to produce a staff who blindly follow without question but rather where they feel safe to raise their thoughts and objections to be heard before a final decision is made. Indeed, in any given venture, there will always be reticent individuals within the staffroom. Hence, an environment where the most reluctant of teachers will grudgingly accept decisions with the sentiment, “Well, I suppose she might know what she’s doing,” is the best a good HT can hope to achieve.

In short, weak HTs are typically individuals who cannot tolerate criticism of any sort and hence surround themselves with “Yes People”.

So, how can new HTs prove themselves enough to become confident leaders of a happy and successful school? Whilst perfection is unlikely to be attainable we must start at the beginning to move in the right direction.
Two important hurdles for a new headteacher to overcome now follow:

 

A.     The Transition from Authority To Power

 In Short: Authority comes with the job. However, trust, loyalty and ultimately the power to truly lead, must be earned.

Any newly appointed (good) headteacher will experience a two year period during which the technical “Authority” of the appointment evolves gradually into “Power”, which centres on the well earned trust of the teaching staff. In effect, teachers will slowly come to believe in a good  HT’s decisions and vision even if, on occasions, they quite naturally happen to disagree. In this way, over time, a Unanimity of Purpose gradually evolves. This is the ultimate aim of every headteacher and produces a harmonious, happy, purposeful and successful school. However, new HTs should understand they can only ever make one first impression. I know of one young HT who, on arriving that very first morning, put a very large sign on his door:

Do Not Disturb

It remained there for the first week, during which he did not visit a teacher or classroom. He never recovered from this and left three years later still distrusted by his own staff, who saw him as a “reluctant teacher” instead of the leader/role model they desired in such difficult times.
In another school a new local HT arrived and on his third day was approached by the school secretary who said, “I’m afraid Mrs Smith will be a few minutes late, she’s stuck in a traffic jam. Could you possibly sit with class 3S for a short time?”
His reply was,

“Not f***ing likely, I’m done with all that teaching lark”.

Education’s jungle drums sent this round both county and national schools in seconds. “Hoorah!” for the age of social media! Such idiots should be shamed and named. Einstein was wrong. There is something faster than the speed of light. It’s called, “The Teachers’ Education Grapevine in the Electronic Age”. Incidentally, that HT left some time later due to “health problems”.

Suffice it to say, both of these HTs had an uncomfortable time of it due to a lack of teacher respect. Neither left their respective positions with a glowing report but rather a sigh of relief.
Thus we can better understand that, whilst the word “Transition” in the title, “Transition From Power To Authority” suggests it is an automatic process that reaches fruition over time; that is in fact a wildly optimistic assumption for poor HTs. Rather, it would be better to refer to this probationary period as The Authority to Power Transaction”. The point here is that teachers represent an equal partner in this evolution of management agreement and their trust must be earned. The most common route to failure is new headteachers proving themselves to be shallow and spineless by caving in to unreasonable parents.  There are (of course) many other  routes to failure. The point is that in such cases the “transaction” may never be complete. Limp and unsmiling leadership produces a disparate and desperately unhappy staff with a variety of views on how to tackle any given situation. Such a HT (sadly) will continue to be paid a salary but that is about the only bright spot for this hapless individual, as well as the school. Every executive decision will be questioned.

Whilst it is possible for such HTs to try and stay in the same position almost ad infinitum, one strong indicator of a failing HT is one who moves to another school within 4/5 years (without being head-hunted). All education professionals know it takes this long for the full influence of a new HT’s school “reign” to reach fruition and for them to reap the rewards of their labours. If a HT feels the need to move on within this period of time, it indicates they are losing their grip, as familiarity breeds contempt and they are unable to enjoy the rewards that stem from hard earned success. More worryingly, the school they are leaving will probably provide an optimistic reference in order to improve their chances of losing this damp squib. The HT will then move on whilst blaming others (the teachers) thereby indicating a self-justifying, convenient misunderstanding of the term “management” and inability to learn from their own mistakes. Sadly, there are lots of these losers circulating at any one time.  Unfortunately for the educational world, what goes around comes around and they will fare no better in their new (and incredibly unlucky) school. Unfortunately, the only check on the existence of such HTs is a Governing Body’s ability to weed out idiots at the interview stage. Indeed, it is this interview process, occasionally led by an inept individual, that is to blame for so many poor HTs being appointed in primary education.

When governors make such mistakes everybody suffers. The biggest shocks of my career concerned meeting totally ineffectual HTs who were allowed to continue within education on the condition it was “somewhere else”. Thus – after lengthy failure they would be removed by the co-operation of LA and (that same) governing body. The usual format was to say, “If you clear your desk and go over the weekend we will give you a reference. If you refuse, you will be sacked through due process with no reference.” The thought of no reference is too much and so they move on. Thus, eventually some other poor school will pick up this witless individual, who only has one skill, answering interview questions. I am aware of at least one HT of a local (very large) secondary school that was offered this option for rapid departure. Later it was revealed that his previous school had given him the same ultimatum! I do not know where he fetched up next. However, we can surmise the system does not support all the classteachers who have to suffer under such a weak-willed and limp character.

In today’s climate of “acadamisation” it remains to be seen whether the management of academy chains will fare any better. In recent times the allegations of inappropriate use of public funds are increasing. Further, the extra layer of bureaucracy/accountability, often involving individuals who know nothing of education, has created huge burdens. In the light of failing academies, failing academy chains and (for instance) two “leaders” of an under-performing chain of schools, leaving with £500,000 of public money between them, I doubt it. We will see. In 2021,  I am aware of at least one academy that has constantly failed OFSTED, had a fortune spent on it and has seen a string of “I’ll sort this out” HTs fail and leave. It begs the question, “What do you do with a constantly failing academy?” Over the years, a number of solutions have have been applied without success.

Note: Not long after my appointment as a HT I was very impressed by my Local Authority’s expensive and glossy production of its new policy “How to Appoint Headteachers”. I didn’t read it but it looked good. A big fuss was made as its publication coincided with the start of the appointment process of a new leader for our local secondary school. Hence, this interview process became the perfect test for this amazing document. To cut a long story short, the new appointee was unable to attend his new school at the start of term, appeared for one day and then took medical retirement.

 

 B.   Law of Inverse Delegation

Simply: The less the delegated paperwork and waste of teacher time the greater the respect.

“The amount of respect afforded to any HT by the staff is inversely related to the amount of delegation that befalls classteachers on top of their fundamental teaching commitment.” 

The biggest expense (usually over 80%) of any school budget is the teaching staff and quite rightly so. After all, “productivity” in terms of meaningful learning is in the hands of these people and their morale is in the hands of the HT. Hence, a good HT knows it is not just the cost of teachers it is also their mental welfare and performance in the classroom that will determine the success of a school. So we must ask ourselves why poor HTs treat such valuable individuals so badly by lazily delegating masses of pointless bureaucracy to them. It wastes their energy and destroys the joy of teaching by turning them into a clerks. The truth is 95% of paperwork should be filtered or “managed” at HT, senior management and governor level in order to introduce freedom and thus optimism into the minds of the teachers and thereby the children. Chapters 2 & 3 offers tips to managers in this respect.

However it is not just paperwork where over-delegation is a problem. There are two more areas that can sap the energy (and the will to live) of teachers:

1. Social Work

Teachers are not Social Workers. If they feel like Social Workers in the classroom then they are constantly being distracted from achieving their learning aims with the children because the HT is failing to lead the school into establishing a good pupil work ethic. Whilst this is never quite 100% achievable, a good headteacher (through leadership) will get very close to removing such a huge burden from the classroom.

See the next chapter on “Assemblies” for a start on this most vital aspect of leadership.

2. Angry Parents

An experienced and valued HT will protect the staff by standing up to the unreasonable, aggressive and loud-mouthed parents. See the chapter on “Stalker Parents” for examples and one possible strategy on how a HT could and should defend the school.

 

 

C. Accountability

 

At this point it is worth noting that good HTs do not lose sight of a simple overview:

The school is only truly accountable to OFSTED (not advisers in all their forms)

Thus we must ask, “What does OFSTED want to see?”

(i) Excellent teaching and learning, centering on a good (school fostered) work ethic;

(ii) Good results;

(iii) Happy and safe kids;

(iv) A HT who monitors pupil progress in order to achieve good outcomes. Despite not being officially “required” monitoring figures are exceptional evidence despite what some “experts” say. Electronically recording pupils’ levels in Maths and English at the end of each term will provide excellent evidence.

That’s it! unfortunately there are so many “experts” floating around in the system who advertise that they can help a school succeed whereas, their number one priority is to make themselves indispensable by scaring (particularly) new and vulnerable HTs. In this manner they are asked back (paid more) and spend a lot of time deflecting the HT from the simple principles above. HTs must remember there is no legal requirement to listen to these people or even have them in school. In effect, unless you are blessed with a brilliant and knowledgeable (worth their weight in gold but VERY rare) “adviser” ignore them all.

To summarise, successful HTs:

a.) Filter out the infinitesimally small (if any) weekly paperwork that might actually raise standards or be of use to a teacher and ignore everything else that does not have a statutory requirement.

b.) Defend the school against petty bureaucrats of all types (there are lots) and remain focussed on the basics at all times.

For those you who are wondering how weak HTs are not somehow filtered out of the system before ever reaching such a critical leadership position,  refer to Chapter 7.

 

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Chapter 2

POLICIES – Handling the burden.
Now we understand that a good HT’s primary role to is to empower teachers to teach by freeing them from the huge burden of government bureaucracy we must understand this leaves the HT (quite rightly) with the responsibility of sorting it all out, without suffering a nervous breakdown. Very sadly, poor HTs readily inflict this on their classteachers, the very people that are responsible for maintaining the all important OFSTED standards of today’s world.

The Problem
Following WW2, Winston Churchill wanted to influence education in schools by producing a historically rosier picture of the nation’s history for our children. He was warned off being told, “Nobody touches education”. Sadly all that changed with Maggie Thatcher. Since then education has become a political football across all parties who want to grab headlines with a plethora of initiatives involving ever more paperwork for schools. A large proportion of this is in the form of new or revamped policies which can swamp HTs into feeling they are sinking beneath the weight of bureaucracy.
The good HT’s reaction to this defines the very culture of the school by acting as a filter to protect classteachers from all but the most vital of paperwork such as school reports. A poor HT passes everything on in the forlorn hope that, when things inevitably crash, he can rely on saying, “The teachers have let me down.”

Before proceeding there are four policies that, in our present climate, must be handled by a delegated individuals: They are:

  • Special Needs – the most common source of complaints
  • Numeracy
  • Literacy
  • Child Safety Protection – overseen by the school office – the buck stops with the HT’s desk.

 For everything else we have:

The Solution

School Bureaucracy: The Primary Principle

Whether linked to an academy or LA, the school is only truly accountable to OFSTED. HTs must must focus totally on these requirements. Nothing else matters.
Note: A lot of LA/trust advisers will attempt to justify their position by scaring good schools with pointless paper demands far beyond the required monitoring of students’ standards and rates of progress. There is no need to listen and no legal justification to even have them in school.

OFSTED will only look at outcomes.

If a school is ever asked during an inspection for its policy on anything the outcomes have found to be lacking and it’s already too late. The school is firmly in the mire even if the wording of the policy is perfect.
Note: In all my years as a HT, I was never once asked for a policy by an inspector but I quickly lost count of the times advisers and governor trainers have wanted to comb through every word. However, I do know of schools that were asked this question and in 70% of cases it referred to a failure in Special Needs. The moral is, “Get it right on a practical level so theory is irrelevant”.

Hence, written policies are acting only as a back up to the (all important) “on the ground” reality by which schools are judged. The trick is never to get to the stage of being asked for a policy by ensuring the outcomes are right in the first place. Remember, ineffectual HTs have things 100% back to front and spend their time locked away in their rooms behind the excuse of paperwork, whilst a good HT will be seen around the school each day monitoring outcomes and fostering good practice. I know of a few failed HTs who had the most immaculate paperwork possible but didn’t go near a classroom.
However, this leaves us still needing a quick and simple way for the HT to stay on the ball. 
Thankfully, there is a world famous publication that sums up every policy and even provides concise bullet points (however long and complicated the policy may be) and all within a maximum of two pages per policy. Best of all it is totally independent. In order to access this mine of invaluable information the school must be prepared to pay about £2.00 per week. It’s an invaluable and cheap service called The Times Educational Supplement.

The steps are:

1.

Each Sunday afternoon a clever HT will spend half an hour reading and highlighting the (at most) two page summary of any new policy/strategy requirements which will include a list of practical “must do” headings.

Whilst it may be a surprise I am recommending using Sunday afternoons, the HT is doing this to:

a.) Have free time in the week to actively support and monitor classroom practice

b.) Protect the teachers from wasting their valuable time

c.) Ensure “all-week” stress is at a minimum i.e. stay calm with no background, nagging worries, for the maximum amount of time.

2.

Once the TES summary has been read and highlighted it must be cut out and paper-clipped to the inside front cover of the document in school. Should that knowledge ever be required for (say) an adviser visit, a two minute scan of the highlights will ensure that any HT can speak knowledgably. At every other time it is the day to day classroom and school practice that matters.

3.

Is a new or amended policy required? Wait about three weeks before searching the internet for schools that have their new copy online. If it is concise and simple print it out. Do not waste time on over wordy and complex documents, they still count but you might as well have a simple, straight forward version.  Go through changing the school name and get this typed up and file away a copy (with the TES summary paper clipped to the front page). Present the policy to your next governor meeting for approval whilst offering it to any individual who would like to go through it at home.
I will not say too much here but, with practice, you will find more affluent schools that proudly publish such documents rather quickly.

Please note: It is common practice for Governor Services to recommend that governing bodies create each policy from scratch. What an appalling waste of time when excellent copies will be available online from affluent schools with knowledgeable governors. In short, we are constantly being asked to reinvent the wheel when the only thing we need is to understand the bullet points provided by The TES.

4.

At the next (once a week maximum) staff meeting, update the teachers with the vital “on the ground” requirements. Ensure they are followed up with daily high profile tours of the school and classrooms. Thus OFSTED will never entertain doubts. Remember, good schools are characterised by having good HTs who are out and about on a daily basis.

5.

Ensure the front page of any policy is a separate document and saved into a “Policies Front Page” folder on your computer but not on the desktop for all to see. Each summer holiday spend an hour printing and replacing each with a new date for the following year.

6.

Is an annual governor policy check an issue? HTs can simply present 10+ policies at a time for approval whilst inviting individual governors or, if they wish a sub-committee of their own, to go through the wording. I have never known a governing body to take up this offer but it is vital it is made i.e. no secrets. After all, does anybody really want to go through every policy every year? The HT must never be involved in any such time-wasting bureaucracy. After all, implementing the vital practicalities is no mean task and is certainly effort enough. 

Key Point
Never try to read in full, a lengthy government document unless you suffer from insomnia or feel you missed your career calling as a bureaucrat and yearn to become a governor trainer.

Finally

Take note of the DfE 2014 publication: “Statutory Policies for Schools”. The link to paste into your browser is:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/statutory-policies-for-schools

As usual it is appallingly written (probably by a committee) with much duplicity. However, the list at the bottom of page two indicates there were only 32 statutorily required policies for any school at that time ( correct – November 2021).

 

 Chapter 3

The Rest Of Bureaucracy

The most important cause of over-delegation of paperwork to classteachers (three more are listed at the end of this chapter) is an individual HT’s shallow character, which fears the consequences of taking the bold step of throwing it in the bin. Visiting bureaucrats, be they from an LA or an academy chain, can seem pretty scary when you have progressed through a career that totally depends on obedience. Here is the answer as to what to say to them. In reality, for a good HT it is not tongue in cheek.

When receiving a bureaucrat’s visit, e-mail or phone call asking, “Why haven’t you filled in ……it was essential blah, blah, blah?” the reply is simple. It goes along the lines of:
“Jimmy’s Mum and Dad have just split up and I decided to spend a lot of time supporting him instead of attending to your paperwork. If you think my priorities are wrong then please put it in writing”.

Not once have I had a letter telling me to forget Jimmy.

Unfortunately every HT is open to the old fear inducing last resort threat of visiting bureaucrats. These are along the lines of, “OFSTED will fail you if you don’t…….

This is emotional blackmail/bullying at its worst and extremely unlikely to be true. It is just bureaucrats trying every trick in the book to tick their (oh, so important) boxes. What a weird world it is where a whole industry of bureaucracy has grown up within education to distract teachers from doing their jobs. Headteachers! Defend your staff! STAND UP AND FIGHT!

Two Questions That Aid The Fight Against Bureaucracy

a.) “Is this piece of paperwork going to improve the education of the children?”

b.) “Could it be vital to a teacher’s career i.e. they need to see it?”

Unless the answer is a clear, “YES” to either, then why even consider it? There are of course odd exceptions for the statutorily required policies but use the short cuts mentioned in chapter 2.

 

Summing up: Strong headteachers will protect their staff from time wasting.

One last, seemingly unconnected rule, needs to be covered before we close this chapter.

An over-delegating, weak character HT has little left in life to feel proud about and so will often resort to trying to be a best friend to all the children. The school then has a HT behaving just like those worrying (“Jimmy never tells lies”) parents that give teachers nightmares. Worse, limp leaders like this will often side with unreasonable parents/kids against the teacher in order to prove their fantastic idealism towards the child. Sadly, when the whole class knows what a pain the child had been, all this does is cause huge problems for the school. That parent will go into the playground and talk. Further, the harm to the school is incalculable as individual pupils quickly learn they can get their own way by winding up their parents and pointing them at the HT like a loaded gun.

Let’s be clear about what is wrong with this.

The headteacher should be a figurehead and an authority figure. She should be extremely familiar with the classes and be viewed as somebody the children love to see come through the classroom door or into the assembly hall, because 99.9% of the time, this means something good is going to be said. Due to this, when the 0.1% “I’m not happy” moment happens, it has a huge effect. If a HT spends playtime in the playground then the figurehead status is totally diluted and authority disappears making the class teacher’s job far more difficult. Such behaviour marginalises any supervisory effects the headteacher might have. Throughout headship, there must be some degree of aloofness kept in reserve for special occasions. So…………………….. HTs Do Not Do Playtime Duty.

However, this does not apply to an (08.45 ish) pre-school HT presence in the playground when the parents are bringing in their children. Having the parents present, changes the balance of the equation and allows the diffusing of any problems that would otherwise have landed in the classroom and disrupted the start of the day. An example is a very disturbed mother asking me at 8.45 a.m. why her four year old daughter said they were, “Into sex” when asked, “What did you do at school today?” In fact they were looking at “insects”. Further, being in the playground and chatting to the parents breeds confidence amongst the parents, who see a HT who has no problems and is confident enough to be approachable.
Another example was a parent showing me a huge bruise on her daughter’s arm and telling me she was writing a letter to the LA to complain about the dangerous door in the girls’ toilets. I was clueless and, much to the indignation of her daughter, I invited Mum to look for herself, as the toilets were the same design as when she had been a pupil. I never found out what caused the bruise but I left Mother and daughter to argue it out and heard no more about the matter.

Examples:

a.) I was talking to a long-standing  friend who was also a highly respected teacher in another school. She told me about a well known pupil who had been extremely rude in a lesson. I will not list details – the stuff of nightmares. The rest of the class had been shocked. The teacher had made the boy stand outside the door saying to me, “There would be no point in sending him to senior management, he’d just get a sweet”. The following day the HT, accompanied by that boy’s mother, entered the room and forced her to apologise to the boy, with no hint of investigation, in front of the class. I dread to think of the lesson they learned. That top class teacher immediately started applying elsewhere and has now moved schools. Thus, standard are lowered as the staff feel isolated, threatened and leave. The lack of strong management skills gradually leads to the teachers coming to fear the naughty children. It speaks for itself.

b.) Some time ago, a young teacher who had been with me for three years and flourished, came to say she was thinking of trying for promotion and realised, as the school was settled,  she would need to move elsewhere. She had seen an advert and asked for my view. I took one look and immediately said, “Don’t do it”. The school had a terrible reputation for poor behaviour and had failed its OFSTED. There were no academies in those days. However, she proceeded with an interview and came back to see me afterwards. The headteacher had been extremely firm in saying, “There are no naughty children at this school”. We had along discussion. I pointed out that the whole world knew that not to be true and that every school has naughty kids who will try it on. The difference is how the issue is addressed. Ignoring it made matters much worse as the problem would grow. I explained how the HT needed to, had to, believe in her own statement. This immediately, in her mind, meant she could blame the teachers and also allow her never  to become involved in disciplinary matters. I regret now not telling her that I had sat next to this HT just after her school failed OFSTED for the second time. She had confided in me, “My teachers are letting me down”. I nearly replied, “Perhaps you should spend more time in your school and less time outside, being involved in every educational initiative going, offering your advice on school improvement”. At the time it seemed to me to breach HT Etiquette. Hindsight is 20:20.

 

In the examples above, the respective HTs interviewed and appointed weak-willed, “Yes People”. The spiral continued.

 

Addendum

Two more reasons for over delegation are listed to identify the sort of obstacles that have to be overcome teachers wishing to fulfil their mission in life.

1. Believe it or not, paperwork is sometimes invented by extremely poor HTs to justify insecure school management. This is called the “I’ve Got to Be Seen to Do Something” Syndrome and has links to the well known medical condition, “Training Day – I Must Take a Lead” disorder. To the experienced teacher it is no shock that vitally important issues are ignored whilst more and more useless paperwork exercises appear.

2. ( See above). Sometimes over-delegation can be due to a well-meaning, hard-working Governing Body that is trained by poor quality Governor Services to believe in “paperwork” rather than “children”. A symptom of this is seeing governors spending hours poring over the wording of individual policies at meetings. This is a poor use of governor time, is divisive and indicative of Governor Training that only understands bureaucracy and not children. Over time such governor behaviour infects the school. The backbone of the system, the class teachers, become hopelessly paper bound and unhappy. All school governors should read Chapters two and three.

 

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Chapter 4

 Assemblies

Creating a Positive School Ethos

or….. Bloody Hard Work for a Successful Headteacher

You may be wondering, “Why on earth there’s a chapter on school assemblies?”
The answer is simple. Assemblies are not a chore, they are an opportunity for a HT to grasp the nettle of leadership and mould a school into a moral based, caring society. If only every HT understood this.
Firstly, let’s be clear about one thing. The law requires collective not corporate worship each day. This means that a whole school assembly is not required and that a meaningful PHSE or RE lesson will be quite acceptable in discussing the morals and beliefs of life. The trick is to simply word the School Assembly Policy to say this.
So often assemblies are viewed by HTs as the most cumbersome and tedious task, which can be farmed out to the classteachers on a rota basis. However, in a well run school this is not the case. Indeed, HT guidance in assembly is one of the fundamental building blocks of a successful school. Unfortunately it is not uncommon to see HTs get back to their rooms after an assembly and sigh with relief in a “thank goodness that’s over” manner. It is desperately worrying that such HTs are missing the strategic importance of such occasions. An assembly is when the children listen to their school leader who sets the tone for the whole school (provided she lives by what she preaches). Indeed, even the teachers are influenced by this and want nothing more than to see their boss engage with the children and set an example.
However, if a HT was to leave assembly and immediately return to a school culture of cliques, favourites, negativities, secrets, blaming teachers and bullying, then the whole thing is a façade. Worse, the kids will know – so it’s a colossal waste of time. If assemblies are regarded as a boring “chore” then the greatest management opportunity for changing children’s lives for the good is being squandered.

There are FOUR rules for Primary School Assembly success:

Assemblies Rule 1Whole primary school assemblies are a HT cop out. An age span of 4-11 years is too much for meaningful inspiration. Split the school assemblies into relevant, self-identifiable age groups such as Reception – Y2 /Y3 /Y4 – Y5 & Y6. Then and only then, can you speak meaningfully to all children involved at their level. For instance, a Y5/6 assembly would spend a lot of time emphasising how these pupils are the role models for the young. For instance, if you happen to bump into a younger child, whatever you are doing, you must stop and ask them if they are alright. If necessary take that child to an adult and explain. You will not be in trouble. This stops any fear building amongst the young and one day they will do the same.

Assemblies Rule 2: The HT takes every assembly.

Assemblies Rule 3: The HT takes every assembly.

Assemblies Rule 4: Only modify Rules 2 & 3 on very rare occasions when the HT absolutely must attend a course elsewhere.

Note: If the HT is often out on assembly days then respect for management has already been consigned to the dustbin and the school is in a poor state.

Please remember, I have lived the effects of the cheapskate assembly rota. It was an energy sapping version of hell for me, particularly as a new teacher, when I was terrified of being judged by my more experienced peers. I was a Year 6 classteacher with a science/maths background and non-creative. As my pathetic assembly contribution approached, fear dominated my mind, I was a nervous wreck and spent ever more valuable curriculum time practising my “show” which had become (to me) a trial by peer group. I wasn’t worried about the children, it was all the other teachers that bothered me. It was an awful experience and I have never forgotten. The kids had a huge amount of valuable learning time wasted and I was in a poor state, which affected my classroom performance. Nowadays, within the SAT defined culture of “academic success” it represents a horrible waste of time just to give the HT more time to sit around and look at a computer. Please do not misunderstand me. A successful school needs a thriving artistic and creative department and school shows are essential. Also, there will be many times when various groups of children wish to perform in front of an audience. To say, “No” would be heartless and crush their enthusiasm. A few minutes with a knowledgeable teacher will allow them to brush up their “show” to be enjoyed by all. Along with such presentations as choir recitals and (say) sports reports, the assembly becomes a celebratory experience of, “Look how good a school we are”. This is a feel good factor that I believe OFSTED downplays at its peril, constantly wanting “moments of awe and wonder”, which is a virtually impossible (and soul destroying) expectation when on a continual basis. One thing is sure, I have never met an OFSTED inspector who could fulfil that requirement. It does however mean that, like every other school in the country, a one-off OFSTED act is required. Every good HT should have a couple of these up their sleeve.
In short I wholeheartedly commend a fully active creative side (art/drama/music) to the school with all the wonderful spin-offs that come for children’s self-esteem. I regard this as essential as having fully supported and active sports teams. However, I do NOT support hapless HTs farming out petty day to day assemblies on a regular basis to classteachers who have so much more to do, just to lessen their own burden. 

Wherever possible HTs must, not only use these occasions to lead by example, but also to take this awful strain away from the teachers and help energise them to teach! Even better, on occasions tell them they don’t have to attend. That certainly spreads good will and earns a lot of respect.

Finally, dare I say this?
In each assembly every HT should make sure that somewhere on each agenda there is room for “fun” for its own sake. One solution is to have “guest” teachers involved in (very) minor and possibly silly competitive games with a panel of pupil judges. The massive bonus of such an event is the children look forward to the occasion and pay much more attention to the morals that lie therein. Further, if thing have gone badly and all fun is removed because the HT feels “upset” or “let own”, it will have a huge effect.

This does of course mean the HT is doing lots of work and not hiding behind idealistic terms and expressions such as “all inclusive” the last preserve of the lazy. In effect it means, “I will do absolutely nothing, even if the kids or the parents behave outrageously”. I am always confused by this. Isn’t every school inclusive? The HT who constantly harps on about it is usually hiding behind it.

Sometimes HTs invent something along the lines of the fairy tale term of “ownership” for assemblies and elsewhere. In reality this means, “Everyone else does the work and I do as little as possible”. This system of management is an indication the HT has no idea what is going on at the kids’ level in her own school for there lays the source of all the good assembly material any HT could want and the perfect chance to address any child relevant issues. Simply watching playtimes out of a classroom window will provide a plethora of material to be used. Just think of the myriad of experiences the school undergoes in one week. After all an assembly can be likened to a family sitting down at the end of the day for a meal and discussing the highs and lows of the last 24 hours plus (most importantly) the lessons that have been learnt. It is a startlingly good example of “parenting” (in loco parentis) by transferring adult skills and thought processes to young minds. An inspirational leader will have her finger on the pulse of the school. She will know the kids and the truth behind the many playground (classroom?) incidents. These can be taken and moulded into meaningful assemblies (usually through drama) that are relevant to the kids’ lives and impart all the right religious and social morals on a level that they will understand.

However remember Rule 1 above. A full school 4-11 year old age range is never going to be fully receptive at all levels. It is just too much to ask. Oh yes, the 4/5  or the 5/6 year olds will sit there like little automatons but they will be bored rigid. What lesson does that teach them for listening to the HT in future? So many HTs forget that in church the congregation is voluntary; they want to be there. In school the children are captive and they need something more practical and relevant to their short life experiences (including fun) than (say) long quotes. The key is for the HT to know the school, including the kids! Only then can assemblies be truly meaningful and address the relevant, vital, moral issues of the moment.

Please understand that I am not dismissing any religious books, as they contain the essence of morals for living, which are common to the core beliefs of all religions. 

 

To Sum Up So Far:

In assemblies a HT needs to make an effort to be happy, optimistic, funny, loving, firm and sad, as well as on occasions a complete loony in order to take the children with them on this journey. The school’s ultimate professional is proving she has leadership skills and a “Personality”. Otherwise she is going to turn children off to all the wonderful moral messages that need to come through in a thought provoking manner.

Principle:

The children should look forward to an assembly with their HT.

Good HTs know they have a legally captive audience and are careful with their time “at the front”. It is equivalent to being on the stage and the HT is an actor with a massively more important job to perform than in any theatre. They are imparting deep morals and values in order to change lives. The whole school ethos depends upon it, as well as the future of all the children. How many jobs are that important?

One failing school became clear to me many years ago when I was talking to two girls aged 18 years who had just begun working in the “real” world. They were fondly remembering a strongly religious school of their younger days. One said to me in all innocence:

“Oh yeah! We’d have daily, hour long assemblies with lots of bible stories and stuff as well as singing things like, ‘We’ve got Jesus in our fingers and Jesus in our toes and all the rest’. After that it would be playtime and we’d go to the bottom of the field and beat up the black kids”.

I did not comment, I was too busy taking it all in. I had to ask myself why so many schools satisfy the letter but not the spirit of the law and most importantly the spirit of the kids?

So I have to ask the question:

“Why does this subject not come up in every single HT interview as part of the character assessment of a candidate who (if successful) will need to carry out this vital task?”

It seems to me the system is failing. I have met many HTs who saw their appointment as a way of getting out of the classroom and away from the children.

For instance, I am aware of an existing primary school HT who, in a moment of desperation just after he (yes – “he”) was appointed, was approached to cover a class for a short time until the supply teacher arrived. His answer was, “Not bloody likely, I’ve done with all that malarkey”. You can imagine the respect this HT engendered amongst his staff. All teachers within earshot were thinking, “Oh my God. What are we stuck with?” From that single point in time, reports of that conversation will have swept through the school’s as well as the LA’s educational bush telegraph like wildfire and the school’s standards and SAT results will have suffered as teachers stomachs churned over.

Note: The educational bush telegraph (EBT) within any locality leads to one very clear scientific conclusion. Einstein was wrong! The EBT is faster than the speed of light! So many HTs dismiss this at their peril.

 

Three tips for effective assemblies.

A.

Set up a structure of “pupil social behaviour” feedback amongst all staff including (say) dinner ladies and cleaners to the HT. This would involve everyone in the school putting incidents on Post It Notes in one place for the HT to view. The HT cannot see every act of kindness, which can be praised in assembly but when the children know that kindness is appreciated and noted by all adults, it has a hugely positive moral outcome. Unfortunately I have known HTs who treat classroom assistants, lunchtime supervisers and cleaners as second class citizens instead of being a part of the school team. I pour shame on any HT who behaves in this manner. Would Jesus have done that? Where do such inequalities fit into such a HT’s morals in assembly?

Side Note: Poorly treated lunchtime supervisers become poor ambassadors. They will quite rightly “talk out” their frustrations in the community with the dominant topic being, “The Character of the HT”. 

B.

To understand the second tip we must consider the attitudes of the children.

We all know, but rarely verbally formulate, that it is the older children that set the tone in the playground. Just think back to your own childhood and how so many of you made heroes of older kids. Youngsters will learn by example and in a perfect world the HT should be that example. Hence, if the bigger children are taught right from the start (when they are small), that if they (say) bump into anybody smaller than themselves whilst playing, all the players must unanimously agree to stop the game, give a lift up to the “victim” and ask if he/she is alright. Further they must say the all-important “Sorry”, so the child does not think the worst about “big” kids. Then they must ask if they want to go to be taken to an adult. In my experience owning up to an accident and saying the magic word “sorry” diffuses 99% of playground problems and has the huge knock-on benefit of not being dragged into the classroom by an inconsolable, crying small child who turns the teacher into a social worker and wastes huge amounts of valuable teaching time. The older children must know there will be no blame for such a mistake, so long as incidents are handled in this manner. Indeed a positive word in assembly is appropriate. It is the HT who puts this in place during Y5/6 assemblies, where their important “grown up” role is discussed and individuals praised through the feedback system described above.

In their turn, the younger children will adopt a similar manner as they grow.

It is the HT who is at the centre of devising structures and systems to support teachers in allowing them to teach rather than becoming Social Workers in the classroom. The above example is just one management system utilising assemblies that would help teachers to get on with their job rather than be involved in the million and one distractions that can permeate classrooms run by poor school leadership.

C.

When splitting up assemblies into age receptive groups a really smart HT will also make a short half-hour slot for the reception children for their own assembly on one particular day, which will involve lots of fun and make them feel special. This constantly reaffirms that good behaviour leads to a happy, safe and enjoyable school. A small weekly investment of HT time at this early stage pays massive dividends later on.

 

Finally

The recurring theme is undoubtedly HTs rewarding good things they have noticed when they are out and about in the school, including watching from a different window each playtime. Just standing at the entrance to a teaching area when on a school walk (OFSTED call it a “Learning Walk”) until the kids have noticed you will suffice. No HT can see everything but if the “reporting back things of note” system is in place, it can seem like it to the children. Especially if they know you “watch”. By definition, a HT who stays in her room all day cannot begin to succeed in this. 

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 UNDER REVISION……. 

Chapter 5

Curriculum

There are TWO vital points to make under this heading, which I do not see being recognised the latest revision of The N.C.

A.

First an anecdote that is amazingly relevant to my “awakening”.

A worker on a production line is two weeks away from retiring after 50 years in the same job. A new production floor manager goes to visit him but initially watches him working in a small room. As each part comes through some curtain-like flaps on a conveyor-belt, he puts three screws into place and then takes no interest as the part disappears on its way through more flaps.

The manager approaches the worker and asks him what happens on the other side of the flaps before he receives each part. He answers that he doesn’t know. He gives the same answer when he is asked about what happens after it goes through the departing flaps.

Shocked the manager arranges cover and takes him to see the full assembly line and hence understand the part he plays.

Later the man, shedding tears of gratitude, thanked him profusely saying he wished he had known all along, as it would have made his life meaningful in so many ways.

Now let me relate to you the relevance of this story.

I was lucky enough to become the headteacher of a Northamptonshire 9-13 (Y5-Y8) co-ed middle school of 600+ pupils and then many years later (after the LA decided to shut all the area’s middle schools) I was given the privilege of starting a 4-11 years primary school on the same site.

This proved to be a unique experience whereby I was now overseeing the teaching and curriculum of the age of children who used to feed into my original “older age range” middle school. It proved an amazing and shocking opportunity to view both sides of a coin that previously, I had not realised even existed.

So far, my major career experience had been as a Head of Science. Hence, I will use this as my main example in what is to follow. Throughout those middle school days I taught in Y5 and Y8 and have always held that senior management should set its standards with the youngest and the oldest children by classroom experience.

In the middle school days I well remember that each year the 9 year old children arrived in September and the following summer grew a runner bean (think damp blotting-paper and jam jars). This was the curriculum expectation, which we followed to the letter.

The overwhelming shock came in opening a new Primary School when suddenly it seemed as if, in all the earlier years of my career, I had been blissfully living under a cloud national ignorance. Naturally, with few staff in a new school I had to run science again and so I studied the younger years of the National Curriculum in depth.

I cannot possibly over egg the pudding when I state how absolutely astounded I was at the resultant revelation.

I discovered “Growing Things” was not only in the reception curriculum for the 4 year old children, but also in every year group after that! I could not believe this “big picture” of a National Curriculum had been designed with so much repetition. Previously, as a middle school HT I had never looked behind the production line “curtain” at what had gone before.

The whole point (to me) is that we now identify underprivileged, white working class boys as one of the “low results/at-risk” groups on a national scale. So what have we come up with to grab their attention?

“Yes, Jimmy, I can see your excitement, this year we are going to grow Mung Bean Seeds instead of Cress. Isn’t it mind-blowing?”

Here is a God given subject that can grab and fascinate such children and THIS, is our nation’s answer.

Now I found myself asking, “Who designed this”? Why did the kids and parents put up with it? The world is a myriad of overwhelmingly fascinating science and here were the children stuck in this annual cycle of, what to them must become, boring content. When I asked our local Science Inspector I was told this was done on purpose as it was considered primary schools would have few resources.

Question: What price child fascination and inspiration?

Now, to balance the argument, I understand the need for some degree of repetition to arise a couple of times over the years to enhance a depth of understanding in more complex matters such as The Water Cycle, but this never ending repetition was ridiculous.

Anecdote

It was also easy for the teachers to become bored too, simply by knowing the children’s previous experience. I well remember one year when a Y2 class surprised their Y2 neighbour by parading through their room (accompanied by the teacher) holding high their sunflower, which had grown much larger than expected.They showed off their prize with pride and declared it a “Champion of Flowers”. Very sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, by some deep process of fate, this titleholder of a sunflower mysteriously died overnight. For the sake of science, the original classteacher was forced to take the blame in front of the children, saying he had left it on top of a heater which had been on all night, but this tragic and rather shadowy event remains a topic of conversation to this day. Luckily the great friendship of the Y2 staff managed to triumph all and since that time, no more victory parades have occurred.

Quite simply, when it came to The National Curriculum, I was staggered at the lack of national level planning, particularly at a time when OFSTED are constantly asking teachers to produce a production line of “moments of awe and wonder”. If this is the material how can they? OFSTED inspectors demanding their continuous stream of “moments of awe and wonder” wouldn’t be able to manage it, which is one of the major problems relating to OFSTED.

In hope, next I started looking at the topic “Materials” across the year groups. This could be designed to be stunning and mind-blowing for kids by any scientist with the slightest degree of imagination. However, it turned out that my view of Materials and “the Primary School View” are worlds apart. Instead, I kept coming across lessons that were doing things like examining the stretching of women’s tights of a different denier with different loads. What? WHAT?

Now just answer me this, “What proportion of 5/6 year old working class boys will get excited at the very sight of different pairs of women’s tights?

Now I need not go into all the recent research on the feminising (or not) of the primary school curriculum, although I do remember one research paper about that time pointing out the whole primary curriculum had been written by women. Not, to me, necessarily a bad thing as long as they are widely representative of the subjects and highly imaginative. However, I now believe they failed.

To put my neck fully on the block, I firmly believe this is an extremely female definition of “Materials” and discriminates against boys. These young male minds need to be grabbed at as early a stage as possible with the wonder of it all (Science!) and all I can see is failure on the part of Education. I now believe we let these boys down in a big way by robbing them, at such an early age, of ready-made fascinating subject matter that can fill them with enthusiasm. This is not the way to command their attention and fill them with wonderment? No wonder we have problems with these young minds getting bored. Writing stories may not be Jimmy’s “thing” but Science has a much greater evolutionary chance of bringing teacher and boy together in inspiration. Don’t we owe him that chance?

To completely change the National Curriculum subject, in order to further my argument, a further shock was just around the corner. My (absolutely first rate) Head of KS1 informed me that the school’s 5/6 year old children were expected to spend a full 16 week term of Humanities studying “The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.” She predicted total boredom. I could not have agreed more.

WHAT?

I make no apology for repeating: Here we are in a country that has identified white, working class, under-privileged boys as an under-performing, “at risk” group and this our answer to inspiring them. I agree it is a very moving royalist moment (and I take no side in that) but from a purpose-fulfilling, boy inspiring point of view what a load of crap! What idiot came up with this for 5/6 year olds? One thing I can be sure of, it wasn’t anyone understood the minds of young boys, most of whom will only enjoy reading if it is about weeing, pooing or farting. Luckily, there is a wealth of such material available for the reluctant reader.

After a minimal level of “discussion” and a major degree of action, the HoD decided upon half a term of The Great Fire of London and the other half on Christopher Columbus. A little early for such content I agree but we could make it fun and exciting in the classroom and we had to grab these young minds quickly before it was too late. Why do so many people miss this?

Also – is it possible there are still schools out there where a whole term of Y1 is devoted to such a topic? Surely this can’t be happening today (8 years later).

Finally, it was about this time that the Writing Task topics in the KS2 SATs started being things like “Spiders” in order to try and capture the boys’ imagination and hence push up their results in order to hit politically stated targets.

Isn’t there a lesson here for all of us?

Horses and stable doors come to my mind.

B.

I believe this to be even more important than the first point above and involves all schools across the nation. It sounds boring at first but please read on. It refers to:

Adopting the correct definition of the curriculum.

The truth is, there is only one that works on behalf of all children.

The true definition of the curriculum is:

“The total sum of experiences a child undergoes at school from the

moment they walk through the door until they go home”.

So now we have to ask, what does this really mean?

The obvious way is to observe the manner in which one teacher addresses another in the corridor or perhaps the way the HT talks to a dinner lady at lunchtime. Moments such as this are as much a part of The National Curriculum of a school as Numeracy and Literacy.

Please understand that my definition of the curriculum is not defined to belittle the primary school mainstream subjects or anything other field of learning. I fully understand the vast pressures of a school needing to prove itself in (among other things) the KS1 SATs, KS2 SATs (including the value added between the two), Y1 Phonics Tests and as well as every other indicator that a government can think up. Hence, it remains vital that Maths and English all take place in the morning during the biggest learning “hit” of the day. This is NOT the time for an assembly.

However, whichever days we live in and whatever fads we have to suffer, we all have to accept that the system is the system and we have to make the best of it. It’s called democracy.

My point is that once you realise the true breadth of education (the bigger picture of the curriculum) within a school, it becomes imperative for the school to have a first rate leader who can unify the staff and engender a happy supportive atmosphere amongst all adults and children. It is, I believe, an almost impossible task, but a good HT can get close.

The pupils must want to do their best and be told time and again that “We learn from making mistakes”.

Note: A wonderful subject for an older pupil assembly: Full of the blatantly obvious headteacher and teacher mistakes.

In order to achieve good results the children must feel happy, safe and optimistic, wanting to succeed and knowing they will be applauded for doing so by both adults and pupils. They must feel secure enough in their relationships with all adults and children in the school environment to be able to put up their hand and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”. That (to me) is the test of a successful school.

However, this will not happen in a school where teachers walk around treading on eggshells due to the (HT generated) atmosphere and do not treat each other with respect and a smile. If the school day does not provide excellent, smiling and optimistic role models outside the classroom then this will speak far more to the children than any moralising HT at the front of an assembly hall.

A HT who is (say) practising “Divide and Rule” is engendering an atmosphere of resentment, suspicion and mistrust that soaks into the very bricks and mortar of the school. It is contagious and will drag a school into a downward spiral. However the HT handles it; the children will pick up on this atmosphere. If the teachers are not secure and happy then it will show in a myriad of different ways and manifestations of a stress that should not be there. Kids will then never be truly happy and secure in accepting the challenges of the classroom. Think “Every Child Matters”. Kids need to feel safe, happy and loved if they are to learn. The only failing of this report is it is not taken far enough. There is a deeper level: “If the teachers do not feel happy and confident then it cannot be passed to the children”. Optimism is infectious and the “carrier” of this wonderful, all-inspiring disease is the HT. It’s a huge responsibility.

Now before you start saying, “Hang on, you will never get everybody to agree with every decision the HT makes”. Well of course not. BUT, I know that whilst they may not agree with everything, teachers are a pretty intelligent bunch and must at least feel that after consideration a decision has been made and they must move forward together. Having a bit of a moan about not agreeing is fine; indeed humanity requires it as a safety valve. After that however, the team must pull together.

The fact remains, research confirms that successful HTs capture the hearts and minds (to use a military phrase) of the staff and children by providing a school spirit of trust, pride and optimism.

We must ask ourselves (for instance) whether anyone with a modicum of common sense will notice the school atmosphere as soon as they walk in the front door of the school. Of course they will! It exists in the demeanour of every school employee and has a huge effect on parents and children.

Over the years, I have had some quite frank discussions with OFSTED inspectors who have confirmed that you only get one first impression and it tends to be right, even after looking at SATs results. Indeed, I can remember one lead inspector with whom I had come into direct conflict saying, “Look, as soon as I walked in the door I knew you were either a good or outstanding school”.

Note: A row with the Lead Inspector. We missed outstanding by one grade.

We must ask, “Do HTs fully realise how the body language of (say) the office staff speaks volumes to anybody coming in that door?” How many realise this multiple daily event is a “first up” manifestation of the school curriculum and its success in producing a meaningful, caring, happy and rigorous learning environment?

In order to have a true welcome ready for all school visitors (that they will remember) we must visit the basic definition of the school curriculum i.e. every single experience a child undergoes from the moment they walk through the gate until they go home. The classroom or assembly hall must become one unified part of the school’s total educational output imparting the same message.

One of my biggest concerns in the educational world is hearing any “educationalist” talking about The Hidden Curriculum. What are they on about? This has long been consigned to the pages of history; the dustbin. It doesn’t exist. If any headteacher is trying to resurrect it then they are trying to camouflage all the (discontented) behaviour that takes place around the school corridors between teachers, support staff, caretakers, cleaners and so on. To be frank, in my view, it is to cover up poor management. We know they are referring to all the everyday life that goes on outside lessons. BUT one thing it is NOT and that is hidden! Kids notice everything. No subtle body language is too much of a disguise for their sharp senses. Hence the notion of the Hidden Curriculum can only refer to schools where the HT spouts good moral lessons in assemblies and lessons but outside that influence there is another everyday, separate and possibly nastier, back-stabbing curriculum saying very different things.

What kind of school is that? It is certainly possible for a HT to finish an assembly full of wonderful morals and then step out into the corridor to give a sneering look of contempt at a colleague. In such instances the outcome is clear. The kids will instantly forget all the moralising and adopt the teacher’s real-life behaviour that is so obviously on display. It is as if the lessons and morals in assembly are a cartoon with ridiculous and comical violence where nobody actually gets hurt and is clearly all pretend, but life in the corridor is the yardstick of real life. Kids are not stupid. Which lesson are they going to learn? Indeed, in some schools it is possible for teachers to speak disparagingly of other members of staff in front of the children.

I will finish my two points on The Curriculum there. Both reveal one pressing need for HTs. Whether the issues are tough or wonderful, discuss them openly with the staff. It can be surprising how many times they will come up with “outside the box” thinking that solves the problem. Of course, insecure, weak headteachers will never do it as they do not understand it is a strength.

To sum up: NEVER start cliques, having special favourites or worst of all, lying. This is The Hidden Curriculum “full on”.

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Chapter 6

Sport

I understand that many of you will wonder why this heading is not included in Curriculum section. The answer is, “It is far too important for that and yet this point is missed by so many senior management personnel”.

Sport is a vehicle by which a huge majority of the children can learn to take great pride in their school. This pride spreads seamlessly into the classroom and a hugely positive influence on the work ethos.

I am now going to reproduce an article on my website which for your interest is contained in:

a.) bobbuntine.com

b.) Main Page

c.) Short Stories

d.) Fighting (1) Gender and Why

I cannot explain it better than that plus there are some very valuable spin-off points.

Why do so many more boys than girls want to fight?

We need to look at history. Please bear with me, as you will begin to wonder what this has to do with education. If you have ever watched the famous film “2001 A Space Odyssey” you will know that near the start (15 minutes) a caveman is seen looking at a long animal skeleton bone on the ground. He picks it up and seems to ponder for a few seconds before bringing it down with a crash onto the ground smashing other small bones into tiny pieces. This moment represents the very first instant of realisation and learning of the human species. It tries to show our first spark of intelligence, which sadly happens to produce a weapon. We could perhaps consider that it produces the first bully who has gained an advantage over others. In school playgrounds this advantage is usually physical size. Unfortunately, due to the total reliance on the most brutal survival of the fittest combined with observing today’s behaviour patterns (more later) it is probably not far from the truth.

We now know cavemen lived in families or tribes (let’s call them tribes) and, as there was plenty of water, their existence depended upon eating. The man (not the woman) would have to go out and hunt each day to bring back the food. If he failed everybody died. It was as simple as that.

These days you may ask, “Why didn’t the woman hunt?” The answer is simply that nature dictated we evolved that way. That’s just the way it is. Each of us had our own skill sets and, at that critical stage of our development, survival depended on us each doing the things that evolution deemed to be our strengths. In fact, if we think about it, we can see the female mind had far more to “do” (and therefore excel at) if they were to survive, than the men of the species. The women were not at a disadvantage, in fact quite the opposite; more of this later.

So the males of the tribe would get up in the morning and go out in groups to hunt. They would come home with or without food and stare into the fire. Their only other job was to fight for survival when necessary. This would usually be in times of food shortages when the men were either attacking another tribe or being attacked, with the winner taking whatever food there was.

Two extremely important points are raised here:

A. Fighting and Survival.

B. Gender Difference.

plus

C. Conclusion

A.

Fighting and Survival

Let’s consider some tribes of cavemen living in an area.

As we have seen, occasionally they will fight, tearing each other limb from limb and probably biting each other’s throats. It was a brutal world.

Now let’s go back to that first moment of intelligence (above) when by picking up an animal leg bone one caveman discovered a weapon.

Suddenly, The next time his tribe is attacked he will walk about bashing the enemy over the head and knocking them out or killing them. He will only have to hurt/kill one or two to make the rest run away. However, when those survivors get back to their camp they will take with them a memory of something new, something different. Over the next few days they are going to catch on and find bones or sticks as weapons. So now we have two tribes with basic weapons who are back on a level playing field.

However perhaps one of the cavemen will have an inspired moment and jam a rock into a split stick. This will make a powerful weapon that will kill with every blow providing a distinct advantage until (of course) the enemy catches up.

The next step would probably be using sharp flint-like stones in the split stick, so that hitting and stabbing were not necessary. A simple slashing movement would do (with what is basically an axe). As ever, the “enemy” will soon learn and catch up.

Until, that is, somewhere along the way, one caveman will notice that a sharp, pointed bone or stick goes through the flesh rather easily. Suddenly one tribe has another advantage. The next time they are attacked this individual,before his enemy can swing his bone weapon will simply stab the enemy who will suffer a terrible defeat. However, once again, this advantage will only last for a short time, as the other tribe will quickly learn to find sharp bones.

Now we have two tribes, both with pointed weapons.

This pattern of cavemen racing to develop ever better weapons and fighting skills to feed their tribes or families is clear and along the way, very gradually, tribes will see the sense in joining forces, as greater numbers equals more power.

The point is that today, hundreds of thousands of years later, the story is exactly the same.

The major difference now is that the “tribes” have continued to grow.

For instance, if we jump ahead hundreds of thousands of years to (say) the 14th century, nothing has changed except (as expected) the tribes are bigger. Two of the tribes are now called “France” and “England”. They are fighting (as usual) when (by chance) the English King Edward III discovered the Welsh longbow, which hugely outclassed (in every department) the normally used crossbow. Suddenly, with a smaller army, England could go to France and inflict losses never before seen on a battlefield and all before the enemy got close enough to use their weapons. Once again, one side has gained a weapons advantage and is able to cause death on a stunning scale. We can say the pattern of evolution continues. In this case perhaps we could say that England has become the bully.

Note: Look up “The Battle of Agincourt” or “Crecy” for more details about the long bow.

Very sadly, this still goes on.

When I was a boy, the two biggest tribes were called Russia and America and they were racing against each other to build bigger and better nuclear bombs as well as more of them than each other. In fact, at one point (Look up: The Cuban Missile Crisis) as a tot I used to look up at every plane in the sky and wonder if that was the one that would start a nuclear war and drop a bomb on me. Thankfully, eventually one power stepped back first from this race (Russia) and then the whole world watched in amazement as both countries (tribes) raced to prove that each was destroying more nuclear weapons than the other.

So, just perhaps, intelligence is finally starting to dominate human evolution in dictating that violence is not a necessity in modern times.

Nowadays, Russia and America (plus a whole host of friendly countries) try to stop other nations (tribes) fighting major battles. There are still arguments over territory but usually both sides try to avoid violence and other countries try to sort it out but not always successfully.

The point here is obvious.

Evolution has built into the male species the need to fight to feed his family. It is in-built and it is only in very recent times (the last two hundred and fifty years or so) that the intelligence of human beings started becoming strong enough to make us realise we do not have to fight in order to stay alive. In fact it is only those individuals of today who have been left behind (within evolutionary terms) that still feel the need to hurt each other.

To emphasise the point, just note that, until The Industrial Revolution (about 1750 onwards) took place, this “fight to survive” instinct was still the main unwritten rule of society. Once that came along, it was possible for a man to know that by working very hard in a factory he could guarantee keeping his family alive. It was an amazingly hard life but it took away the “Fight, Win or Die” factor that is so ingrained into out evolutionary development.

However, the problem then (for men) became, “What do we do with all these extra competitive feelings we have”. The answer was obvious and it is no mistake that 1750 (ish) coincided with the emergence of many sports for the working man as opposed to just royalty. In this way the evolutionary innate aggressiveness of the male, that allowed him to survive, could then be channelled into supporting a tribe that now just happened to be called a “team”.

IMPORTANT

If ever there was ever an argument to fully develop sports teams in every primary school in the country to help defuse discord, promote unity and help the school to focus on becoming academically successful, then this is it. So many academically unsuccessful (in the classroom) children will gain social (playground) status and pride in their school just by joining teams and being praised in assembly for fair play and so on, that half the playground issues will disappear in one go. Further, so much playground angst will be focussed on fair and competitive for girls as both well as boys. The outcome for the teacher is the huge bonus of being able to teachfrom the start of a lesson, as many individuals are no longer trying to prove themselves through misconduct. Further, these young people will transfer their new found pride in the school to their classroom activities as they no longer have anything to “fear”. Making mistakes can now be brushed aside by a much bigger “feel good” factor. Their status has grown. In short, sporting pride is infectious and will infiltrate, in a most positive way, the culture of any school.

I find it impossible to understand the idealistic, “Everyone’s Got To Be A Winner” philosophy that even today rules the roost in so many primary schools. I can only see it being implemented by HTs who are scared of the parents, as the majority of the kids will not be winners.

Surely this is “disappearing up my own backside” thinking. IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT WINNING, which these HTs use as justification for ignoring competition. The very definition of life itself makes it full of major and minor competitive situations. One of the long term lessons whilst children grow up is, “There is always somebody better than you”. The crucial lesson for the children is to learn to take part in everything they do and give their all. Sport is a key part of this learning curve. It is not about the joy of winning but rather it is, having competed and knowing you’ve done your very best. In losing situations, being able to take a big breath in order to go and congratulate the winners is the best life-character lesson we can teach the children. In short, the major outcome of sport is learning how to lose and how to do it well.That is the true depth of character that sport imparts and is the best possible gift we can give a child throughout their school education.

However guess whose job it is to instil that wealth of good spirit and celebration of each other’s success across the school?

Yes, it’s the HT!

BUT, in my view, for the lazy, cop-out, individual, hiding behind “This is an all-inclusive school” mantra, then “Everyone is a Winner” becomes yet another stress-free option. It makes life easier in the short term but very sadly distorts the whole perception of reality that the kids absorb on their journey through life.

Finally, spare a thought for Jimmy, who has achieved little in his school time but knows he is the fastest runner in the school. His one day of glory for the whole year can be stolen from him. Further, please don’t argue against this by saying kids do not know their “position” or “place” in the class in any subject, therefore why should sport be different? Inevitably, however you organise it, children know and sport is just a continuation of that. If you really believe the kids haven’t got it sussed as to where they “stand” in class then you really should be doing something else. Ideals like that are DANGEROUS in the face of children and reality.

Summary

ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE LESSONS WE CAN TEACH CHILDREN THROUGHOUT SCHOOL (AND ESPECIALLY ASSEMBLIES) IS “HOW TO BE A GOOD LOSER“.

Unfortunately, we are now faced with the task of trying to overcome thousands of centuries of evolution in an extremely worthwhile but rather odd (to me) battle for gender equality. A very difficult but not impossible task. It will be a slow but steady development for both the female and male of the species for intelligence to overcome this massive legacy of instinct. I have always believed that any meaningful change comes gradually so therefore this massively important movement must move one step at a time in understanding the issues of evolution. Also, like racism, my personal feelings are to celebrate the differences when relevant. After all, the girls do better and I can live with it!

B.

Gender Difference

We cannot ignore a huge spin off from the above evolutionary tale which is that (whether we like it or not) girls and boys are not the same due to the legacy of evolution. At least not yet. There is no point in trying to be PC based in this discussion. Just ask any woman. She knows her brain is superior and that it’s not even worth discussing. Unfortunately chaps it is true!

Let’s consider the effects of all that evolution and list the few things at which men on average should be better:

a.) Fighting. The fact is that every living man today is the product of a very long line of strong men who killed enemies in order to survive. If just one of your ancestors had not been strong enough during brutal times you wouldn’t be here. Chaps, it’s bred into you. The future challenge is to adapt to a world of intelligence and move away from physicality.

b.) Physical strength. Same argument and also part of being a successful hunter/provider.

c.) Judging angles. Trapping an animal meant perfecting the art of angles of attack to surround them and then judging the exact angles for throwing rocks. In modern times, just think how many times a wife is upset when her husband drives their car through a supposedly “impossible” gap. He is genuinely wondering what on earth all the fuss is about whilst she is convinced he is a dangerous, reckless driver, stupidly trying to impress her. This is a simple evolutionary difference. Girls! Let him get on with it, there aren’t many things he is better at but this just happens to one of them. It is has been hot-wired into his brain over millennia and he is not taking a risk. It really is just normal.

d.) Geography, a vital part of hunting, which in modern times translates into map reading. Understanding the lie of the land and having a map of the locality in your head (when maps didn’t exist) was vital.

e.) “Straight ahead” vision. The animals tended to be fairly large (although please note that dinosaurs had long died out before the human species existed). Good eyesight (straight head) was vital for tracking and taking aim with any weapons.

f.) Keeping Troubles to Oneself -OR- Poor Communication. Not a strength in modern “intelligent” times but we need to understand where it came from. Quite simply, on average men are not good communicators especially when it comes to sharing troubles. Why you may ask? Well, once again this is hot-wired into the brain from millennia ago. Things were very basic for the caveman, centering on food. If there was none to be found (and everyone could die) the male kept it (in whatever way he could) to himself rather than spread despair. Admitting he had failed at his sole purpose in life and that everything he cared about could die, was just too much to bear. In modern times this seems so stupid, where husbands cannot help but feel reluctant to share their troubles with their wives. Unfortunately, it will take a long time to “weed out” this instinctive evolutionary baggage but perhaps understanding it can help both men and women to move forward.

That’s pretty much it for the males on average.

So let’s look at the females’ (on average) hot-wired evolutionary strengths. We can’t possibly list them all, there are just too many. Here are just a few.

Firstly, we have to ask ourselves who did everything else apart from killing animals and enemies? The females of the species of course and unless they excelled at it they died. So all your female ancestors were a success at a myriad of tasks otherwise you wouldn’t be here. We’ll list just five but the list is much longer than for the males:

a.) Multitasking. Just imagine trying to look after lots of kids in those days when you are out in the open and on your own. You need eyes in the back of your head with so many predators around. Over millennia you learn to carry out tasks such as skinning animals to eat (and using the skins as clothing) simultaneously watching the movements of every child and for any sign of danger.

An example today would be to watch a group of say seven young women standing in a group at the local pub. Within that group there may be 4 different conversations going on and each girl is listening to every conversation, without anybody being insulted. Conversely, in a group of seven men, only one will be speaking and anybody interrupting will be considered ill-mannered. To a man, the natural behaviour of the women is so far beyond their ability to comprehend that it is dismissed as chaotic chatter and only worth ignoring. In fact this one simple example clearly indicates how the female brain has evolved to multi-task and process information at a staggering rate compared to men.

b.) Observation. Every cave-woman had to be extremely observant to survive when their man was away hunting. The smartest women (your ancestors) would move the family immediately they saw the slightest change on the horizon, perhaps even just a change of shade. They also knew that, wherever they went, their men would use their hunting skills to find them so that was not an issue. Observation of tiny details equalled survival and each of you comes from a long line of predecessors who were most successful at it.

Today this might be translated into a boy and girl going to a party. Ask the boy the next day what it was like and he will tell his mates something like, “It was great and Harry was sick!” To men this is sufficient and the end of the conversation. However, ask a girl and the answer is very different. There will be a thirty minute description of who was wearing what, who fancies who (whether they were open about it or not) who clashed with each other and so on. Simply having to ask your wife where the butter is in the fridge pretty well proves the point. This leads into the next heading.

c.) Colours. We now know that every human on the planet is here by the miracle of successful predecessors who utilised their strengths in order to survive. For the mother in a family this meant developing keen observational skills. Each generation will have seen the least observant mothers dying out. Hence, with every generation, only the very best survived. One keen component of observation is an understanding of colours and shades that can be used to spot distant changes. By definition, every female today is the product of a long line of successful and very observant mothers. In fact we know that on average every girl has thousands more colour receptors in the back of her eye than any boy. The girls who did not have these extra colour receptors died out. This legacy of evolution is still with the female of the species and unlike the male “strength” of being loath to communicate, remains a huge strength within the modern world.

Unfortunately, in modern times, it can still lead to friction between a man and a woman because, to put it simply, a female will see any object more vividly in terms of colour than any man. Conversely, this means that men, compared to women, live in a rather dull world and neither will ever be able to fully appreciate the other’s view.

Picture this:

A young wife says to her husband, “Shall we have this shade of peach or this shade of peach for the bathroom tiles?”

The new husband looks at the tiles and wants to say, “I can hardly tell them apart and quite frankly I will get used to either. So why don’t you just pick one. Anyway, I eat peaches so what’s all this about colour anyway?” BUT he has already learnt that his new bride will be offended by this because colours (it seems) are very important to her. So he says something like, “Oh this one darling, it’s much better.”

The young wife is then going to ask the most dreaded question, “Why?”

He hasn’t got a clue and if he tries to bluster he will get into more trouble.

If only young couples could understand the evolutionary gifts and baggage that we carry with us that make the two genders so different, there would be far less tension in the world.

Millennia ago these basic differences between men and women were vital to our survival but nowadays they are simply confusing, as each gender finds it so hard to understand the evolutionary hot-wiring of each other’s brains i.e. understand each other within the modern world.

d.) Peripheral Vision. This is yet another spin off from the amazing evolutionary strength of the female gender to observe in-depth. It indicates the fundamental truth that men look but they don’t see.

We now know that the women survivors, who performed best in the brutal world of pre-history, not only had more colour receptors in their eyes to be more observant but they also had more light receptors on the periphery of their vision so they can see much better than us chaps from the corners of their eyes. Remember girls, your successful predecessors had to watch all those kids whilst doing other things, so over hundreds of thousands of years the female body adapted.

Perhaps the best way to describe this is in terms of today:

When a man looks at a woman’s bottom/figure in the pub he must turn his head to look straight ahead. Hence, by this blatantly obvious move he is constantly being caught “looking” by the females. The ladies however have a huge advantage over us hapless men, as they look out of the sides of their eyes. So, yes ladies, we know you look at our bums; it’s just that we can never catch you at it.

e.) Communication. The family groups that remained when the men went off to hunt had to learn to co-operate to survive. Communication, on whatever level, was the key to this and any problems were shared by the group on a very close basis. Sharing such troubles would often help as the group could pool their ideas for a greater chance of survival. On the other hand the men each had individual roles to play in hunting down the animals. These skills were programmed in to their genetics and hardly needed verbal communication, which in modern times led to the develop of team games.

Sadly, the male remains hot wired into believing sharing troubles equals failure. There is no point in asking him why; he can’t explain such a deep millennia old instinct.

C. Conclusion

Whilst the list of male strengths is pretty well complete, the list of female strengths goes on and on beyond our remit, including (say) emotional stamina. It is this short but so vital number of basic skills that still linger in the average male mind today that can cause many “issues” in school. The answer is sport, when girls will also take part. After all, in many ways they had to compete too.

It is interesting to note that the (on average) female mental superiority was uncovered in the late 1980s by scientists but could not be published due to the fear of upsetting the feminist movement who were insisting (at that time) that both sexes were exactly the same. Well, they are not the same and, if nature has a balance, it weighs heavily in favour of the female of the species. Just as we now celebrate the differences in the various cultures of the world so we must now repeat it with basic gender differences.

So now it is possible to conclude that, on average the female brain is fixed (in evolutionary terms) in a manner that is far more suited to the emergence of intelligence and common sense that are so important in today’s society. Due to the overwhelming legacy of evolution, ladies are more likely to use their brains than their fists. It is the men who will have so much more trouble trying to overcome the in-built legacy of a need to fight. On average they need sport more than the females.

Hence, it is possible to refer to the fist fighters of the world as being “cavemen” who cannot move on, whilst top sportsmen are heroes.

Anyone who cannot see the relevance of this to education in the classroom and (say) why girls arrive in Reception Class so much more ready to communicate, are in the wrong job.

It is not within my remit to delve into the educational systems that have evolved today to overcome such differences in genetic outlook. It is sufficient to know they exist and we ignore them at our peril.

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Chapter 7

How Weak Headteachers Are Appointed

The Problem

We must not beat about the bush if we are to take steps forward concerning such a vital issue. For teachers at least, parts of what follows will sound brutal. I apologise for that; it is not my normal character. However, over many years it has been hammered in to me that appointing good people in the first place, individuals in whom the school can invest over time to benefit both them and the organisation, is the overwhelmingly most important task that any HT undertakes. It is here then that we look at how the “system” is geared to handle failures in this respect and why is it possible (in a minority of cases) for the dead wood to float to the top?”

Whilst the majority of HTs are hard-working and doing a great job, it is well documented that weak primary HTs are still common. How can this be possible? We must start at the beginning with a new teacher appointee and work our way up. The next three headings are the underlying causes of weak HTs being appointed.

A. The Dead Wood Strategy & Its Terrible Contribution to Education

Every classteacher knows that working in the room next door to a poor teacher is a terrible experience and makes the job ten times harder. The rest of the staff are continually covering for this individual including fielding a string of complaints from parents. An example will help.

A local school was recently given an inadequate rating by OFSTED which led to a string of interventions by so called advisers and consultants, bringing along with them the massive amount of paperwork that inevitably follows such a judgement. During each protracted meeting the teachers would sit there asking themselves, “Why are we doing this? We know the problem. It’s one extremely weak teacher who has a finger in every single piece of the pie of ‘weaknesses’. We are all pussy-footing around for fear of seeming unkind when strong leadership could sort us out in no time”. They laid the blame (of course) at the door of the HT who had refused to bite the bullet and thus the hapless class teacher sailed on each day in blissful ignorance.

In short, poor teachers are harmful to all of the hard working and successful classroom practitioners in the school and the profession as a whole. I can only hope that you, dear reader, never find yourself in close proximity to such an explosion of professional anxiety. It is a terrible feeling and one of the causes of depression in today’s teaching profession (therein lies another book).

Please do not misunderstand the issue here. Many great teachers had poor starts in their career. They simply needed guidance from a good HT who understood the inner strength of such an individual, saw it at interview and hence felt able to speak plainly in order to help them develop.

Character is a recurring theme in these pages. When it exists, skills can be tweaked but “maiden’s water” remains “maiden’s water”. It is such individuals and their possibility of floating to the top that we discuss here.

So we need to examine how such a weak teacher can possibly achieve their very first promotion on the ladder to leadership, let alone the giddy heights of HT. After all, the whole process of poor leadership starts there.

After the appointment has been made, we can assume the successful teacher has interviewed fairly well. So we know the candidate can ‘talk the talk’ but not, as hindsight will show, ‘walk the walk’. Thus the educational “Dead Wood Strategy” comes into play. It starts on that first morning.

The HT, being eager to prove what a good job has been done, will make sure to have a sneak preview. The resultant observation of the classroom will be enough for an experienced HT to know the awful truth. The horrified look on the face of the teacher next door, who has realised that her job is now going to be ten times harder, simply rubs it in. The new appointment is never going to be a teacher. The Deadwood Strategy is now in motion.

So what is the HT to do? How quickly can this teacher be removed?”

The answer is the underlying fault at the heart of the educational establishment: Send them on as many courses as possible. However, contrary to the above The majority of the time this is not an attempt to change/improve them. No it is not! Any good HT knows that is never going to happen. Rather it’s to give the weak individual lots of goodies to put on their CV. They can then be nudged towards the door whilst encouraging them to apply for a job as far away as possible (see next section).

Hence, the old adage, “Big Lumps Rise to the Top” is a stark reality in today’s educational world. as the laborious path of “Competency Procedures” particularly with a new appointment is fraught with hazards and lengthy delays. Worst of all, as time goes on, this “Deadwood Strategy” becomes cumulative. HTs encourage poor practitioners (deadpan, idealistic, lacking in humour, non-smiling and most of all boring) to move onward and (most often) upward. Quite simply a feeble individual who may also be a “Cuckoo Land Idealist” is quite likely to wing an upward path on the career ladder at considerable speed simply by being able to “talk a good game”.

Rather desperately, the worst is yet to come.

C. Don’t Shit In Your Own Nest

I have worked in three local authorities and in each case I was made very aware of the above. It refers to the writing of references for the hapless individual the school wants to “lose”. This is the nub of the whole issue. The principle states:

“The degree of truth a HT records in a reference concerning a dead wood teacher is inversely proportional to the distance of the school to which this hapless individual is applying.”

In short, if the HT can persuade this weak individual to apply far enough away, preferably another local authority, then the reference can say pretty well anything apart from the most basic of untruths. In effect, the worse the teacher, the greater the degree of exaggeration and praise that can be furnished provided the individual is moving far enough away.

An unfortunate side effect is that, along the way, such a clueless teacher will have perfected an interview patter backed by a theoretical knowledge that can mask a practical shortfall. Indeed a headteacher desperate to remove dead wood from the school will have stooped so low as to even tutor this individual in interview techniques under the guise of “good staff management”.

Another recent example may help. Just a few years ago one nearby school appointed an external, deputy headteacher candidate as their new headteacher based on an excellent reference from the present school. Three years later, due to totally inept management, the “receiving” school was in Special Measures. Sometime later on I happened to meet the HT who wrote the glowing reference for that useless individual. He told me his whole staff had a celebratory party after their deputy left for promotion. He did not feel guilty because that was how he came to appoint this useless individual and so he felt justified in passing on the problem. Onwards (and very sadly) upwards.  I would like to have read that reference.

I can hear some of you say that LAs are working hard to face up to the challenge of inadequate teachers in the short term. Yes they are and, in the case of this tiniest of minorities (only) I applaud it. Regrettably with the (austerity) cuts mentioned above, LA resources are thinly spread. Thus, unless your school is actually failing in a big way, you are most unlikely to receive appropriate levels of support that can remove a “no hoper” within a few weeks. It may seem cruel and I have been a union man all my life. However, we must consider the sanity of the vast majority of hard working and talented souls on the staff as well as the welfare of the children. For instance, consider the thoughts of parents when they discover their child will be in Mr D Wood’s class next year.

There we have it. Such an individual can be highly recommended to apply for a significant position in another county, where there is no fear of effective “face to face” feedback and consequences.

Incidentally, I have met many of these highly ineffective “big lumps” who ended up as HTs or even inspectors.

For example I will offer just two quotes from an LA Maths inspector from few years ago during an inspection of my school:

a.) “Give a child a calculator at age nine and by ten they will have learnt all their tables”.

Thoughts: Meanwhile non-numeric Jimmy has worked out that 2×3=4,900,984.

b.) “Do you realise you are insulting the children by having a timetable? Each child should arrive in school and you should ask them what they want to do today. If they don’t want to do Numeracy, don’t worry. When they eventually ask to do it they will be so motivated they will zoom ahead”.

Thoughts: No comment.

Further, when The Numeracy Strategy was about to be introduced, I immediately put my name down for the LA’s course, “Introducing The Numeracy Strategy for Headteachers”, which was run by this particular lady. The inspector’s opening line was, “I don’t believe in the Numeracy Strategy so I’m not going to talk about it”. We were all gob-smacked; as HTs we did not have a choice, a fact this “fart in a colander” of an inspector felt totally safe in ignoring as there was zero accountability.

This same inspector was soon promoted to Senior Inspector in another county. I’m sure you have spotted the pattern.

D. Gender Bias

Experience indicates there is just one more factor involved in primary school HT selection, which is best summed up by one statistical comparison. Whilst 9% of primary classteachers are men, they make up 19% of primary headteachers.

Hence, we must ask, “Why are proportionately more men promoted to headship?” My experience is that, within governing bodies in general, there is on average, a bias towards appointing a male headteacher. However, as there are not that many male teachers around, governing bodies often end up appointing a poor quality candidate, albeit one who can pontificate beautifully on educational ideals and theories. This individual has also probably come from a different LA with a superb reference, which we now know means nothing. Whilst I know many first rate male HTs, I have certainly met a higher ratio of such limp individuals within the male contingent of school leaders than I have amongst their female counterparts.

If only governing bodies would place much more emphasis on strength of character.

Unfortunately, the “big lumps” upward spiral can continue ad infinitum. A recent example will suffice. A few years ago a very large local (secondary) school appointed a headteacher (male) who quickly proved to be a waste of space. I will not go into details as it is upsetting to 99% of the profession.. The school went into a downward spiral amidst an appalling lack of leadership, including financial mismanagement. Eventually the LA and the governing body got together on a Friday afternoon and gave him the ultimatum: “Take the easy route. Clear your office by Monday morning and we will give you a reference. Take the hard route by staying until the end of the year and you will be sacked and not given a reference.” He immediately left with a reference.

The most important point here is that, after he had gone and quite by chance, it was discovered that his previous Local Authority had done exactly the same thing, resulting in his job here! I cannot help but wonder which poor secondary school in the country is suffering today under his “leadership”.

Here is another example of a failing HT:

a.)

My first interview for primary deputy headship was at a primary school in Broadstairs. It’s a wonderful seaside town. I arrived early, walked around for an hour and fell in love with the place. It reminded me of my home, St Ives (Cornwall). Eventually I arrived at the school. On entering I was surprised and disappointed that, despite being a school day, it was closed to the children and empty apart from one Gym Club taking place in the school hall where there were lots of very young girls up to about 9 years old in their leotards. It was run by the (male) caretaker. No other adult was present. Now I’m sure everything was well-intentioned but even in those less PC aware days, I was left with an extremely uneasy feeling.

There were four applicants for interview. We were met by the acting deputy, a very pleasant lady, who showed us round the school in a quietly spoken but meaningful manner. I liked her. It seemed we would not meet the headteacher (let’s call him Mr Smythe) until we were interviewed and so we toured the school and viewed one empty classroom after another. It seemed as if the school’s very soul was missing. Kids are its life-blood and their spirit about the place speaks volumes. The buildings were simply a shell and we were all struggling to get a feel for the atmosphere and purpose of the place, let alone formulate any questions for the interview. At one point we walked past the HT’s office and something caught my eye being very prominently framed on the wall outside. It was a middle page spread of the local newspaper featuring a visit to the school by a reporter. There was an interview with the HT in the middle and pictures of each year group round the outside. Firstly, in the top left, there was a photo of reception children all standing with Mr Smith in the middle. The photos then went round in order. They were:

  • Year 1 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 2 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 3 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 4 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 5 Pupils standing round Mr Smith
  • Year 6 Pupils standing round Mr Smith

In the middle of the spread was another single photo. By now you may be able to guess what it was. Yes, the centrepiece was a solo portrait of Mr Smith.

I now had a burning question for the acting deputy. I caught up with the group and asked her, “Are you applying for the job?” The answer was totally out of character, loud, and simple, “Not f*****g likely.” This was said in such a way that instantly conveyed to us that no other questions on this topic would be answered. Indeed, we all felt this poor woman might already have overstepped a mark and said too much. Now, I very much wanted to be a deputy head but right there and then my earnest desire was to fail the interview and get out of that place as soon as possible. The trick was to achieve that, whilst not totally blotting my copy book for any possible future interviews in Kent, as an inspector would be present. In the end Mr Smythe took an instant dislike to me and I didn’t have to worry.

I still wonder about that school. However, this glimpse into one primary headteacher’s narcissistic little world was the first time I considered the possibility that a conceited, self-centred, egotistic individual could ever be appointed as a primary school headteacher. I left feeling sorry for the staff who we had not been allowed to meet and who must have a the morale of a doomed fly in a spider’s web.

 In all three cases deduct 5-10% from each school’s SATs results.

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Chapter 8

How To Improve Headteacher Appointments

 

Before telling my governing body I intended to retire I took the precaution of downloading my LA’s Policy for Governors on “How to Appoint a Headteacher”. I looked through it and then, due to shock, I also looked through two other LAs’ policies. All three were in essence the same. I was stunned. Each contained over 90 pages of politically correct procedures but not one bit of common sense that might help a governing body pick a suitably qualified individual with the right morals, optimism, humour and sheer strength of character to appropriately decide the future of a school. I was reminded that not long after my appointment as a HT I was very impressed by my Local Authority’s expensive and glossy production of its new policy “How to Appoint Headteachers”. I didn’t read it but it looked good. A big fuss was made as its publication coincided with the start of the appointment process of a new leader for our local secondary school. Hence, this interview process became the perfect test for this amazing document. To cut a long story short, the new appointee was unable to attend his new school at the start of term, appeared for one day and then took medical retirement.
I could see nothing in any LA policy that understood  how a successful HT will not only need to stand up to the perpetual complainant parents but also to protect the teachers from the ever growing and self-sustaining bureaucracy of paperwork that wears them out.
Weak HTs simply pass this on to the classteachers who are then too worn out to carry out a good job.
Strength of character is the single important asset that any teacher and especially a HT can display yet it is not even mentioned in LA Policies that I viewed.
So now I recommend the following:
The United Kingdom should have just one meaningful, national policy called:

“How To Appoint First Rate Headteachers”

The top priority would be an initial character requirement interview. In essence the appointing panel would need to ask themselves, “When faced with a forceful, loud, bullying, over-protective mother, would this individual be able to remain objective and firm?” The candidate would not be asked a myriad of pitfall educational questions the answers to which will all be learnt by a good candidate during the first year. In short – governors(!) – all candidates are short listed by having valuable previous experience, which can be discussed at stage two. For now, forget the mass of bureaucratic advice that supposedly clever “consultants” tell you to ask and concentrate foremost on character. If no candidate has the right attribute  then there is no point in going any further. If they do, then the interview can proceed onto a further stage of experiences and views.

This first stage should be focussed on testing:

a.) Moral fortitude that can maintain school discipline

b.) A love of kids

c.) Boundless optimism

d.) A strong work ethos

e.) Humour (vital)

f.) A dignified and gracious patience that understands the frailty of human beings; the school’s most valuable resource.

In my view, a good initial indicator of a headteacher’s style would be to ask “How often would you expect to teach each week?” A top class headteacher will want some contact (albeit minimal) with real children. It is the only way to directly assess the effectiveness of the school.

This policy must be created centrally for use across the nation. The main rule for those writing this policy would be no politicians or idealists, just common sense classroom realists. Admittedly, the first attempt might not be perfect but it can be fine-tuned at that one single level instead of each LA reinventing the wheel.

In short, we need to stop the bureaucrats of each individual LA constantly trying to prove how essential they are and reinventing an imperfect wheel. In this way the educational world can concentrate on weaving the importance of characterinto an interview process that is overwhelmingly dominated by politically correctness and consultant experts who so often have their favourite.

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ADDENDUM

The Stuff of Nightmares – DIARY OF A POOR OFSTED

 

What’s the difference between a plastic surgeon and an OFSTED inspector?

Answer: A plastic surgeon tucks up your features.

 

The above is perhaps a little harsh, as I have met some first rate inspection teams led by very professional Lead Inspectors. It is however a stark reminder of the graveyard humour that abounds in many schools as a means to an end: Survival.

Very sadly, the last full inspection of my career turned out to be my worst by far.

Immediately afterwards I felt the need to log the following diary, copied below. I present it to you now as encouragement not to put up with, what I believe to be, unprofessional behaviour. However, be warned, it can produce nightmares.

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Aide Memoire

Without Prejudice

OFSTED VISIT – March 18th – 19th 2010

Health Warning

The following diary of events is, of course, subject to the frailties of human memory that plague us all. It was penned initially as a safety net in the unlikely event that the Lead Inspector (LI) did not keep her word, agreed when we shook hands in order to “put everything behind us”.

Note: Very sadly, by that stage I had already formed a (personal) view that insincerity lay barely hidden under the veil of the LI‘s extreme (almost overwhelming) politeness. Hence I was not surprised at subsequent events…….

 

Context

I have been at the school since 1985 and had always had an excellent relationship with the inspection process. In recent years the LA shut all middle schools but I was lucky enough to be told that, if I chose 4 teachers from a staff of 40+, I could stay as the HT of a new primary school on the same site. To avoid major problems within the area the school would grow one year at a time from reception. Whilst wondering how on earth I would manage 4 year olds, I accepted on the basis hat I had a job and two years to prepare..

In 2003 the primary school opened with 24 pupils in two reception classes. Within 18 months we were heavily oversubscribed and have been ever since. In January 2009, we agreed to become the lead school in a “hard” federation of two schools, which basically just means both are overseen by one governing body.

Unfortunately, before I relate this tale, I must blow the school’s trumpet in one aspect (because it is very relevant later on) and make it clear the LA said that the school’s strength in management (never less than “Good” according to OFSTED) was a key factor in this request. The governors are certainly a superb mix of common sense and inspiration.

Finally (also relevant later on) during the formative stages of the federation, we were assured by the lead LA Governor Training “guru” that any inspection would now include both schools.

 

DIARY

Tuesday March 16th 2010

SERCO rang to inform me that Delapre was to be inspected on the following Friday. I think I surprised the young lady by saying how glad we all were and that I must be one of the few HTs in the country to e-mail OFSTED (twice) to ask to be inspected. As a growing school it had been 3½ years since our last visit and all senior management (including governors) were clear in their view that we needed a true external view to ensure the school was developing appropriately.

The SERCO rep then said to me, “You do have 153 pupils on roll don’t you”. I was shocked and replied, “No, our NOR is 403 pupils moving to 420 in September when our first Y6 leaves.” The young lady was genuinely taken aback raising her voice to say, “Oh no! I’ve got to find some more inspectors quickly”.

Note: It will serve no purpose to list my doubts following this response.

I then asked, “Did you know we are a lead school in a hard Federation and that our partner school jumped from “Special Measures” to “Satisfactory”.

The answer was, “No”.

I asked, “Will the huge efforts the management of this school have made be taken into account?”

The answer was, “No, the team will just be inspecting you”.

I replied, “I don’t understand. The LA’s top Governor Trainer informed us this would be definite and is a statutory requirement”.

“Well, I am afraid he is wrong”, was the last comment on this subject.

My thoughts at that moment: “How can I tell the governors that all their efforts are to be ignored? They are so proud of their achievements. They are all voluntary. All they want is a pat on the back.”

I was then informed that I would receive an e-mail with (among other things) a questionnaire for parents that must go home today (Tuesday). However, I was also told there might be a small delay as the new format of the (bigger) team was now to be finalised.

Later the lead inspector (LI) rang and we got on well. There were a number of phone calls between us with co-operation being the order of the day. The only problem was that I did not receive the e-mail from SERCO, although the LI did receive her copy. I cannot explain this. Eventually, the parental letter had to go out on the next day as the children had already gone home when a copy arrived. This did not cause any issues as far as I am aware with the final report indicating in the final table that 162 confidential replies were received (although 154 was mentioned in the report).

The LI said that she would read the school’s Self Evaluation Form (SEF) and ring on Wednesday with the Pre-Inspection Briefing (PIB) which basically highlights what is required by the inspector. She told me that she had just finished one inspection and had another directly following ours so she was expecting an efficient process with a quick report at the end.

My Thoughts: “That’s too much for such an important process. You’ll be worn out.”

I was (as expected) instructed to print out a variety of papers and then to place them, neatly labelled, in the inspectors’ room. The most important “pile” was (of course) “Standards” which was to be the subject of my first meeting with the LI. It took me hours to print off the different topics, put the papers in order and correctly label each pile. I took particular care with the “Standards” bundle, putting them in a very precise order so they acted as my agenda when asked to justify my claims that we were doing very well. All piles had at least two years of history (more in “Standards”) included so that it was clear we were not putting on a “show”.

I made sure to do this myself, as it would be me “on the spot” and I wanted everything to be fresh in my mind.

The LI made it clear she was very concerned that, as a new school, we did not have any KS 2 SATs results (just a few months too early) and hence pointed out to me that a large and vital part of the inspection would be the standards in the present Y6. I said that we had just (the week before) given a new dummy SATs paper to Y6, which had been marked extremely harshly by my two (very “SAT experienced”) Y6 teachers in order to ensure the children were not blasé. I know this is standard practice in all externally moderated exams such as GCSEs. I asked if the LI would like to see the results provided she bore our low marking in mind. The reply was a very strong “Yes please”.

Wednesday 17th March 2009

Parents, staff and pupil questionnaires sent out in accordance with instructions.

I personally place all “piles” of evidence in the inspectors’ room as requested. They are correctly labelled.

Thursday 18th March

08.00. I am looking at my watch. I am shocked. The team have all arrived except there is no sign of the Lead Inspector. She is late and her own tightly planned schedule is already shot to pieces. By now we should be on a tour of the school with a staff meeting planned for 08.30 These extra inspectors have obviously been drafted in at the last minute and they seem a little anxious and unsure of their personal focus. The one thing they need is their leader.

My Thoughts: If ever there was a time to arrive early and organise your inspection team this was it. I have never known an LI be late. Previously lead inspectors have arrived well ahead of the team to take stock and ensure everything is in place and organised for the team members’ arrival.

The inspectors are shown to their allotted room before the LI arrives.

Note: The room is a PPA and SEN teaching area and as such has already made us alter our provision. We do not complain as we understand this is a necessity.

08.13 The LI arrives and tells me most politely that everything is fine. I assume she is referring to her own lateness and that her team have been left waiting. They won’t have long to get their act together.

My Thoughts: The LI must surely need time to organise her team. They have told me that at least some of them have not met each other before.

We manage a brief tour and then the staff meeting. It starts late which unsettles the teachers who have been left “dangling”. They are eager to be in their classrooms. The OFSTED clerk arrives after this meeting has started, which causes some confusion because the staff can see her outside the door window, hovering and looking in, whilst the Lead Inspector is talking. They are all wondering who this could be.

The LI finishes and we are dismissed. It is confirmed that the LI will meet with me at 9.15 in my office to discuss monitoring and standards.

My Thoughts: “Bring it on, I’m ready”, I just hope the staff have remained calm.

9.15 a.m.

I am surprised when the LI arrives in my room with one old thin folder which is marked “Snapshot Papers”. I have no idea which year this is linked to without viewing the contents which, it seems, I am not allowed to see! This is obviously not the large bundle that I prepared in agenda order and carefully labelled for this meeting.

I’m afraid the next hour turns into a blur. I cannot remember the order of questioning and the incredible stress that I am put under. I keep asking for the LI to go and get the pile I had prepared and labelled for this meeting but all she would say is, “I expect you to present it to me”. My reply of, “That’s exactly what I want to do. At the moment I’ve got nothing to present. I don’t have every figure in my head,” was met with the same, “I expect you to present it to me.”

At one point I stand up and say, “Look I’m going to your room to get the full bundle of papers so I can present the evidence.” The reply is, “I have executive powers over you. Stay here.” To my eternal shame, I sit down.

I am asked questions relating to this really old evidential table of figures she has brought with her and I am repeatedly left floundering, as I she won’t even tell me which year(s) she is looking at.

At another point I stand up and say, “Right, I’ll run off everything again, so I can prove to you how well we are doing from five years ago until the present day”.

The reply is, “We don’t have time for that I expect to have the figures presented to me.”

“My exasperated reply of, “Well you’ve got all the figures let’s go and get them” is met with exactly the same reply of, “I expect you to present them to me”.

My Thoughts: Over the years we have carried out a lot of prediction exercises and produced many summative, diagnostic and predictive tables. For instance, last year we ordered the Y6 tests which duly arrived and we gave them to our Y5 i.e. a year early under exam conditions and had them marked by a qualified external marker. We produced very relevant figures then, which represented hard evidence of how we were doing and yet I was being denied the chance to collect or print it off. Simply telling the LI would mean nothing. Surely it’s to the advantage of both of us that I collect such important documents.

I can answer any questions with factual data if I have the papers but they are all in the inspector’s room. I am extremely confused. Once again I tried to go to the computer to run off “up to date” data but am asked to sit back down and answer the next question. The pressure mounts and so does my confusion. I am starting to think I have made some sort of huge mistake. Also, the LI’s extreme politeness during my obvious floundering turns the whole thing into (in my view) an exquisite form of torture hidden under a façade of professional courtesy.

Finally, I again ask the LI where the papers are that I left out (clearly labelled for this meeting) and to which I can relate going from up to date figures and back over the last five years. I am told, “I expect you to present these papers to me”. I then ask, “Then why did you tell me to put them in your room?” The LI simply repeats, “You should be presenting these papers to me”.

Note: The presented papers are not one-off originals (of course) but collecting them all together again will take time and the LI is clearly on a tight timetable of questions. To me the LI seems a little flustered that, being a new school, there is no three year cycle of KS2 SATs results to analyse through RAISE.

At one point because I am “unable” to produce evidence I say, “You are calling me a liar”, to which I am very politely told, “Of course not”. Yet the only possible upshot of this first interview is clearly that I am both lying and my school is going straight into Special Measures. My thoughts/views are mixed and centre on such things as:

a.) Unprofessional approach, hidden behind a veil of overwhelming politeness.

b.) All my attempts to put us on track were dismissed by overwhelming politeness. Why was I not once allowed to retrieve the correct data?

c.) I am being totally disarmed by this overwhelming politeness, which is keeping the truth hidden. The decisions have already been made. People need to know about this experience.

d.) I need to be extremely firm to “break through”. I still want to retrieve and present all the evidence.

e.) I feel bullied.

10.15 a.m. The meeting concludes and the LI leaves with a big smile saying (something like), “See you in a few minutes to discuss lesson observations”. To be honest I have no idea what time the meeting finished or what was exactly said. The above is my estimation. I felt ill.

I sat and breathed slowly and once relatively calm (for the sake of the staff) went and talked to my Y6 teachers. I asked them to confirm our evidence to me. I just needed to be sure that I hadn’t gone mad. Once this was done I was sure of my ground. I concluded that I was quite sane.

Note: At this point I consider two courses of action.

a.) Phone the police and have the LI removed from the premises as “…not conducive to the well being of the school…” (legally open to debate I know). Phone the local paper (I wrote an education column for them) to inform them of events underway so they can be present as the perfect witnesses. I am a GREAT believer in publicity and have nothing to hide.

b.) Stand up for the school and myself. I am feeling humiliated, ignored and useless and the school will suffer. I have bitten my tongue for an hour assuming I must somehow be in the wrong to be causing all this. I now feel calmer and entitled to defend my school even if, in my own way, I have to stoop to (what I consider to be) the low level of the LI.

The teachers who see me ask if I am alright because I have gone “a funny colour”.
I decided on the latter option but am resolved in my view that being polite will get me nowhere as I will be “outclassed” and simply be further dismissed. I feel backed into a corner. Hence I would have to be firm.

10.45 a.m. The LI returns with another folder. I firmly take it out of her hand and throw it across the room. I say, “We are not going to talk about that. We are going to have the conversation about standards we should have had for the last hour.” She protests once again talking about having “executive powers” over me but I’ve had enough of that game and simply look at her and say, “Don’t be silly”. I walk past her in the doorway saying I am going to retrieve all the evidence which (of course) I expected to be labelled and still ready. It is important (see later on) to note that I did not take her hand to remove her from the room. Quite the reverse. I left her there because that was where we had to meet. I wanted that meeting. Indeed it was the only place left in the school that we could meet. Once again the “executive powers” rhetoric came out as she ordered me to stay in the room. I gave her a sad look and walked off, wondering why she was so desperate for me not to collect all the evidence. I soon found out.

I walked in to the inspection team’s room and was amazed. The complete team was there (minus the LI) and all my prepared papers were in complete chaos. My neatly labelled piles had disappeared. It looked as if somebody had picked them up and thrown them against the wall, leaving them to lie at random on the adjacent surfaces. Apparently some sort of rummage sale had taken place and now it simply remained for the aftermath to be thrown in the bin. All my hard work had been turned into total disorganisation and I thought for a moment that “anarchy” seemed to be this team’s motto. Then I realised the school was paying the price of having a team assembled at the last minute. The individuals had dutifully arrived early arrived and with the LI’s late arrival may well have (like me) started to panic. After all they had a job to do. I concluded I was now looking at the fall out as each of them had (understandably) scrambled to find some sort of information, whilst simultaneously not knowing each other and with no leader to provide a framework of organisation. Further, the LI had personally told me that due to SERCO’s original, incorrect data their jobs had, in some cases been changed and/or been placed upon them at the last minute.

In shock (once again) I started looking for the most important documents, which were brightly coloured charts showing the development of each child over the last 5 years. It seemed to me that, even within such an appalling mess, the bright colours could not help but stand out. After a few minutes I concluded they were missing.

Note: They were never found and I assume were taken as examples of “good practice” by one inspector or another. The last time this happened to us the local authority inspectors were running the show.

Eventually the LI arrived. Having expected to be only a few seconds I had left her in my room. She asked if we could go back.

Note: No “executive powers” quotes in front of the team.

I then lost my temper. I cannot be sure of my exact words but I believe I referred to the complete mess of the school’s evidence and said something like (my view), “You are a tin pot, disorganised Lead Inspector but I could not speak for the rest of the team”. What I wanted to shout (and so nearly did) was, “For a Lead Inspector you couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery and now you are saying this total chaos it is all my fault by hiding behind a veil of ‘I expect you to present this to me‘”.

I certainly made my views clear in a firm fashion. I did not feel I had any other choice. I then provided other copies of the latest Y6 tracking papers, based on the (very) harshly marked dummy SATs and asked the LI to speak to the Y6 teachers and view the actual evidence (which I knew they had) in order to back up our methodology and the accuracy of our latest predictions. As these results were to be so vital (LI’s own words) I felt this was a key course of action to ensure a correct outcome. After all, as a new school” we did not have 3 years of KS2 SATs results available. The LI agreed this would be done. I also pointed out that I was now clear that the prediction sheet the LI had used as a basis for our original discussion was one of the historical ones and hence this had led to me being totally dumbfounded during our talk. I also was now clear why I was not allowed to see the paper she was referring to. I would have recognised it as years out of date and totally useless, unless presented in the context of a bigger on-going historical picture. At least I now understood my complete frustration, shock and finally confusion throughout the first interview.

Note: I am now fully convinced that if the LI had originally instructed me to keep the “Standards/Tracking” bundle in my room ready for the very first meeting or at least to duplicate it for myself, then all of this would have been avoided. To me, this would have been such a simple organisational tool. I do not think inspectors realise that when they phone a school and say, “Jump” we simply ask “How high?” We do as we are told, as we view any other course of action as madness. How stupid of me and yet I had (as legally required) done exactly as I had been told.

The LI eventually said (something like), “Now I have these figures can we put this behind us, forget about it and get on?” I immediately agreed, knowing that a talk with the excellent Y6 staff (with evidence and actual work examples available) would make all the difference. We shook hands agreeing to completely forget the whole thing. At this time we both apologised. I unreservedly offered my humble apologies for any behaviour which was considered unprofessional.

We then moved on to a new discussion.

Note: Despite feeling that I (and worse, the school) had been wronged in a most unprofessional manner I do not believe two wrongs make a right. My experience as a magistrate has led me to believe in being professional throughout any situation, when considering all factors. I am not proud of the above.

 

During the Day

During various interviews I noticed that the LI had not spoken to the Y6 teachers as promised (their rooms are opposite mine).

 

3.45 p.m.

The LI returned to my room saying something like, “I can’t make these tracking figures work”. I explained once again that they would not “work” because of the very harsh marking to stop the pupils becoming blasé. I then asked if the LI had spoken to the Y6 teachers and looked at the actual evidence as she had promised. The answer was, “No”.

I then said something like, “Right, sit there, I will arrange it now”. I left the room, found the two teachers and informed them of the situation. They asked if they could meet in one of their rooms where all the evidence was handy. I returned to the LI (I was gone for about 5 minutes at the most) took her to the teachers and left them alone.

About half an hour later the LI came to me and said something close to, “Oh Bob, what a good idea that was. The teachers know the children inside out. I’ve seen the books, their targets and the evidence. I now understand.”

Note 1: At the OFSTED team’s meeting that night the LI explained that she was now completely happy with the school’s predictions for our first SATs. All I could think was, “Why did you keep me stewing until after 4.00 p.m. by not simply interviewing the Y6 staff. You did say this was vital to the outcome of the inspection”.

Note 2: That first evening’s meeting was extremely crucial because some inspectors were leaving after one day and had to make their judgement there and then. I assumed, probably wrongly, these were the late draftees. It all seemed such a rush.

Note 3: After the LI met the Y6 teachers, they both told me the LI had said, “You’ve just saved your school from a category”. Of course, I had already surmised this.

Evening – Day 1

I was visited by some teachers who were concerned that on a fleeting visit to a lesson they had been graded as “Satisfactory” or “Good” but the inspector had not seen the meaty part of the lesson, just the children working during the last 20 minutes. The old chestnut of, “I can only judge what I see” had been repeatedly as the excuse. During past inspections I had come to the conclusion that lazy, production-line, tick box bureaucrats hid behind this very well worn excuse.

One particular inspector was causing the issues as, if she put her head in the door and all the kids were working, that became an immediate “Satisfactory”. Worse, no attempt was made to talk to the children or teacher about what they were doing, why, what they had learnt or what was their lesson target. The effect on my staff morale was appalling.

Note 1: I took one case “on board” and said I would talk to the two remaining inspectors in the morning in order to ask for him to be seen again. I was particularly worried about this young man who I regarded as “Outstanding”. He had been given “Satisfactory” because the inspector had walked in just after the children moved on to work on computers (in the ICT suite). As they were all busy, another automatic “Satisfactory” had quickly arisen. He was devastated that, among other things, the full import of the lesson had been missed. His morale was completely destroyed. He was desperate for another chance to be seen.

Note 2: Unfortunately this young man’s experience had happened quite early on and the rest of the staff quickly heard about it. They immediately adjusted their lesson plans to avoid the regular use of ICT in case an inspector walked in at the wrong moment when the children had started to work. I only learned of this later.

Note 3: It is interesting that a lack of ICT being viewed led to this being a recommendation on how the school can move forward! I have to ask myself if OFSTED teams are aware of how their very presence and particularly early behaviour, affects a school staff through straight forward fear. I also believe that some inspectors behaving in this manner produce a huge bias towards “Satisfactory”, with all of them hiding behind the golden excuse, “ I can only judge what I can see.”

Day 2 – 9.00 a.m. (ish)

I went to the two remaining inspectors and expressed my doubts about one or two lesson judgements. To me this is the sort of thing that HTs are encouraged to do. Indeed HMI during its inspection of my other (Special Measures) school listened carefully to any comments and revisited certain teachers. They were extremely reasonable in attempting to form a fair decision. I was extremely impressed with their professional outlook.

I was therefore surprised that the other remaining inspector (not the LI) who also just happened to be the morale destroyer said, “Do you realise that you are hindering us, not helping?” The venom contained in the manner with which these words were “spoken” left me in no doubt that I was extremely disliked.

The LI however, was professional enough to agree to revisit my young teacher. I was so grateful, he is a wonderful teacher.

Note: He received “Outstanding” with a verbal recommendation to me that he be used during in-school training as an example of good practice in questioning techniques. Sadly, the previous day’s “Satisfactory” based on the whole class being motivated and working was retained. I concluded that lesson grades depended on an inspector seeing a few minutes of the early part of a lesson and not the hard graft part. Indeed, as a significant number of (what would be) “Outstanding” lessons finish with highly motivated children working hard and concentrating, then I believe the above practice produced a bias towards “Satisfactory” based solely on which “2-5 minute part” of the lesson the inspector views.

2014 Addendum: Thankfully, this has changed in the latest OFSTED thinking under Sir Michael Wilshaw where hard working, motivated children are viewed positively.

Outcome

At the feedback we were on course for “Outstanding”. When it came to the last grade for Leadership and Management” all we needed was a “Good” and we had never had less than that. The LI (shock/horror) decided we were “Satisfactory”. The school received an overall Level 2. We accept this without complaint but find it hard to “square” with the LA’s judgement of our excellent management skills leading to us running a federation.

The governors and I are completely demoralised as our Level 3 kept the school from being “Outstanding”.

Afterwards

Some while after the inspection, I received the OFSTED Feedback Form. Bearing in mind we had shaken hands and agreed to forget the matter I reported no problems.

A few days after this a very solemn sounding man was put through to me. He explained he was the Senior HMI for The Midlands and that he had received a very disturbing report from a senior lead inspector about my misbehaviour and at one point I had taken her hand to try and force her from the room. He said he took this very seriously.

I explained the disagreement and that there had been no “forcing”. I was also completely honest about throwing the folder across the room and stressed most firmly the LI had eventually said I was right and asked if we could forget the whole thing and offered to shake hands on it. I had agreed and we had then done so. This was why I had not registered any problems on the feedback form. I kept my word. I asked on what date he received this complaint. He looked it up and it turned out to be the very same day that we had shaken hands to put it all behind us! I then said how upset I was that (in my personal view) such a two-faced individual was empowered to make judgements about the moral values of my or any school. I also pointed out that I had never tried to pull this woman anywhere. I am not stupid, that is common assault.

The HMI said he took this thing very seriously but that he had not told my governing body or the LA. I felt he was attempting to intimidate me with this, so I pointed out they both knew already. He seemed surprised at this and said, “How did they find out?”

I replied something like, “Because I told them the full story of what happened here. Everybody should know. Now, I’m glad I did, as other teachers need to be warned about this, in my view, overwhelming polite Uriah Heap of a Lead Inspector.”

He seemed a little taken aback by this and asked me to give him an example of what went wrong. I started with SERCO’s initial errors and got no further. He said something like, “That’s a very poor start.”

“Well, that’s the good bit”, I said, “What happened here needs to be made public.”

He explained that we would have to meet to discuss such a serious matter and I said I wholeheartedly agreed in fact I was now desperate to do so. I also insisted that I bring some professional educational journalists to the meeting plus any other LA officials so we can all learn from what I viewed as a thoroughly unprofessional experience.

He thought for a moment and then said, “It’s nearly the end of term and I’m going on holiday. I’ll get back to you after that.”

I never heard another thing.

However….

I was well aware that, with the shock/fear tactics having cut no ice but with the possibility of unfavourable publicity (OFSTED’s weakness) there would be some sort of system follow up at a later point that would seem “normal”.

Lo and behold the bureaucratic machine finally churned out a response in early November 2011 when we were informed of a subject specific inspection (ICT) by one inspector which would begin on 7th November. These are meant to be randomly chosen but (to me) the bigger picture was clear.

I was retiring the following August so I moved out of my room and handed the reins to my deputy and successor for one week. He did an excellent job and the experience will be extremely valuable. Thank you and well done.

During the inspector’s stay I had many chances to talk to him. He was thoroughly professional and, to me, acted more like an HMI. He was patient and always had time to listen. I was impressed.

At the end of this short inspection I was asked to join the feedback. We were told we were being given “Good” which was the highest grade in ICT given to any primary school in the country (I have often wondered about that) and the highest he had ever given a primary school in that subject. Most significantly, he then went on to say that, “Part of my remit is to flag up any concerns I may have about the school in general with OFSTED”.

His final words were, “I have no worries about this school in any respect.”

I now considered that our March 2010 inspection was finally over.

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Rather, OFSTED should understand that celebration of “The Successes of Our School” creates a general feeling of good will and pride which spreads itself across every classroom contributing to a good work ethic.