I am sat writing this, as I feel I really need to put down somewhere what a rollercoaster my first two years of headship have been.
Just over two years ago I had my first look at the school I became head of. The school had just recieved its second Requires Improvement judgement from Ofsted, the head had retired leaving a leadership vacuum that the deputy at that point was bravely trying to fill. Staff morale was at an all-time low, this was compounded by a review visit from the LA just after I started, which slammed the school. To be fair, where we were was closer to special measures than good. To be sat having achieved Good with Outstanding behaviour in our December Ofsted visit still feels unreal, but equally seem a good point to reflect.
I just want to say at this point this is not a big “look at me and what I’ve done” post, which on reading the opening definitely seems to be where it is going.
Firstly I want to state we got there without losing a member of staff. I have the same teachers (apart from My Deputy Mrs H who retired in January after 38 years at the school, so glad she was here when we achieved good, she deserved it for her love and commitment to the school), the same Teaching assisstants, the same office staff, the same cleaners (apart from Jen who retired, but still seems to be around.)
Staff were initially very defensive and protective of their school, the previous head had been promoted from within, so had carried on the traditions of the school. I was an outsider and not just that, an outsider who was going to make decisions about their school. This was very threatening for the staff.
I would love to say that when I came into school I was collegiate in my approach and we moved forward together with a common purpose. I would love to say I listened and embraced their ideas. I would love to say that I didn’t increase their workload, and that the school had been happy for the two years I have been there. I would love to say that I was always confident that we could do the job that was needed. I would love to say that every decision made had been welcomed and supported with open arms (It would have made it easier.)
Unfortunately, I can’t say any of those things. I made decisions that upset people. I told staff what to do even though they didn’t agree. Staff had to do more work. There has been anger and tears (from them and me). I almost stopped believing we could get there. I was bullish at times, in the words of Wilshaw I was a ‘bruiser.’ (If you met me you probably wouldn’t believe it was possible). At points school felt worse than before I had been there. Equally I made mistakes, I got stuff wrong. The fact is at various times you have to do things in different ways, sometimes the job isn’t nice.
Which brings us to the blog title. I had to be brave. I had to see the bigger picture and where we were going. Coming from outside the school helped. (I have a new deputy head who has come and again made me look at school in different way with different eyes) Fresh eyes and fresh perspectives, allowed us to look at what was important but also to see what wasn’t working. Children were put as the prime reason for any actions we were taking. If it didn’t impact on the pupils learning it wasn’t worth doing. We went down dead ends, felt the pressure from outside, jumped through hoops, set by both DfE and LA, many of these things were making no difference, and then we stopped looked at what was key and did that. I had to be the umbrella. We had to look at what our children needed and get it right.
The key question in any school should be “So What?” If it does nothing of benefit to pupil learning then why are you doing it?
You may ask what was key? What made the difference? It is simple really. Teaching!
The answer is simple I let teachers teach. I stopped worrying and started trusting the people who could have the most impact. I was lucky I had a good staff who had to learn to believe in themselves. We got the right tools in place to let the staff get it right for their pupils. Behaviour systems were created to support staff in doing their job. We stripped back marking to what worked, the evidence is in the progress not the marking. We face problems head on and find solutions. We didn’t play a blame game. Staff are pro-active in getting it right. Pupil progress meeting have become pro-active and solution based (We all leave with a plan). We don’t write pupils off, we challenge them and ourselves. We are, as a school developing a solution based approach to whatever challenges come up (this isn’t always some peoples natural disposition). We try not to be ground down and defeatest, instead we try to challenge ourselves in how we can do that.
Most importantly, we changed assessment to become a tool for learning, not a way of measuring teaching. It’s not completely right yet and it is constantly evolving as our curriculum evolves (the curriculum goes first not assessment). Is the data as clear for governors or outsiders? (not a chance! That is my worry). Is assessment impacting on learning? (definitely!)
Was this scary going into Ofsted? Darn tooting! Did I believe in my staff? Hell Yes! Are the children learning? Yes siree! Am I proud of my staff? Sure am!
So what’s next? For us a whole scale review of of our curriculum to make sure it does what we want it to do to get it right for our children. This will also require bravery to get it right, as the pressure is on to go a certain way and my staff need me to lead and give clarity of what we are trying to achieve. (It is bigger than test scores). I do believe if we are smart we can have a broad, balanced curriculum and high achieving pupils, in a challenging coastal area. Getting it right certainly won’t be easy.
What is my job? To develop everybody in school to be the best they can be, and to make it work. End of.