I am enjoying my first week of early retirement after 35 years of teaching, 33 at the same school. I will be writing a series of posts on what I have learned about the job in that period. They will be a series prefixed FWIW because they are. I have nothing to prove and nothing to gain, I am simply sharpening my axe.
This post is an introduction; to outline my experience which informs my perspective on the other topics.
My real name is Dean. I recently began to consider myself a Blackpudlian though not a “Sandgrownun” as I have lived and worked in Blackpool for almost 40 years. I was married to a Blackpool girl, had two Blackpool kids and had a lifelong love/hate relationship with the place. I went to school in Blackpool when we moved into a couple of rooms in my Grandparent’s house following my Mothers divorce in 1973. My ex-wife and her family went to the school I taught at before I joined the staff, her relations, my children and her further child all attended whilst I taught there. No, it wasn’t awkward, except for my kids, a bit. I wont name the school or other staff as the current pupils and teachers are still struggling to succeed and don’t need more criticism. Therefore, as much as I am burning to name and shame the guilty, I can’t. Too much collateral damage.
I first went to ‘my’ school as a PGCE student in 1983, I taught there for a term. I adored it. I believed I had found my vocation. I was yet to appreciate the difference a 60% timetable with no Tutor group makes to workload. The school were impressed and the Head of Science (yes, I am a science teacher) wanted to give me a job. In the end, the Head awarded the points to another dept. (ask an old Head) and there was no job. I still meet two colleagues from that time for lunch occasionally.
After passing the PGCE, I went to Roby Comprehensive in Huyton: a baptism of fire. I survived, just. My new wife, new son and I lived in a council flat on the St. John’s estate off Wilson road. Yes, it was Harold’s constituency. The school was merged with Page Moss to form Bowring Comprehensive; I saw masterful Headship manage this transition. A job came up at Blackpool, they remembered me. I came back.
I started at the same time as the new Head, a pivotal figure whom I enthusiastically supported in spite of my ambivalence to some of his actions and oppostion to those I believe to be corrupt. After a few years I was asked to be a Senior House Tutor (unpaid) as I believed pastoral care was my ambition and forte. A year later I was appointed Head of House (temporary 2yrs). For a term I floundered. This is the only period I felt overpaid, for the rest of my career it has been entirely the reverse. I learn quickly, I recruited a great team, focussed and trained Tutors and learned the true horror of some kids lives and sadly, very rarely, their deaths. I felt deeply fulfilled and had clearly ‘made a difference’. The first hint of futility came when the incumbent wanted his job back, the Head’s wife who he had appointed to the same role felt uncomfortable with my contrasting approach and, to the shock of my peers though not to myself my term ended at the expiry of the temp. contract. The incumbent re-took post, tried to maintain some of the improvements, ditched others and all of that effort evaporated. He tried to get me to continue some of it but understood when stung by this vote of not enough confidence I sat on my bat and ball.
What could the Head do to keep me in the hamsterwheel? He showed his exquisite negotiating skill by tempting me with Head of PSHE, he invented the post for me and pitched the pay just high enough for me to be unable to refuse. I resentfully accepted, determined to show what a mistake he had made in ‘demoting’ me, as he well knew. I also joined the Governing body. Five years of improvement in curriculum, resources, training, networking, partnerships and parental involvement ended when he needed a competent Head of Science pronto. He pitched an offer I couldn’t refuse. Again. A friend and colleague maintained the programme for a couple of years before joining me in science leadership. The job was dissolved again the development futile once more.
Just to be clear, the first promoted paid post I won in competitive interview, the second in sole interview, the last was simply a negotiation about terms.
I spent 14 years leading science. I had the best teams of teachers one could wish for. Many are now my friends. We made the department and school better and better. From a starting point of high 20% A*-C we reached 58% in 2001, higher than national (at that time). Our SAT results were consistently above national average. Together the Head and our team had made a cracking little community comprehensive. I was happy that my children chose to come to my school (it was their choice). I would reccommend the school to anyone then. It was considered among the best in Blackpool and equal to most in the County.
I left the Governing body after two terms of 4 years when I felt I had compromised myself and jeopardised the school: Rolls were rising, the Authority wanted to expand schools, the Head wanted the money (in more ways than one), I needed more labs. The deal was: expand the school, have more money, build more labs. I voted against, the only governor so to do. The Authority pleaded, the next year I made it unanimous, knowing it to be a great hazard to the continuing improvement. I felt dirty, almost bribed by a building programme and fearful.
It was the beginning of the end. You can’t expand a school by 50% in 3 years, manage a major building programme and maintain standards, far less improve them further. The school became unruly, results stayed high for a while but ominously, turnover took off. The Head took early retirement. The acting Head stupidly wasnt given an interview, an incompetent was hired.
I despairingly worked for, no longer with this individual for a further 9 years struggling to halt the slow slide in results. We hired some of the best teachers I have ever seen. I tried to persuade him of the unwisdom of so many of his ideas and flat refused to implement others. Eventually, along with a rebuilding of the school (tombstone) he designed a re-organisation of departments to ‘Learning Zones’ I quit leadership, a bit surprised when he seemed upset by this.
It was a disaster. Within a year Ofsted condemned the place, a year later he quit. The school was academised, the same failed approaches tried, the same failure, the next Head was moved, the same failed approaches tried, the results fell off a cliff, I quit. The school is no longer the place we loved. It is souless, cold, brutal. A clusterfuck of failure and failures in a pretty (useless) new building.
All of that heroic effort wasted, futile.
But not for the individual pupils at the time…..