You can’t handle the truth!

We have a new ever present danger.

Research into education is a good thing, the best research provides with ways forward to improve our work, it equally provides more questions than answers, it asks us to explore, to question, to think and reflect on the teaching in our schools. Good things that we should all aspire to but… 

And it’s a big BUT… 

We must be careful not to make assumptions, we must remain open to things working and not working, we must THINK!  

In reality we must step back and question, what evidence?, where is it from?, does it apply?, Is it relevant?, and most importantly how is it being used? 

There are too many cases of research being shoe-horned to fit an ideological argument. Research is currently brandished by some as a flaming sword of justice to smite unbelievers and castigate the unclean.

Research is cherry-picked, bent and twisted to support an argument and back an approach, selling an ideology is seemingly more important than whether it actually may or may not work. 

The worst thing we can do is blindly accept approaches because the author claims its “evidence informed” 

Personally I think “evidence informed” is the most dangerous phrase in education at the moment. It’s dangerous because it has become short-hand for do it this way. It’s a phrase that is constantly being used. It’s used to stop discussion, it’s used to prevent critique.

I am amazed at how many proponents of research in education try to shut down challenge and ignore alternative research. I am horrified that “evidence informed” has become synonymous shorthand for the “one true educational way” being sold to us from an increasing number of “edu-pushers” selling the next silver-bullet fix. The phrase is dropped to close–down argument, to “shhh!” challenging voices. Opposition is belittled and sneered at.  

Conversely some people are happy to run on anecdotes if it suits their cause. Evidence apparently only counts if it suits them, other evidence is cast aside. The quest for truth is less important than the quest for control.  

We are at a pivotal moment. We need some truth and honesty. Increasingly education is feeling done to rather than done with. All is done under the banner of research-informed and woe betide those who stand in front of this belligerent steamroller on it reckless journey. 

Research has now been weaponised. The question is Do we want research to control us or to set us free?

The Fallacy…(Teachers in disadvantaged aren’t as good)

I’m fed up.

I’m sick and tired of the trotted out narrative.

Talk again of £10000 payments to people to work in disadvantaged areas.

Head of Ofsted doubling down that the system isn’t biased but is jut ‘fair’ when it looks at disadvantaged schools, even though significantly more disadvantaged schools are in category.

The ongoing narrative that teachers who work in disadvantaged schools are somehow worse teachers is an utter fallacy. Equally, if you are a school in a disadvantaged area, you know the challenges you have to overcome to even get to the start-line.

Not sure where this blog is going, think it will probably be a waffle that may or may not get to a point.

Let me clarify. I’ve spent most of my career working in schools with significant disadvantage. I haven’t worked in those schools because of some misguided hero complex about helping the poor people.

My first job came about after a desperate look for a position, I sent out scattershot applications to schools on Teesside to try and get my first job (I’m not from the North East, I’d never been to the North East.) The reason wasn’t some evangelical mission to help the poor northerners, it wasn’t a quest to give back to society, it was a simple fact that a girl I had just started seeing at Leicester University had got a job in Stockton on Tees. (we’re still together 28 later with two grown up boys)

If I’m honest I knew little about the area or the school where I started my career. The school (Marton Grove) was in the middle of the Grove Hill council estate in Middlesbrough. For a southern quite naive lad lad this was quite an eye-opener. I got my first true understanding the impact of poverty and deprivation can have on children. The teaching staff were amazing, truly committed and passionate but what was most amazing was the sense of community and how the school was valued. The head, Mr Gent, was a great head, he believed in the power of great teachers and teaching and created a school where that could happen. I was there four years and genuinely I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my teaching career. It was hard, there were challenges but what got us through was the amazing sense of team.

After four years an opportunity came up and I moved to a school that had just gone into special measures. It wasn’t because I was a special teacher, more that the school was desperate and I fancied a change. Archibald Primary School is a school that will be forever in my heart. It was situated in a hugely deprived area of Middlesbrough between the Whinny Banks (Whinny Bronx) and the Newport estates. My first day driving into school I saw two children driving a milk float down the street being chased by a rather overweight milkman. 25 minutes later those two children walked into my Year 4 class. The school wasn’t in a great place. The class I had, had had twenty-seven different teachers in the past two terms, not one had stuck it out. If I’m honest the first three months were nightmarish, the new head was getting things in place but things take time to bed in. I had some truly terrible days, I had to evacuate the class on more than one occasion. Each day though I’d walk back in the class and try again, slowly, little by little things improved, not because of great teaching but mainly due to the fact I just kept coming back. The most important thing I bought to the job was a stubborn pig-headedness. What made a difference was the children began to trust me, we became a little tribe. I took that class on into year 5 and then on again into year 6.

Did they need me to be a great teacher?…not particularly. Did they need me to be their teacher?…absolutely yes.

At the end of year 6 the children did pretty well in their SATS (we were the 5th most improved school in the country,,,its much easier to improve when previous results were rubbish). I was there for seven years and they were utterly joyous. The staff team were amazing, I have never laughed so much in a job as I did there or been in a staffroom that has sworn as much. We had each others backs, we were a team. The teachers were amazing, teaching was a small part of the job, the care for the young people in the school was extraordinary. I was there 7 years at the end of that time the school got an outstanding Ofsted report. A group of teachers never deserved it more. Were we great teachers, well some were, but what made the difference is that everyone of them was ‘bothered’

Fast forward 14 years to my current school. I’ve been there 7 years. I feel we have that team in school. Big difference is they are much better teachers than I ever was. As a school we are in a good place. The past year has demanded so much more than teaching and this wonderful group of people let no-one down. They truly are bothered.

The school has moved from RI to good and then another good. Did the school need ‘outstanding’ teachers flown in? No. Did we need teachers with a disadvantaged saviour complex. No.

In fact apart from a couple of retirements this is the same group of teachers. They all are people that are committed to the school and give a stuff about the community and the families of our school. Parent’s trust them, parents listen to them. In our community a lot of that comes from the understanding that you are genuinely bothered.

I think my point is, schools in disadvantaged areas probably don’t need mega teachers bused in. I’d pretty much guess, most of them have a lot of the teachers they need, teachers that are bothered, teachers that are there for the right reasons, teachers who are there because they are bothered.

In all the schools I’ve worked in what I’ve seen make the difference is great leadership, ultimately brave leadership that creates an environment and culture where the teachers are valued and can do their job. Does Ofsted help that happen?. In my experience…No.

Personally, I see many prospective leaders shy away from those schools, due to the systemic pressures. (it truly is a Catch 22) and sometimes the leaders who step up are not the leaders the schools needs. They are about them and their reputation rather than the school and I’ve seen this destroy a school more than once.

Teachers in disadvantaged schools are not worse teachers, in fact I’d go as far as to say they are often, extraordinary and utterly amazing. What is needed is a system that supports those teachers rather than the constant denigration of them. The narrative needs to change, we need to appreciate the brilliance we have in our most challenging schools rather than constantly sticking the boot in and chipping away at how they see and value themselves.

The Special Relationship #FierceKindness

Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) | Twitter

There is something indefinably special about primary education when it really sings. We all know it, we all know that thing that truly makes the biggest difference in our classrooms yet it sometimes feels like a dirty word. A word that because it can’t be quantified, or bottled, or packaged, or sold often is dismissed. Yet even though it’s pushed into a dark corner with a blanket over it’s head in our hearts we all know that in the primary classroom it’s the thing that makes the biggest difference.

Relationships

The greatest thing about primary education is the relationship between a class-teacher and their class. It’s impossible to quantify the power of this relationship yet we all know that it truly makes a difference. The problem is we’re talking about voodoo it’s not something you can teach a person to have with a class. You can help people to be better teachers but you can’t magic a relationship.

Wandering our school I realise how lucky our children are. In every class you can feel that relationship. It’s like a frisson in the air, an electricity. There is tangible aliveness to the classes. The classes are like tribes, their routines and systems are second nature and at the centre of that is the beautiful communication from the teacher, both said and unsaid.

I’m struck by how reward systems are largely unused, equally most of the time our behaviour system while displayed prominently in every room is largely redundant, it’s there but it’s rarely needed. (when I first came to the school it was a lifeline). The class teacher’s disappointment is stronger than any sanction for most children.

Watching and listening in our classes the first thing that strikes is the level of expectation in the rooms. I listened to a year 5 have a discussion with their teacher about a piece of writing, ( I’d read the writing, it was great) and the teacher was absolutely fierce with the critique. I have to say I was worried so I spoke to the child after and her response was fascinating and truly summed up what our classrooms are about, she said:

“I know the work’s good, I know my teacher thinks that this work is good, I’ve tried my best but I want to get better, working with the teacher means I know how I can get better.”

She didn’t want stars or points, she just wanted to improve. That conversation worked in the context of a class where there was explicit trust between the pupil and the teacher. It was truly fierce but sat behind it was a confidence and security in the relationships in that classroom. #FierceKindness

Fact is great relationships in our primary classrooms are the thing that is not only a fundamental part of why primary education is special, but they can also move mountains. Sat at the core of them is security, trust, honesty and that sense of tribe.

There is craft and wild magic in the best primary classrooms you can feel it. I’m not sure however that we can ever truly capture it, bottle and sell it. That doesn’t mean however that we shouldn’t value it.

Beware false prophets, silver bullets and the curse of the FAD

Five life lessons learned from 35 years of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

Everyday the twitter-sphere is alive with the next how to teach better bit of advice. Edu-books galore wash across the market. Approaches are lauded and followers proclaim almost to the point of religious fervour, that this book or that book or this person or that person has the answer. The problem with books is invariably they tell us what they think the research tells us from their perspective. This is almost inevitably through a lens.

It’s odd having been in this 27 years to see this repeating pattern this years prophets are next years back-trackers furiously proclaiming that you just haven’t done it right or speedily repackaging to get aboard the next edu-goldrush.

Personally, I think research has real value, questioning what we do, exploring what works, honing our practice but lets pause for a minute. The moment someone proclaims this is the way you should do it we have already lost. The moment research is packaged and sold as an answer we’ve already lost the point of the research.

At the moment the research is being used to stop new research. The best research opens up exploration of new channels and ideas. In education it’s being used to stifle, close down and control rather than open up.

We’ve all got VAK horror stories, lets remember that we were told this is what the science said at that point. Personally, I found the literacy and numeracy hour structures much more damaging to good teaching. Sadly we all lack the time to properly be research-informed, school leaders will jump on the bandwagon and a research idea becomes a lesson tick-list at the drop of a hat. Ideas become display requirements, retrieval becomes a timed expectation.

I’ll be honest the teachers in my school are better teachers for being research informed, what they are not however is automatons with precise lesson structures to deliver. They are all individuals, they are all teachers, with experience and nous to make the decisions ( * a good teacher knows that each class is different on each day of the year too, so many external things influence learning and the research has yet to deal with effective learning when a spider falls off the ceiling onto someone’s book and the after effects of the trauma on learning etc)and choices in their classrooms. We talk and discuss, we hone, we develop. What makes their classrooms great is them and the more I may impose something the less I see of them.

Finally, I want to mention a teacher of ours who is retiring after 39 years working at our school. She is an utterly magnificent classroom teacher. The way she gets children working and the way they learn in her room is astounding. Is she research informed?… a little. Does she know what good teaching is?…undoubtedly. The answers are really in our classrooms.

The true answers to great teaching lie with our teachers. Problem is do they have the time and the trust to find their holy grail or will we force them to choose poorly?

*Thanks Kate you are so right

Life thru a lens… A curriculum led by stories and questions…musing

The first question we should be asking of our curriculum is why? Why do we want children to learn that?

I’ve seen loads of great curriculum resources shared on twitter many of which have made me question and think. I’ve also seen some that have made me flinch many of these being delivered in schools, full of fact without purpose or reason. Children learning piles of fact, knowledge organisers seen as the end of the learning not the start, knowing without reason. Curriculum for the head but not for the heart.

I want our curriculum to do more. A curriculum that gives children the knowledge and then the room to think. A curriculum that encourages children to view the facts through a range of perspectives. The more I think about curriculum the more I want it to do. I want the young people that leave our school to be questioning, curious and thoughtful. I want them to take evidence and apply their knowledge. We run the risk of over-stuffing our curriculum and not really getting to the point of it, a curriculum where loads is learnt but little is signified. A curriculum without soul.

Curriculum isn’t just facts it’s the lifeblood of how we teach the young people in our school to be people. What kind of young people do we want our school to produce

A great curriculum is one that is full of stories. Story in my opinion should run through a curriculum. Curriculum is a narrative, both in its small stories but also in its huge sweeping arcs. Story is threaded through our curriculum but the curriculum isn’t completely set in stone, a curriculum requires flexibility to embrace the world around it, history is important not because they know the past but because it truly helps children think about the now.

A curriculum should also be one that asks young people to think deeply about the things they know and apply that knowledge to their understanding. A great curriculum is about perspectives it’s about how we ask children to think about what they know, its about creating a lens to look at what they’ve learnt but also to look at the world around them. Curriculum isn’t black and white, its about creating nuance and seeing the stories within the facts.

Increasingly I’ve seen curriculum that ask children to be timid receivers of knowledge, to take our word for it, not to question but to regurgitate it like some overstuffed baby-bird.

If you looked at what we teach ( the knowledge ) it’s pretty similar to everyone else, it is however only the start. We look for the stories hidden in the facts, the perspectives with which to explore. Key Questions lead our thinking and provide angle they ultimately bring the purpose increasingly they don’t have one answer. Key threads run through our curriculum and these are broader than the curriculum area they are about the things we think are important for our young people.

It’s not perfect and it’s very much an ongoing work in progress, but when it works it truly sings.

Sat listening to children discuss a question and argue their point sums up what we’re trying to do.

Sorry for the waffling…I’m not sure what I’m getting at but just that curriculum needs to be needs to be more not less and we need a reason for it being.

Is there room for a maverick in our school team?

Watching the England versus Austria friendly yesterday I was struck by the fact that Jack Grealish was playing. As a Villa supporter that made me really happy. Grealish is part of that longline of mercurial talents that normally an England team doesn’t find room for, (Le Tissier, McMannaman, Merson etc) a player who is considered too much of a risk, they may provide you with brilliance but at other points they may not. Instead watching the national team we’ve often ended up watching a load of meat and potatoes players who have way more caps. Safety first. Sadly this may well be the case when we hit the tournament next week but yesterday Grealish played. The best team mangers will build a team around that talent, the worst leave them on the bench.

I was struck by the comparison to schools, increasingly there is is no room for the Mavericks in our schools the risk takers, those teachers in our schools who we remember. There is increasingly no room for the cavalier teacher, flamboyant and exciting. The one that carries a child on that educational rollercoaster. They are either to big a risk or we increasingly seem to be beating the maverick out of them with an homogenised educational soup. Educational gruel.

As school leader I want a Jack Grealish or two, a teacher who makes things happen and gets the audience to their feet.

Surely schools are a team game and we need a full squad..

Picturebook Biographies… The Power of a Story.

Any body who has seen me talk about picturebooks will know that I have a particular fascination with picturebook biographies.

As people we are fundamentally drawn to story. We remember story, we embrace, story. In my opinion a great school curriculum is one that is infused by story. Curriculum should sit on a bed of stories both, fictional and true. Learning stuff and building knowledge should be a framework for hanging  our stories  on, learning stuff should be a key part in helping us understand those stories. Dates, times, events, facts, vocabulary should all be part of helping us understand story.

Story is also our route into understanding viewpoint and perspective it helps us step outside our world and into the shoes of others.

I was struck this week having read two books The first was “ The World was Ours” by Liz Kessler an powerful holocaust story about three children, the second book was “ Nicky and Vera” by Peter Sis a biographical picturebook account of how Sir Nicholas Winton saved the lives of 669 children from Prague just before the second world war. (There is a rather wonderful That’s Life video about this). There was a point where both stories intersect in Prague and the two stories together provide us with a clarity of the impact of Sir Nicholas’s actions and also the aftermath for those he could not save. The impact of the stories together was intensely powerful and what was evident was how both stories had been meticulously researched.

Most of the most amazing and inspirational stories are to be found in real life.

And there is a lot to be learnt from the achievements of people who have gone before. But how did these figures reach their goals and what prompted them to act the ways they did?

Picture book biographies peel back history and bring to life the true stories for a younger generation of readers. The best show true understanding of their muse and are often playful in form which allows to dig even deeper into their life, story and impact. They can give us perspective and viewpoint and can add a personal point to our narratives. As my good friend Paul Watson pointed out to me when he reading a draft of this, ” We all have a story and the power is ours to make it worth telling”

Here are a few my favourite picturebook biographies, I like them because they encourage, discussion and thought about the person rather than just telling the story.

The Wall by Peter Sis is a fantastic look at life growing up behind the Iron Curtain. In this autobiographical book Sis allows us to see his inspiration, his quiet rebellion and most importantly and understanding and perspective of life for him during that time.

On Wings of Words by Jennifer Berne and Becca Stadtlander explores the life of Emily Dickenson. The book is visually arresting and encouraged me to look at her poetry in a renewed light, impacting on both my understanding and appreciation for her work.

Radiant Child by Javanka Steptoe A wonderful vibrant picturebook, that explores Basquiat’s childhood but also encourages us to realise that art and creativity can be messy and doesn’t always stay within the lines.

Elvis is King by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studios is fantastic picture of the passion, determination and drive that is required to make it. The model art is a joy to behold. Stunning

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora tells the inspiring story of Mary Walker who learnt to read aged 114. What is also does is take through a century of social, political change and civil rights and explores that change and the impact it has on a Mary herself.

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say is a stunningly powerful biography of Deaf artist James Castle. It highlights the horrendousness of the school system for children with profound learning difficulties, bullied and discarded James ultimately was still able to communicate through his art. A profound story for all.

I’m the only person I know who owns two picturebooks about photographer Dorothea Lange. Dorothea’s Eyes by Bob Rosenstock and Gerard Dubois and Dorothea Lange by Carole Boston Weatherford and Sarah Green explore the life and impact of a photographer who opened America’s eyes to the poverty and neglect that existed during the great depression. The books encourage us all to be brave enough to see.

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess and Kris Di Giacomo is a tells the story of E.E.Cummings, what is brilliant about it is how it encourages children to be playful with language form and words. Definitely one of my favourites.

Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker and Dow Phumirux is a rightfully popular Picturebook, crossing boundaries and barriers to show and opening doors to possibilities.

You can find lots more on twitter under the hashtag #PicturebookBiographies

Her are a few others I love…

The Anger…

I am a shaken bottle of Coke, I am a dormant volcano bursting to furious life.

Pressure builds…

Throughout the pandemic I have gently seethed, there have been moments of “GRRRR!!!!” but after mild venting, the slow unscrewing of the lid, I have settled back to relative calm frustration.

PRessure builds…

Throughout the last 10 months we have done everything asked of us, I have never had 1 member of staff refuse to work, they’ve constantly stepped up to the job despite their understandable anxieties and worries. For my part I have done everything I can to mitigate the risk, to make school as safe as we can.

PREssure builds…

We have made unworkable guidance work, we have done everything, we have followed DfE guidance to the letter. We have trusted those in power to have the safety and interests of its workforce at heart. 

PRESsure builds…

All this has been through the spotlight of a vociferous media, which has hounded and accused throughout, through social media attacks from right-wing blow-hards and government lapdogs chanting bile from the comfort of their home office to vicious audience.

PRESSure builds…

We like most schools have been hit quite hard by the virus, nine staff infected, two still not back after more than 6 weeks. Yet on twitter there are constant wombles, telling us that we could have caught it anywhere, probably at the shops. This has a had a significant impact on school and pupils.

Let me think…a 1 hour visit to the local supermarket or 25 hours a week in a class with 30 children?

PRESSUre builds…

We’ve seen the government threaten Local Authorities schools with legal action for making decisions and trying to keep their communities safe and then it what can only be seen as spite not include those areas when new lockdown decisions were made.

PRESSURe builds…

Throughout we’ve just got on with the job. Heads down, smiles on. Our staff have been magnificent. I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received from our trust. They have been utterly superb throughout. 

PRESSURE builds…

We’ve turned round a home learning offer in less than 24 hours and now have 97% engaging with it. Sadly our Secretary of state felt the need to legally threaten schools about this and make out Ofsted were going to be the DfE’siron boot. Not sure Ofsted were happy about that. We then have had the Secretary of State declare one way is best without evidence and spark a thousand parental phonecalls.

PRESSURE Builds…

We’ve been told ‘Schools are Safe’ by our at best inept Prime-minster, and then we’ve had them opened for a day risking huge transmission in January before they then had to close all schools. We then have massively increased numbers in primary due to guidance which has just flung the doors wide open.

PRESSURE BUilds…

We’ve had celebratory backslapping about devices for pupils, yet allocations were changed and most primary schools still have not received their allocation. If your bubble didn’t pop in the first half-term then you lucked out. Let’s be honest if the money had gone to schools directly this would have been solved by now. Coupled with vulnerable guidance about not being able to access online means pupils can come into school just adds to the ongoing pressure.

PRESSURE BUIlds…

There has been derisory financial support for schools both in terms of setting up schools safely but also with staffing costs due to illness. For us our biggest challenge has been due to support staff being off, we have 10 children with significant EHCP in school, we have to cover.

PRESSURE BUILds…

We’ve seen people we care about get ill sometimes seriously ill and dealt with that while trying to do the job.

PRESSURE BUILDs…

We Never Closed!

PRESSURE BUILDS…BANG!

For me however it’s the figures about school infections being higher than the average both for teachers (almost double) and support staff (much higher than that) that has been straw that has finally broken the camel’s back.

I personally need to believe that the Department of Education has the well-being and safety of all including its workforce at its heart. Fact is now we know they don’t. 

They have failed to consult, they’ve led by dictat, they’ve flipped and flopped but ultimately they’ve failed to protect the people who have done everything they can to make the departments policies and guidance work.

YES I AM ANGRY.

What am I doing?…logistics

I’m sat here on a Sunday afternoon, wondering how I can fill the gaps and there are gaps, more staff isolating. Two emails, a text message and member of staff on the CEV list following the new lockdown on top of four staff already being out from closing a bubble. Our problem is due to the number of children (well above the national average) with significant special needs we have no capacity to cover, if a staff member is off, we must cover that immediately means supply. (We have no supply budget) 

If I’m honest the job feels like a long way from the job, I aspired to 6 years ago.

When I became a headteacher it was with an idealistic fervour that I could improve the education for children in our school, that I could support the teachers and staff to be that best they could be. This is not the job I’m now doing. Some weeks it feels that I cannot even get close to looking at how school is doing.

Every day is a logistics challenge, filling gaps and managing holes. We can talk as much as we like about catch-up however currently my first aim is to KEEP OPEN. The pressure is constant, and I have to say without the brilliant support of our Trust I think I would have folded under the pressure of it.

Don’t get me wrong school is amazing and the staff are doing an astounding job. Children are in, settled and working hard. It does however feel increasingly fragile.

Last week I taught all week in Year 5 as the teacher was isolating and we couldn’t afford more supply. This wasn’t the best plan when we were informed of a positive child in year 6 on Wednesday morning (two jobs one person is not possible).   I’ve done almost every lunchtime there is no downtime, every minute is solving the daily ongoing problems that arise.

 Then I look at my budget, which we have worked so hard to get back into credit and was running on a fine line. The costs are now starting to stack up with supply costs that we cannot afford. The government needs to look at this and support schools to stay open

Then we get the other stuff …That Ofsted are even contemplating starting regular inspections in January is frankly ludicrous. That the plan is for primary schools to get back on the SATS accountability train is just ridiculous.

Personally, I believe schools should be open, but we need less empty rhetoric from government and more support, both financially and systemically to keep our schools staffed and as safe as we can.

The Attendance Conundrum.

Who knew it would only take a Global Pandemic to get my attendance above the national average.

For the last 6 years our yearly regular battle has been to try to get attendance above 95% (actually now 96%). We have strived for the hallowed ground of the national average. However valiantly we have fought ultimately we have come up short at the final hurdle. We have tried everything…awards, class rewards, attendance improvement awards, meetings with parents, engagement of the Educational Social Worker (when there was one), fining…you name it, we’ve tried it.  

Regardless of the actions we have had roughly the same result with slight improvements (Attendance rising like a rather tired bear just coming out of hibernation from 94.2% to the glorious heights of 94.7%) 

Our pattern of attendance goes roughly like this 

Autumn 1 90-91% 

Autumn 2 93-94% 

Spring 1 97-98% 

Spring 2 95-96% 

Summer 1 95-96% 

Summer 2 92-93% 

Occasionally there is bit of variation depending on whether a bug hits and knocks the attendance but generally those have been the figures.  

So I’m sat with my attendance for the autumn term so far in the middle of a global pandemic and my figure is the best autumn attendance I’ve ever had since I’ve been at the school. 97.7% Year1-Year 6. 

So what is the difference. Well for us there is one big change. Hardly anybody this year has taken a term-time holiday. That’s it.

Let me explain my school is in Whitby a lot of our parent’s work in seasonal jobs related to tourism. The tourist season in Whitby has been ever expanding, it starts in March and continues all the way into the start of November with its Goth-fest which usually brings the Vampiric hordes flocking. Summer is busy, Easter is busy, half-terms are busy. Our parents who can’t take holidays in the holiday time grab holidays when there are lulls in the tourism (term-time), also some parents choose to go in term-time because they can’t afford to go in the seasonal peak times. To be fair this year I couldn’t flippin’ afford a small cottage in Cornwall this summer due to the ridiculous mark-ups. 

As a head I understand the impact term-time holiday can have, I also completely understand why our parents choose to take their children on holiday.  

Do I think I’ve cracked attendance? Nope. 

 Will the same problem resurface next year or whenever this situation is over?  Undoubtedly. 

For us as a school, attendance in an Ofsted will always be a battle-ground, we are forever on the back foot.  

I do think it’s time for a more-nuanced discussion about school attendance. The percentage really is only the start.