The Sh*t Head.

It has been my misfortune to observe the erosion, dilution or reduction in Headteacher competence since the days NPQH began at close quarters. The advice below is for any further candidates who wish to add to the chaos, confusion and cock-up that passes for “management” in many of our secondary schools. It is not modelled on any one Head but on direct experience of the three most incompetent that I have had the misfortune to work for but even the best that I worked with had hints of some points.

Just to be crystal: this is not fiction; I have lived these.

To be a Sh*t Head:

1. Vision: For Gove’s sake don’t have one of these, your vision is simply that you are in charge. If asked, trot out the cliches: “outstanding”, “no-child-left-behind”, “growth-mindset”, “21st century learners” etc. Take a serious tone and ensure that the audience understands that you are determined to “drive-up” standards and achieve “educational excellence”.

2. Visibility/Accessibility: Make it clear: your door is always closed. You work from your office, you do not accept e-mails from staff. If teachers have to talk to you they can make an appointment like everyone else (20m max.). The reason for this is obvious; you cannot risk children being ‘cheeky’ to you in public, therefore you cannot mix with them in unstructured settings. You simply want the staff to do as they are told, you are the Head so by definition you. Are the most qualified, experienced and knowledgable person in the faculty. Q.E.D.

3. DO NOT TEACH! Simply tell them you were outstanding.

4. Charisma: Is overrated. John Major and Ian Duncan Smith weren’t so bad were they? It’s policies and procedures that make a school not personality and people. Don’t even try to make an impression: your position is your personality.

5. Sweat the small stuff: Your motto is “consistency” (you mean compliance and uniformity) do not allow staff any leeway for individuality or originality: they conform or face action; whether this is the colour of their pen or the length of their skirt. You probably won’t be aware of the chaos in the English corridor after break (see 2), this is a good thing as you can concentrate on their late submission of their Rapid Improvement Plan.

6. Consultation: Minimise this. You rule by policy: devise it, inscribe it, have it agreed by representatives one-to-one, present to Governors and only then ask more widely for comment. For best results present it at busy periods and allow a week or less for response (written). Do not allow any discussion in open forum. Remember: you truly believe in your “pointy” command model of management with you at the pinnacle; what could a classroom teacher know that you don’t? after all, you taught (some specially selected groups, sometimes [meetings! Meetings!]) only a few years ago.

7. DESTROY  DISSENT: Tell them you won’t tolerate it, stamp on any grumbling. Scan social media for this: any criticism voiced or written push to formal disciplinary via HR. Particularly watch SLT, remind them of ‘corporate responsibility’ and that you are their appraiser/referee.

8. Pace of change: This must be rapid to show you are “taking firm and decisive action”. Make sure you have a major staff re-organisation at least every six months, role changes more frequently and curriculum or timetable changes termly. Try to have a minor rule change or policy shift at least fortnightly. This will be what you can point to to show that you have been working hard for improvement and will keep everyone off-balance and hopefully exposed to a policy infringement if you need it.

9. Lie: If caught out in error or at risk of exposure to censure, alter truth. This may extend to providing policy or role outlines that were never agreed or even seen. Present them as if they were. Particularly lie to Governors about progress: use statistics in the traditional way.

10. Corruption: Is a dirty word for treats. You and your SLT deserve those away days in luxury. Your salary compared to some of these exec Heads is paltry. Maximising expenses payment is nothing like the M.P. Scandal. Finally, if you have to ask a staff member to do something dishonest or immoral, they are unlikely to ‘blow the whistle’ after all, you have all the power: it’s your game and you are the referee.

……and if it all goes wrong? Resign for  ‘personal’ or ‘health’ reasons and become a consultant, inspector or step-in SLT. Leave chanting “A school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”.

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#rED15: How did it move me?

A big part of the reasons that I have taken to attending ResearchEd events is the way it makes me feel on the day and after, especially when ‘topped up’ with twitter. I am an old teacher, one of the oldest at my school (which means mid-fifties these days); the pupils fill my day with interest and “challenge” but I rarely get to take part in intellectual discourse that has me hyper focused trying to follow arguments and search for weakness and omission. Thinking makes me feel fresher, exercised, stimulated and will last for weeks as I ponder points afresh.

It felt a little less slickly glib this year, the free clutter less ‘wow’, the Master MC less involved in the introduction with his perfect synergy of comedy, accent and smooth (night-club) host. It didn’t matter. We could get straight to the meat and begin the yo-yo march on the stairs of the ‘building of many levels’. As always Old Andrew (who isn’t) fired me into the orbit of philosophy when I expected something else, had my brain burning and my belly bouncing with laughter. My mind re-awoke the importance of precision when thinking critically about ideas including research; it marvelled at the cleverness that filled the room. I like trying to keep up with smart people.

A quick rush and another packed session (they all were) to take part in applying the re-awakened deep thought to a piece of research on the effect of Academy Chains on disadvantaged pupils. The Q and A of the authors let us in to the nuance of the findings and the process of the research. Fascination, a window in to the ‘state of the art’, speculation of causation, my brain is burning the calories in waves of charge.

A model coaching system was explained next, exquisitely designed, rigorously thought through with the subtle balance of objective and subjective evidence, of compulsion and encouragement all being explained by a master unfazed by a Leading Authority of effectiveness measurement in the audience. I wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to feel this support and development at my school. Bittersweet, I realised it was unlikely in our circumstance or at my age.

A walk outside for lunch, mind whirling but younger legs perhaps dimly feeling echoes of their student days. A physical circuit to make a mental map to help settle my thoughts.

After lunch, two more of the same sort of session but a little frustration of more predictability and admitted weakness in the evidence. Frustration, fast thinking, appreciation of the intellect of the presenters.

A break, then a marathon session in a hot stuffy sports hall. Two masters of the art of speaking on Ed research demonstrate their art. A pang of regret, a missed opportunity for something new? And yet they still enthuse, stimulate and make me chuckle. I am tired now, fuzzy-minded and need a snooze!

Later, some short conversations with stars of the twitterati add more variety and interest. I AM a learning enthusiast. The up-for-it feeling battered to bits by my routine new-year “INSET” is back! ResearchEd charges my batteries, opens my mind, feeds my teaching soul and expands my knowledge. It makes me FEEL younger, smarter, less jaded, less cynical. I WILL do better this year.

Thank you to all who made this possible, you know who you are, you were there, you made it happen. Thanks.

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Sinking with the ship 3: Last Man Standing.

They are almost all gone now. The ‘goodbyes’ had to be sorted into shifts and the collections could bankrupt if all were patronised. September will see half of the staff on their first day. A year ago, I was in a department of a dozen (9FTE). Many were long-term colleagues, the most recent with three years’ service. I will be the only one left in September. This is how OFSTED ‘turn round’ struggling schools.

The key middle leaders have all left, unable to withstand the blowtorch of impossible SLT demand whilst living the effect with their teams. They have all ‘downsized’ though one has since been persuaded to return to management. The maths department have turned over again. Even the supply teachers came, went and sometimes returned for encore. This is how OFSTED ‘turn round’ struggling schools.

The SLT retired en-masse. Only one of the previous years cabal was still actively in post by the end of the year. Most hung on for a while to see if they could ride out the storm but over a term it became obvious that they were doomed. Rather than admit inadequate leadership they left for health reasons. They were replaced ad-hoc by supply SLT a thing I had not realised existed! This is how OFSTED ‘turn round’ struggling schools.

This unmanageable mess was enabled by Governors and SLT but the catalyst for chaos was OFSTED. So what of their monitoring? Invisible. After a wander round three months after condemnation HMI accepted the made up nonsense numbers showing pupil progress, looked at the plan of many pious hopes and declared it “fit for purpose” and was allegedly convinced that the carpet bagging consultants would ‘support’ SLT in doubling attainment. Then? Nothing. Six months later when Yr11 were on study leave, when many other pupils were on visits when all assessments were complete, the academic and administrative pressure relieved, they returned. They found behaviour much improved, lessons a little better and (made up) data showing progress. They wrote a pleasant letter and everyone engaged in back patting except for the teachers who remained and knew the unreal, superficial mirage that had been painted and praised. This is how OFSTED ‘turn round’ struggling schools.

One of my friends quit at the end after a decade of service, most in middle management summing up the situation succinctly when I asked if he would miss the old school, “Not really, there isn’t any of it left!”. Next years school will be a differerent institution paradoxically with the same pupils. It will still suffer the ‘Sword of Damocles’ and the new leaders will need to be very nimble to survive. I will help wherever I can because the people who have not been helped by this year of invisible demolition are the pupils, the real school, the real victims of a political agenda unfolded by Blair and exploited ever since. A year ago at ResearchEd14 I listened to M. Cladingbowl say that OFSTED turn round struggling schools. Well not mine, nor any that I know of in my area. This is how OFSTED close struggling schools.

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This is why….

Recently, I read a post from @disidealist that gave all the reasons that have kept me in the classroom for more than 30 years and more particularly, why I have stayed in “bog standard” comprehensives in deprived areas. One rarely hears the notion of service these days and I hadn’t heard anyone elucidate the desire to serve their community in locally managed and accountable institutions before. I am glad that these notions have not become extinct.

These altruisms do not provide sufficient motivation to ward off the battering of the primitive practise of ‘school improvement’ in the modern era, a policy which becomes ever more oxymoronic the more it is applied. The privatisation of  education has been camouflaged with ‘raising standards’ and schools continue to be executed by OFSTED the brunt of these dogmas is bourne by teachers. Another installment in the ‘sinking school’ blogs is due but I will persist a little longer in its classrooms because of this:

I could never thank you enough for everything you have done for me over the past 2 years. You may not realise this, but you have given me hope throughout the hardest times and helped me reach the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. You are an incredible teacher and I will never forget you.”

The student involved didn’t realise that this quote equally applied to them. The joy I felt at their recovery from depression and the limitation of the damage to a grade or so after the extended absence, the self harm and the complete loss of self belief, the joy at seeing them laugh, the satisfaction at their recovery of study and self confidence has “given me hope throughout the hardest times”. This is why I teach. The students give so much more than they take.

And yes, I had a lump in my throat and something in my eye…

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Sinking with the Ship part 2. Watching the lifeboats leaving.

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.


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Consultants: the obscene quantities of cash, the confidence tricks and riding the merry-go-round of failure.

Some years ago I met a Gentle Man that changed my mind about consultants. He is wise, capable and worth every penny of his modest fee.

More recently, I have been reminded that he is an exception and that ‘school improvement’ has provided rich opportunities for incapable parasites to infest institutions and perpetrate their confidence tricks on rabbit-in-the-headlight Heads in RI and SM schools.

They were introduced as “Ex-Head”, “Ex-Executive Head”, “Consultant”, “OFSTED inspector”. A dig around the web found that one had been a principal of a part of an Academy briefly, before free-falling results led to Category 4, resignation and reorganisation. One hadn’t really been a head at all; the executive Head Teacher title involved no actual running of a school, in fact there was no evidence of teaching sullying their career at all for the past twenty years. Of course, the “inspector” title was associate. A career seemed to have been built on ‘advice’.

They smiled, learning walked, work scrutinied, sat in offices tapping keyboards, met with SLT and said that the school was basically sound, a few “tweaks” would see it found “Good” at the next inspection. It reassured the Head, countered those harbingers of doom that said that behaviour was poor, learning laggardly and results about to imitate a submarine. And it was a lie.

OFSTED came: Special Measures ensued. Were these advisers asked for some of their fees back? At least, were they dispensed with? Unbelievably, they were given more cash, more days, more prominence. They were joined by others: another ex-Head of a failed Academy, other more ghostly office inhabitants, rarely seen on a corridor still less a classroom, writing more reports, having more meetings and drafting more policies. Some came and went without disturbing anyone, others provided the full inconvenience; another unofficial OFSTED. What were they for? The official report was clear; it was obvious that the school should do what it said. The Consultants seem to have been used to try to show progress without changing practice and to reform policy without significantly altering principle or procedure. They provided ‘training’: hours about catering for Learning Styles, Multiple intelligences and differentiation, an explanation that poor behaviour was because teachers didn’t “de-escalate conflict” and called for support too much and when daily-abused teachers muttered discontent at this the Consultant audience intervened to tell them how “hard SLT and consultants had worked on this policy”. They aren’t even good snake-oil salespeople, they need a desperate audience to accept their lies, superficial observations and soothing suggestions that fundamental revolutionary change BY SLT is not needed. No-one has asked the supply teachers, actually working, immersed in the institution, still less the permanent staff. What would they know?

The real obscenity of this is the cost. A Deputy complained to me that one was trousering well in excess of £500 per day and that if scaled up to an annual salary would be paid six figures. Some of the others get more. At one of the daily harangues they were lined up before the staff, several of which performed a quick calculation that £3000 would leave the building in their accounts for that day and to what effect? At best none, at worst more disruption to lessons and routine work and more ammunition for inaction. The monthly cost must be a substantial five figure sum, the opportunity cost is even more heartbreaking: imagine spending the same amount on people to supervise the students more closely, to quieten the unstructured times, to sit with the restless or removed in classes.

How do they get away with it? Some rely on a lack of due diligence by desperate Heads, others are fronted by agencies and more are provided by Academy trusts and teaching schools as part of their ‘school improvement’ narrative. They are unaccountable. They swarm over the terminally sick school and when it succumbs they flee the corpse to infect another host. A never-ending merry go round of failure that mirrors the career of some.

I am more than ever convinced that the Gentle Man I met so long ago really is a diamond in a cess-pit.

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Sinking with the Ship

The recent progress of my school keeps pushing the analogy of the “Titanic” to the front of my mind, it’s headlong dash into hazardous waters brought to a panic strewn stand following the iceberg of OFSTED. It’s ultimate fate sealed but not immediately visible, the pretence that the ship can be saved as it settles deeper into the icy waters and the ultimate destruction of an institution in a terrible climax of chaos. This is why….

The Iceberg:

They came, they saw, they condemned.
It wasn’t a surprise to those who were looking ahead with un-fogged vision but it was overly harsh and riven with prejudice and selective evidence. OFSTED offer anecdotes to illustrate a view of a couple of individuals which form their devastating judgements. One petty example that chimes with the preconception of an inspector will be cited as proof of practice, the odd observation reinforcing the polemic. The kiss of the iceberg is too brief to examine the ship in full detail, a few key numbers have determined the damage before contact is even made. My school was pierced below the waterline in every compartment whilst most ‘on board’ barely noticed.

The Aftermath:

At first the ‘Ship’ glided on under its own momentum, the crew looked to the officers for emergency action but they seemed stunned into paralysis. Denial and despair seemed to be the policy. Then some signs of comprehension and damage control began; new behaviour monitoring (and classroom monitoring too), the officers left their offices and patrolled the corridors calling on lessons every day. Perhaps this event will lead to a better run ship. The crew saw hope.

It didn’t last long. There had been advisors “consultants” before the collision. They had told the officers that the ship was basically sound, that some minor alterations of course would ensure safe passage. When they first came they were researched by the crew who were shocked to find that they were “Captains” of ‘ships’ that had already sunk and that had abandoned ship just as it went down, then they had started their consultancy. [Always Google consultants.] They were not thrown overboard! They continued to dispense expensive ineffective advice, telling the Captain what he wanted to hear and confusing the path to possible salvage. Suddenly, they were joined by more, many more. They didn’t do any actual interacting with the customers, they just observed the crew and gave reports to the Captain.

The panic-driven nonsense began. All lessons would have lesson plans on a standard form to show observers that “more engaging lessons” were planned to improve behaviour (yes that was OFSTEDs demand), rapidly repeated work scrutiny would insist that books were more often inscribed with “advice to improve”, not sometimes but every time and that peer marking was always moderated by staff comment. The crew would show how they were ‘challenging’ Priority Passengers or PPs as they were known. The work of the crew would be observed several times a day to varying degree, any slip-ups would result in the dreaded “Support”. There would be more meetings to give orders and orders is what instructions now were. Any variance, laggardlyness or even disagreement would result in a charge for disciplinary action. This to show that the officers were now “effective in holding teachers to account”. This wasn’t simply tightening procedures and ensuring effective practice, it added several hours to each day’s work without any real improvement in performance. It came with changes generated by verbal comments by OFSTED inspectors which were not included in the report such as “I don’t see how you can meet the needs of each child in a mixed ability class”. The officers re-arranged all classes in line with the new orders.

We were ‘fiddling whilst Rome burned’. Deep below the structure was failing, the ship was settling deeper. Whilst salvage experts circled like grim vultures to see if they would buy the remains to re-float the ship, it was being deserted by crew and becoming ever more impotent at doing it’s designed job.

The Crew:

After the impact many took to the lifeboats. The old, the easily mobile and those who could afford to swim away. OFSTED cripple a school by announcing that the special measures madness will apply, discouraging all but the most desperate or dedicated from joining the crew and they forbid NQT. It makes replacing staff almost impossible. The crew consisted more and more of temporary transfers and stop-gap draftees. Those with a long term stake shrank to an ever more pressured, harried, exhausted and eventually sick core. There was talk of mutiny. Ringleaders from Unions were smuggled in and talk of strike began. The crew needed hope, inspiration and help: they got despair, oppression and demand. They became less effective by the hour.

Drowning on deck:

I may seem as an opponent of hope and harbinger of doom but I know what will happen in the summer. The only chance of salvation is a miraculous jump in results. That vision is a mirage. Deep below, the water is flooding compartment after compartment and, although the ‘ship’ looks as if it will still float, it is sinking fast. Meanwhile I am ‘drowning’ under the pressure; becoming almost incompetent myself as I try to meet every demand. I am slipping under and I haven’t even got wet yet.

I will let you know how it feels to ride the ship down (or drown).

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