Money makes the world go around.

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Most the time I try to be optimistic. Today I can’t be bothered with that. Today I will rant. I Feel we really need to shout about the funding problem before its too late.

Having been a head for three years I think I am finally getting a grasp of finances. Year on year we have just about made ends meet. We have cut things, we have  made ‘efficiencies’ (This is the DfE’s favourite word this week). We have just about kept ourselves solvent.

Each year the challenge becomes harder. Costs in the last three years have gone up and up. My school building is 60 years old, it was due to be updated in 2010, then all that was cancelled by the change in government. It leaks, it leaks a lot.  I have had to increase class size  our average is now 29 but in some they are well above 30. While I try desperately hard to reduce workload, there is only so much you can do when a teacher has a class that size.

What frustrates, isn’t the challenges, it’s the downright denial that they exist.

 

WHAT FUNDING CRISIS?

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I received a letter from my MP. In the letter he claimed the issues were union scare-mongering. My first thoughts were that at least he wrote back. However it turns out he did no such thing. After I posted my letter on twitter people from all over the country have let me know that they got exactly the same letter just signed by a different MP depending on where they are.  Please come and find out, come and talk to us first hand.

I would suggest he sit in my budget meetings and look at the tough discussions we are having, the hard choices we are making, just to make ends meet. The idea that funding has been protected is disingenuous, anybody who says differently is unclear of the realities or just ignorant. To try to fob people off is wrong.

I would love him to come and visit my leaky school, my increasingly worn out staff, my high needs children who receive no funding (because getting an Educational  Healthcare Plan is almost impossible in our area for EYFS age children especially if their parents aren’t pushy), my increasingly bare stock cupboard, my ageing ICT equipment, my broken storage, my ageing playground equipment (some of it was condemned last year), my paint peeling walls with frighteningly big cracks in them and my rusty benches. I’ve not even talked about the damp, or the windows, or the roof, don’t start me on the roof.

Each year the costs are more, national insurance, pension contributions let alone access to services which three years ago were part of the offer and are now brokered to schools at significant cost such as support from an educational psychologist.

So  please don’t tell me there is no funding crisis. Please actually get out and into some of the schools in your constituency. Please come and speak to the headteachers juggling it everyday. Please put the needs of the children above your political dogma. It may not be a full on crisis yet, but it is unsustainable in its current trajectory.

I would love to ask him whether he would send his children here. That’s a bad question, of course he would, our school is awesome.

Actually I would just love him to visit so I could discuss the challenges face to face.

 

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A Reading Adventure…All adventures come to an end.

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We are avoiding…

We are nearing the end,  we are avoiding…

My Youngest is thirteen, we have read together almost every night since forever. Sharing brilliant, amazing, funny, sad, wonderful books. It is our moment in time together, he will still drag out the old favourites, ‘That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown’  has probably been read more than any other book, it is old, worn and truly loved. I do a good line in military voices even if I do say so myself. The time is precious and important, Snuggled and  shared.

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For my son Reading has been a battle, he finds it hard. It is hard work. That he is able at to hold his own and access the reading in school now is testament to his wonderful teachers, who recognised the problem and intervened, not to forget his incredible sticking power. Reading was always hard, it was a battleground. He was just about coping up to year two then it just didn’t get better. In year 3 and 4 he was desperate to read the bigger books his friends were reading, but couldn’t access them. He watched the gap get larger. He began to actively avoid reading. There were tears and tantrums, and on my side a fair bit of damaged pride. He wouldn’t read, didn’t want to read. Then he got resilient, he dug in and he worked really hard. Through all this I still read to him almost every night. The time-sharing a book became even more important, this was his access into the worlds he wanted to explore. We learnt magic with Harry Potter, we tricked Gollum and escaped the goblins,  we frantically ran from Shrike as he relentlessly chased us. All the time he was immersed in story. While he battled with decoding, we still explored and adventured.

We are avoiding…

One set of books have been key for us. Over the last 7 years we have read eleven and three-quarters of the ‘How to train your Dragon’  series by Cressida Cowell. Snuggled in bed, lost in story. If you don’t know them, actually you missed a pretty wonderful set of books.  We’ve laughed at Toothless the cheekiest of dragons, gasped at the fortune and more often than not the misfortune, wondered how on earth Hiccup can escape his latest predicament, wished on hopeless causes and marvelled at feats of daring-do.

But with the final book we are struggling. We are suddenly avoiding reading, not wanting to get to the inevitable end. We have dusted off picture books that we’ve not picked up in a while, we’ve journeyed into non-fiction to find out about something. Always delaying the inevitable.

We are nearing the end…

I’m not sure if it is just the end of the series that we are avoiding. We’ve talked about how none of his friends have parents reading to them. Will finishing the book be the end of us reading together? Are we at an end. The fact that he can now explore these worlds on his own means he doesn’t need me.

I’m hoping we have a bit more time  and a few more adventures.

We both need to stop avoiding  and face it.

If it is an end, its been hell of a ride.

 

 

Reflections…Priorities…still not getting it right.

 

Didn’t know if I’d get round to writing this week, but was then suddenly inspired this morning by the wonderful John Tomsett.  His blogpost about putting family first really hit home.  https://johntomsett.com/2014/01/10/this-much-i-know-about-why-putting-your-family-first-matters/

Maybe its the long silent hours between me waking and the rest of the house stirring. Maybe its the time of year (driving to work in the dark, leaving work in the dark). Maybe it’s just the week (It’s been a tough one). Maybe it’s that my eldest is 17 as is John’s that made it resonate. Whatever it was, I sat and just and… well I just sat and this…

I have been a head for almost 3 years. For the first two years I have to be honest it consumed me. I was getting to work at seven in the morning and leaving at eight at night (I have an hours drive to add to both of those.) In some ways I became a stranger in my own home. My wife has been tolerant, supportive, encouraging… actually she has been amazing.

On Tuesday this week I was visiting another school, the meeting finished at 2:30. I almost drove back to work, but instead I just drove home. The look of surprise on my youngest’s face was both wonderful and heartbreaking in equal measures. I helped with his homework, then we snuggled and watched  Eddie The Eagle. (It’s really good, by the way, and probably a better example of growth mindset mixed with stubborn determination than many examples used.) It was lovely. It was rare. It shouldn’t be. That it’s rare is my fault.

However sat this morning, reflecting on that and John’s blog. I realise how much I’ve missed. The other three people in my home are a real unit. They share common jokes, experiences, they are used to each other, they rely on each other. They have patterns and routines (though none of them appear to involve doing the washing up). I feel outside that. I’ve put myself outside that. The sad thing is that for a lot of the time I didn’t even notice, I was so wrapped up in ‘the job’ that the other stuff just happened around me. Even when I was there often my head was more often than not, in ‘the job.’ Through my own choice I’ve missed big chunks of my family. That it stills rolls on and works is testament to my  brilliant wife. In many ways I’ve probably been more of a hinderance than a help to it working, with them constantly fitting round me.

That these three people let me still be part of this family is wonderful. Do I deserve it, I’m not so sure.

Anyway the silence is broken, it wakes, this family of mine. Almost Bagpuss like, as one wakes up so do the others. Time to be part of it before it’s too late.

 

 

 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE … In your office no one can hear you scream!

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Knock, Knock.

‘Come in…’

Having been a headteacher for two years, I feel able to say how lonely the job can be sometimes. A lot  of those moments last year were when the DfE or Local Authority dropped some new-found  horror on you. At times it felt almost daily.  Challenges came flying at schools so regularly, it’s no wonder that headship recruitment is becoming a massive challenge especially in the primary sector.   Every-time the feeling of helplessness was almost overwhelming.

All the time as a head I had to consider the impact this could have on my staff. My job was to be the ‘Crap umbrella’ to deflect the worst from staff and let them get on with doing their job, the most important job in the school…teaching. I think last year I did an alright job at this given all the chaos. We just got on.

In terms of me there were lots of points that were hard.

It often felt that I was

SCREAMING INTO AN ABYSS,

That I was on my own with nowhere to go and often know one to talk to about it. I become so wrapped up into trying to keep my school on an even keel that I forget to look outside.

fortunately I then had a moment…an accidental moment admittedly…but still a moment.

The Local Authority asked us for prediction data for KS2, this was about two weeks after the writing framework and the exemplification dropped. I had one of my silent screams, then I decided to email the local authority with my concerns.

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After this I felt a bit better and left it at that.

Now this is a cautionary tale. I would like to warn anybody sending an email to make sure that they don’t click reply all. Always check who you’re sending that email to.

Ten minutes after sending the email my deputy called me into the office…replies-1replies-2replies-3replies-4replies-5replies-6

My computer was running overtime. Smoke was coming out the back. The Whitby internet hamster was running his little legs off. (Our internet is powered by hamster…fact)

I sat and watched as all the heads sat in their offices, breathed out and shouted at the same time.  It felt cathartic and brilliant and for a brief moment I felt supported. Equally it made a difference. We didn’t send pointless nonsense data in. Following the tests I can assure any predictions I might have made would have been quite wide of the mark.

So why am I writing this?

Well really just  to say to others out-there not to forget that  you are not on your own even if it feels that way.

Whatever challenges you may face, there are lots of us in the same boat. We all have the same worries and I know we’re all trying to get it right,

So as I sit and look at the writing framework and scream, I know now there are a hundred Headteachers doing exactly the same. It helps to think that, honestly it does.

 

‘That’s it  please shut the door when you leave….’

‘AAAAAARRRGHHHH!’

 

 

Writing…Honestly, we need honesty.

This is a very quick blogpost.

Just sat here tidying up my hard-drive (in other words, procrastinating and avoiding work). And I found this. It  was written in a SATs test in 2004. No success criteria, no feature list just what he carried with him internally…

Before people get critical I know it’s not perfect, but what it was, was honest. 45 minutes, pen down, packaged and sent.

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“Mam,” I said tugging on my mam’s arm, ”Can I go and get my new trainers now? Please!” She just ignored me. Like how rude is that, it was as if she was trying to wind me up. I know the next good thing I see, I’ll plead for her to get it for me. She’s bound to fall for it. So off we went down the heaving high street. “LOOK!” I screamed, “ Look at that game. Mam please can I get it. Please!” I put on my best sad face. She bought it, she bought the act. Yes, yes, yes. I’m getting the best game ever. “But Ben darling there is a big queue,” Mam told me, “So lets get in it,” I replied.

As I stood there it was then I saw this girl, this wonderful girl, this beautiful girl, she looked perfect. I looked at her and smiled. Seconds seemed like hours, me stood there grinning like a loon. Then just as all hope faded, she smiled back, she smiled BACK, BACK AT ME! I was  over the moon. I shouted “Hello,” down the line towards her. A huge grin spread across her face “Hi I’m Jenny,” Jenny, Jenny,  the most excellent name ever. She looks like an angel, a god sent angel. I was oblivious of everything around me, the sound that had grown louder and louder to a deafening roar.

Suddenly without warning the big double doors swung open and I found myself carried away on the wave of people. I tried to back away then realised that I wanted the game and dived back into the ruthless sea of idiots clamouring to get through the door. I saw Jenny disappear through the doors ahead of me. It was like squeezing through the eye of a needle, squashed so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. Then I was through, popping out like a cork. I ran for the games stand, full pelt, straining every muscle. Almost there just a daft lad in the way I barged him out the way and I was there. There at last. I grabbed the last game on the stand, just as someone else did.I tugged hard at the game then looked up. Just as I did so did she. Jenny, Jenny was there, the most wonderful girl ever was staring right into my eyes. I let go of the game and so did she. The stupid game bounced off the cold hard floor.

“You can have it!” I stammered. “No you,” she smiled. Just then a little kid darted between us and grabbed the game “Sorry,” I whispered. She grabbed my hand. “Do you want to get a drink?” she asked. My chin hit the floor, she was here, holding  MY hand! “Yes!” I mumbled. This was the best day of my life. I’ve been sort of asked out by the girl with the cutest smile ever. “Hard luck darling,” sighed Mam. “Shall we get you those trainers?” The trainers, the game, nothing mattered. Just Jenny. “I’m alright thanks Mam,” I smiled as me and Jenny wandered away.

Michael Clark aged 11

Why not give it a go? See what your children do. It could be interesting, maybe we could post some up and compare?

Now I’m not advocating writing tests before people get irate about that, but I am suggesting we give children opportunities to write independently and use that to judge our children’s writing. Not what they can  do with a structure, a success criteria and a checklist but what they do when it’s removed. Truly independent writing.

I am writing this in frustration really… as I look at comparison tables.

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Progress for five schools. Mine is the bottom one. (Bottom and middle moderated for writing)

 

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Attainment for the same five schools. Mine is the top one. (Top and bottom moderated for writing)

The first thing that jumps out particularly with writing is what a waste of time the data is. The second and I hate to say this is the dishonesty of teacher assessment.

Ultimately though it comes down to this…

honest

How do we get honesty I wish I knew but these are the challenges as I see it you can probably add many more in your contexts.

Internal (Barriers to Honesty)

  • Performance related pay and performance management
  • Accountability
  • Fear
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of moderation
  • Poor CPD to develop understanding of Assessment system
  • Targets set by Heads/SLT
  • Use of systems and algorithms to decide whether pupils are there or not.

External (Barriers for schools)

  • Ofsted (Not through want of Sean Harford’s Myth-busting)
  • Fear
  • Raised expectations, ever-changing goalposts
  • Lack of consistency in application of framework
  • Threat of academisation/ floors standards/ coasting schools
  • DFE
  • LA
  • MAT
  • League table

I know this is not a very optimistic start to the New Year, but we are in the same place as we were last year with regards to writing, just more time to jump kids through the hoops.

That’s the real challenge for our school system this year and moving forward. How do we create as assessment system that is about improving and supporting the children’s journey through education rather than measuring schools.

If you have an answer please reply,  at the moment I’m out of ideas.