The Prospect of Headship

A month ago at Wellington College, Sir Michael Wilshaw was asked about Deputy Heads who did not want to step up to Headship as the pressure was not worth the salary increase. His response: “Have some courage, don’t be so feeble about it, have some guts.”

I am a Deputy stepping up to Headship. In his response, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector acknowledges one thing I agree with: stepping up to Headship needs courage.

At every stage in my career so far, there has been someone above me who holds ultimate responsibility. From January, that person will be me. It will be me the Leadership Team turns to for the final word, me the staff look to for a decision, me the Governors hold to account for the performance of the school. If the school is found to be coasting, I’ll be sacked. The buck will stop with me.

“Don’t be so feeble.”

I remember how I felt when my children were born. I remember holding their fragile bodies in the crook of one forearm, and feeling the incredible weight of responsibility pressing down on me. As a Headteacher, I will be responsible for over a thousand children every day, every single one of whom has parents who felt like I did, and they will be putting their trust in me. The safety and well being of the most important thing in nearly three thousand parents’ lives will be on my watch.

“Have some guts.”

The education of those young minds is my responsibility. The curriculum they study, the way it is delivered, the manner in which it is assessed, the way success is celebrated – in the end, I will set the tone for all of this.

“Have some courage.”

The school’s standing in the community is my responsibility too. The Headteacher of the local secondary school is an important community figure and the success or otherwise of the school has an impact on all around it. Regardless of the wisdom of it, there’s a link on every RightMove property to the local schools’ Ofsted reports – the value of people’s houses depends on my effectiveness. I will be a community leader. One wrong move and the Daily Mail is poised to pounce.

“Don’t be so feeble.”

The careers, well being and development of close to two hundred staff will be my responsibility too. As Vic Goddard was told, “you make the weather.” I will make the weather for all those professionals. There are teachers leaving the profession in droves, crushed under bureaucracy and workload, frustrated by the perverse incentives of performance pay. Will I be able to stem the tide? Can I lead a school where teachers feel like they’re making a difference? Where it’s all worth it?

“Have some guts.”

The next five years will see a real terms budget reduction of 7% in school funding. I will be responsible for delivering the highest quality of education on less money per pupil. I will face the toughest of tough decisions – cut posts or cut resources? Slim the curriculum or expand class sizes? Cut corners or do a proper job? I will have to fundraise, bid for every grant going, recruit, and economise, lobby and pressurise to ensure a fair deal for the young people in my care, and hope that someone will listen.

But I will have courage. I will have guts. I will not be feeble.

Because Headship is a privilege.

Because I will have a team around me to advise and help, a wise and experienced Governing body to help set the direction, and a local and national network of Headteachers to consult and support me. Of course, managing that shrinking budget will be hard, but there is comfort in knowing that I will not be alone.

Because Headship is a privilege.

I will be leading a group of teachers. Teachers – the most committed, good-humoured, and dedicated profession, packed with graduates who decided that they wanted to make a difference, to pass on the love of their subject, to give their time, energy and dedication to help the next generation be better. I will make the weather for those selfless, generous professionals – and I will dedicate myself to making sure they know it’s worth it.

Because Headship is a privilege.

It’s right that the school takes its place at the centre of the local community; I want the community to be proud of the school – no matter what Ofsted say – and I will be proud to lead it. I want the community to talk warmly about the quality of education it provides and it will be my leadership that ensures that this will happen.

Because Headship is a privilege.

I got in to teaching to make a difference too. In my classroom I hope I made a difference to the thirty children I had for that year. As a Head of Department, I made a difference to more children, on a larger scale. As a Headteacher, I have the opportunity to make a difference on the largest scale, to set the tone for thousands of children in every decision I take.

Because Headship is a privilege.

Parents treasure their children, thrill in their successes, worry themselves sick about them. The sleepless nights don’t stop when they’re weaned. Those parents place their trust in teachers every day to care about their children just as much as they do themselves. Can there be any greater honour?

Because Headship is a privilege.

The weight of responsibility is not one I shoulder lightly. I am stepping into the role with my eyes wide open, with guts and courage, yes, but also with determination, with confidence. Because, despite the fear, it is a privilege to be a Headteacher. And I am looking forward to it.

Thank you.

This blog was the text of my presentation delivered at #SLTeachmeet for #BELMAS2015. 

First Anniversary – a year of edublogging

Happy 1st Birthday to Teaching: Leading Learning http://www.freeimageslive.co.uk/free_stock_image/party-candle-cake-jpg

Happy 1st Birthday to Teaching: Leading Learning

I published my first post on this blog exactly one year ago today! It was a tirade of fury against the apparently imminent English Baccalaureate Certificates – yes, that was a year ago! I was inspired by reading the great blogs of John Tomsett, Kev Bartle, Tom Sherrington and others to give it a go myself, and I’m so glad I did. It’s provided a think-space for me to test-drive my ideas and beliefs in front of an audience of critical friends. Doing so has made me more certain of my values but also pushed me to re-evaluate my thinking and look afresh at things I thought I knew. Blogging has led me to discover other blogs, and these have inspired, challenged, and excited me consistently throughout the year. There is no question in my mind that I am a better school leader and teacher now than I was a year ago, and the online teacher community has been massively influential in this process.

To celebrate my blog’s first birthday, here is a completely self-indulgent guide to some of my personal highlights from my first year in the blogosphere:

Most popular post: Assessment without levels. The vacuum left by the removal of levels from the National Curriculum continues to trouble teachers and school leaders, and to drive traffic to my blog! The follow-up, Assessment in the new National Curriculum – what we’re doing, is not far behind.

Best response: Letter to my NQT self – I was overwhelmed by the tweets I got back after publishing this whimsical bit of self-referential advice!

Posts that best capture what I’m about: The Past Feeds The Present laid out who I am and what I’m in teaching for; these ideas found full flow thanks to the excellent #blogsync when I attempted to come up with a universal panacea.

When I got cross: Why I Teach. A manifesto of self-expression. I should know better than to read comments below the line on Guardian articles.

What I’m proudest of: Outstanding Teaching and Great Teachers – a whole school CPD approach and A whole-curriculum approach to literacy. Practical, real things I’ve done in my school which I think have made a positive difference.

Doors which have opened: as a result  of writing this blog I’ve found myself with opportunities I never knew existed, including attending #SLTeachmeet, hosting #SLTchat, and presenting at #TLT13. And that’s just the start!

Englishy bits: I’m quite proud of the book that made me, and I’ve waxed lyrical about literature in Canon Fodder and Why I Read Children’s Books – amongst others.

Assemblies: my Grit and Flow assembly has struck a chord with many on Twitter, but I’m also really proud of Different. 

Game of Thrones fanboy moment: I still find it hard to believe that I met Arya Stark herself the day Maisie Williams came to school.

Me with Maisie Williams in April 2013

Me with Maisie Williams in April 2013

The future: I currently have six unfinished drafts and an Evernote page with a whole stack of blog ideas I haven’t had time to start writing. Plus there are so many new ideas buzzing round my head at the moment in relation to developing a teaching and learning culture that there will be plenty more to come! Thanks so much to everyone who has visited Teaching: Leading Learning so far – please comment or contact me if you have any feedback!

Can everybody succeed?

When I listened to John Tomsett speak about his whole-school growth mindset approach at #TLT13, I felt genuinely inspired. John has helpfully summarised his talk here. Head of Year and science teacher Ashley Loynton, who was sat next to me, is currently running a pilot project at our school ahead of a wider roll-out of growth-mindset strategy, which you can read about here. One of the most interesting aspects of this development for me is testing my own thinking about growth mindset. Do I really buy into Dweck’s ideas? Harry Webb has sounded a note of caution, and I take the points he makes in his blog about the dangers of a growth mindset bandwagon being misunderstood and misused. However, the blog which really got me thinking about my own approach to growth mindset was Mark McCourt’s Every Single Child Can Pass Maths back in March. Mark is an ex-colleague of mine and I have complete faith in his assessment of things educational. His excellent blog argues that, given the right conditions and approach, every single child can pass Maths – i.e. become a functionally numerate mathematician at Level 2 standard. So the question I pose myself as a Deputy Head in charge of the curriculum is, do I believe it is possible for every single child to “pass” Maths and English at Key Stage 4?

It is very clear that some in the political sphere do not. Dominic Cummings, ex-special advisor to Michael Gove, argued in his paper Some Thoughts on Education and Political Priorities that genetics has a far greater influence on educational outcomes than teaching. This week, Boris Johnson has poured scorn on the 16% of “our species” with IQs below 85 with a clearly deterministic view linked to Cummings’ philosophy. I reject these approaches instinctively – they make my skin crawl – but I need to force myself to examine them rationally. Am I wasting my time? Are there some kids who, no matter how hard we try, are never going to pass Maths and English?

One barrier to overcome is comparable outcomes. A Level 2 pass – currently a grade C and GCSE – is no longer linked to a standard set of criteria. Although grade descriptors still exist in the appendices of English specifications, the assessment criteria provide only a numerical mark which is scaled to a uniform mark scale (UMS) in each exam season to award grades comparable with previous seasons. In other words, to make sure we don’t get more Cs, As or A*s this year than last year. This statistical determinism bears a striking resemblance to Cummings and Johnson’s arguments, in that it presupposes that better teaching will not increase the proportion of young people meeting the standard year-on-year. Which rather makes me wonder exactly how schools are supposed to deliver Sir Michael Wilshaw’s vision of continuous improvement in results when the results can only ever be comparable to the previous seasons…

The conclusion I’ve reached is that I think that Johnson, Cummings and comparable outcomes are wrong. Plain wrong. And that I do, as Mark McCourt does, genuinely believe that every child can pass Maths and English with the right conditions. I could not bring myself to stand in front of a class if I genuinely believed that some of them had been born incapable of succeeding. But of course they don’t all succeed currently, so what needs to change?

My thoughts on this are still being formed. I am writing this really to test out my own beliefs – will they stand up to public scrutiny? This is the true advantage of edublogging for me. If I find myself unable to defend my position on any of this over the coming weeks I’ll know I didn’t have it right in the first place. Where I find myself on firmer ground I’ll know I’ve found a true value. Here’s what I think we need to do if all children are to “pass” English and Maths:

  1. We need to all believe that all children can succeed – without this inherent belief failure and underachievement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

    Getting the basics right ensures that learning is built on a firm foundation

    Getting the basics right ensures that learning is built on a firm foundation

  2. We need to get the early basics right – the building blocks of successful literacy and numeracy must be secure or the whole edifice will tumble. The accountability system at primary school encourages teachers to move children onwards and upwards to the next level when it should be encouraging complete security at the level below. As I argued here, I don’t blame Year 6 teachers for coaching children to the new Level 6 tests but I worry about the security of the level 5 work underpinning it.

    Graphic (via @headguruteacher)

  3. The role of the family is vital – this month’s #blogsync deals with this topic and Tom Sherrington has written with characteristic vigour about the benefits of the “pushy parents” and the cognitive gaps between rich and poor. One of my most popular posts dealt with the Matthew Effect which argues that those who are brought up in word-rich environments where families value education have an intellectual and cultural capital which allows them to progress more rapidly still, whilst those who are not have nothing to grip on to education with. Changing the culture of those families who do not value education is a lifetime’s work, but there is no more important work for a teacher than that.
  4. All abilities should work together – hiving off the most able into separate streams, sets or schools sets a cap on the aspirations of those left behind whatever numerical cap is dictated by budget or facilities. Kenny Pieper lays out the case for all ability education here, and I have argued about the social importance of mixing all abilities and social backgrounds here. If a student is in a class – or a school – where they never get to see what a C looks like, much less an A*, how can we hope that they will aspire to achieve one?
  5. The core should be run through the whole curriculum – literacy and numeracy are the keys which unlock other learning. Every teacher should be developing knowledge, understanding and skills in these areas every day by providing explicit teaching of the literacy and numeracy elements of their specialisms. Requiring deliberate practice of literacy and numeracy skills should be part of the repertoire of every teacher, not just in a box-ticking “literacy across the curriculum” add-on but in a fundamental, foundation stone way. 
  6. We should abandon Key Stages so phases can work together – some students arrive in Year 7 too far behind for secondary schools to close the gaps enough. Every week in #SLTchat somebody mentions the importance of EYFS. I find the divisions into key stages unhelpful as it implies a shift where there should be a continuum. Anything we can do to collaborate and work together cross-phase is a must if we as a system are to turn out literate and numerate adults.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter.

Advertising Posters for #SLTchat

As host of #SLTchat on 12th May 2013 I created a series of “posters” to encourage participation in the Sunday chat and draw attention to the poll. It was a quick Google-and-Photoshop job but I quite enjoyed it! So here they are.

#SLTchat 3-word great teacher summaries

#SLTchat 3-word great teacher summaries

The final question on #SLTchat on 12.5.13 was to ask for three word summaries of the qualities of the best teachers. Here’s what #SLTchat had to say..

Greatteacherswordle
  1. @SLTchat sorry I used more than 3 words! So….. Creativity, passion, dynamic #sltchat
  2. “@billydownie: #sltchat Passionate – Effective – Relentless” I was just about to click send. BILLY beat me to it.
  3. “Last minute – three words. What qualities do your best teachers have? #SLTchat < Love to learn
  4. @SLTchat creativity, excellent communicator to both adults & children, having a work/life balance #sltchat
  5. @SLTchat three words. What qualities do your best teachers have? #SLTchat = passion; energy; humour.
  6. Attitude, Skills, Knowledge – in that order #SLTchat
  7. @SLTchat #sltchat personality, commitment and the desire to grow/develop/evolve

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The ingredients of successful SLT

It’s a really interesting time for our senior team. We are looking to appoint a new Deputy Headteacher to replace the current post-holder who is retiring at the end of this academic year (think you want to apply? Read why you should here.) It is a massive appointment for the SLT and the whole school, and it has given us cause to reflect on what we are looking for and what makes a successful team.

I was so interested in the idea – and in learning from other schools – that I suggested “what are the ingredients of a successful SLT?” as a topic for the excellent #SLTChat on twitter for the 13th January, and was delighted when this happened:

As usual with this superb forum, the ideas came thick and fast. What follows is a selection of the best (IMHO):

There is much here to keep in the forefront of our minds on a day-to-day basis – the function of the SLT – but also for the longer term when making a critical appointment to the SLT – the ingredients.

All of the #SLTchat suggestions were really helpful in framing the discussion for us. I wholeheartedly subscribe Tom Sherrington and Sarah Findlater‘s points about getting the mixture and the balance right, so we needed specifics. What did each of us bring to the table? And what unique skills would our retiring colleague take with him? Helpfully, Keven Bartle had earlier tweeted about an online personality test based on Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personality which gave a really accurate assessment of me! Our head had also found a chart which matched personality types to distinct leadership styles and roles – summarised in this document: Leadership Styles by Personality Type. This process has given us the framework we needed to begin to evaluate our individual roles within the team, and those to which we’re best suited, allowing us to take the “long hard look in the mirror” which is the cornerstone of all effective self-evaluation.

umbrella

Footnote: I really liked the idea of SLT as a “magic umbrella” suggested by @sbhsmrwilson. I’d also like to turn it upside down in a suggestion I read in an interview with Teaching Awards winner Elizabeth Hanson (in Teach Secondary magazine – sadly not online!), who has a sieve on her wall.

Sieve_(PSF)

It was given to her as a present by one of her pupils who told her that she sifted through their work to find the nuggets of inspiration. SLT are like that, in my view, sieving the torrent of change, initiative and innovation to keep the main thing the main thing and sift out the rest.