The slow death of my school following the vampire kiss of OFSTED is even more dramatic and complete than I had expected. To continue the Titanic analogy from a previous post, the decks are awash, the passengers becoming unruly, the officers panicking and the band are still fiddling as the sea folds over the bow. All the lifeboats have left with the privileged, the unscrupulous and a random selection of the rest. We are awaiting the final moments with a mixture of fascination and fear.
The first to leave were those with abundant ambition un encumbered by commitment; they secured new positions before publication of the report so that they could claim their initiatives were a great success before the truth embarrassed them. Leaders able to float away on final salary pensions slightly reduced by prematurity were next and were followed by the desperate who would accept demotion if it meant a ‘Good’ school as the madness multiplied of ‘school improvement’.
An avalanche of consultants decended, observing reporting, plan writing and convincing those with budgetary authority that the ship won’t sink, they can help, making the crew work harder is the way to keep afloat. They carefully avoided interacting with the unruly passengers (pupils); their agenda is extended self employment not saving the school, and why not? they have no formal commitment to it. Some have been supervising the sinking situation for over a year, they have made a fortune and still those with the purse-strings haven’t seen that things are worse not better.
Specifically, the first measure was increased lesson observation/learning walks/learning temperature taking/support visit/monitoring improvement measures and several other euphemisms for teacher scrutiny. Typically teachers are seen briefly 2 or 3 times a day. There isn’t intervention in misbehaving groups, they are reported to middle managers at their extra weekly meetings. Next came lesson plans. A full page of boxes to tick, and then the plan to show “more engaging lessons” with “personalised learning” (there are SLT and consultants assigned for this) this must lie beside the seating plan with colour coded annotation for every category of pupil. Every consultant does a work scrutiny as do middle and senior leaders, reports are made to middle leaders. A vast plan for improvement was launched, detailed, long and irrelevant to all except HMI, consultants, Governors and SLT. The rest have read it once, marvelled at its irrelevance and forgotten it. Observations check the plan, seating plan and behaviour, “feedback” is about compliance. Data became king. There began an insatiable appetite for grading pupils: more reports, more tests more analysis, by teachers, leaders and consultants. There was huge pressure to show ‘progress’.
A new behaviour plan was incredibly even more complicated than the previous labyrinthine system and seemingly designed to prevent senior staff being troubled by naughty pupils; they would be removed to a colleague or at worst to a room with a teaching assistant. Teachers were taught that they were the cause of the behaviour problem: less engaging lessons and an inability to de-escalate confrontation the main issues. Mostly, phone calls by teachers for help simply went unanswered until the problem had “walked off”. Rightly, teachers were told to supervise the corridors between lessons but few leaders did this between them; pupils texted, met up and roamed the building. If found they would simply be shown to a classroom.
The behaviour steadily became worse, the staff turnover steadily increased, the proportion of supply teachers steadily increased, the learning slowly dwindled, the teachers ever more exhausted and harassed, the parents more disgruntled, THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL. So most of SLT have left within a year. The people in charge are consultants, supply SLT and leaders working out their notice having resigned before this years results. Replacing staff has become almost impossible at every level, few applicants, most with ‘issues’ and of course no NQT allowed.
The future is dark, cold and deep. Soon the ship will begin its final plunge, the sinking will accelerate on its final voyage to oblivion. It’s place will be taken by a re-launched ship built without a bottom, sailed without a permanent crew and destined to follow its predecessor into the depths. Ultimately, permanent closure or merger will prevail, the corporate identity merely a memory and the community left with another casualty.
My school may be a walking corpse but it is MY corpse and I am wedded to it ’till death do us part. I inhabit it with determination and an exhausted but grim fascination with the process.
THIS is “Turning Around Failing Schools” by OFSTED in 2015.