Is the Tide Turning? Hope for Struggling Schools

Justine Greening’s speech at the Sutton Trust’s Mobiity Summit must have given a glimmer of hope to every leader currently serving in schools with challenging contexts.
It’s been a long time coming, but as James Bowen, Director of NAHT Edge, wrote recently in the TES ‘Greening’s signals for a less ‘punitive’ approach towards struggling schools’ could be the ‘light we’ve been waiting to see.’

It has been well documented that disadvantaged contexts impact hugely on both educational attainment and school quality, which are typically lower than that of other schools. This is primarily due to the difficulties with the recruitment of high-quality teaching staff, limited ‘short-life’ funding, high levels of pupil mobility and the increasingly low starting points of children, who are ‘quite frankly’ just not ‘school ready’ upon entry. Yet, despite these facts being widely cited, schools continue to be battered by high-level, punitive accountability measures. Is the tide about to turn?

Greening acknowledges that: “We do need to move away from a perception of a reliance on a pure punitive intervention approach. We need to, moreover, move towards a culture of having the right support in the right places at the right time, and I think for too long our strategy hasn’t had that breadth to it, and perhaps that clarity around it.”

Yes, Ms Greening, we do indeed need to move towards a culture of support, rather than this prescriptive, short-sighted approach that sees some leaders reduced to ‘playing the numbers game’ rather than incentivising them to play for the long-term gains that can only be achieved when ‘time’ and ‘money’ are factored into the equation.
As someone who has the privilege of working across schools with some of the ‘highest levels’ of deprivation in the country. I see first-hand just what our ‘amazing leaders’ are doing for the life chances of the children in their care. Actions, that simply cannot be measured under our current, narrow ‘data driven’ system. For the 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK, their most basic needs must be met first – before the learning process can start.

I don’t know of any leader who would argue against the need to improve. We just need to be really clear about what we mean by ‘improve’.

Leaders, in particularly challenging contexts are generally ‘pretty special people’ who go above and beyond the call of duty to ‘improve’ the quality of life for the children in their care. They know, that success for our poorest children cannot really be measured ‘fully’ until they reach adulthood. When it is hoped, that despite the challenges they faced as children, of low aspirations, low income and unemployment, poor housing, poor health, tiredness and hunger, they emerge fully prepared from our education system, with the knowledge, skills and understanding to take their place in society. This can only be achieved, when leaders of our schools in challenging contexts, across all phases,  ensure that our poorest children are fed during term time and through the holidays; make provision if they need a place to sleep during the school day; enrich their lives through engaging learning experiences and above all, keep them safe, loved and nurtured – because that is what our poorest children need.


It is with this relentless focus on ‘improving’ the life chances for our poorest children that will give them the fighting chances as adults, to compete against their more privileged counterparts in securing a sustainable income through long-term employment and a longer life expectancy. Surely, that is the real measure of success?

Most leaders are guided by a strong moral compass who genuinely want to make a difference for children. Yet when you hear of dedicated leaders exiting the profession due to the stress caused when a set of results does not meet the ‘required standard’ and the context of the ‘why’ is pretty much ignored. You know that we haven’t got it right YET!

We all need to work together to secure school improvement in our most struggling schools. This improvement must be contextualised because there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to the challenges they are facing. Schools serving depriving communities need ‘time’ to improve outcomes for children.

Fund them well – and let them lead the way!

#5priorities

  

The Revolving Door of Headteachers

We are facing a recruitment crisis. We all know it – despite having to constantly hear from the government that teacher numbers are rising and that it is the unions talking down the profession. As a member of the NAHT Executive I take particular exception to this. When you sit in a room with colleagues from around the country and hear how they are all struggling to recruit. Let’s be clear about this. Houston we have a problem!

Yet, this crisis is not just about teachers. We are facing a crisis in recruiting headteachers (not just this side of pond either). The Times recently carried out research that revealed that one in ten schools is losing its headteacher each year. Some schools have been left without a head for up to three years and that some local authorities have seen more headteachers leaving the past five years that the number of schools in the area.

‘Schools are blighted by a revolving door of head teachers as many of them retire or take early retirement, leave the profession, take up opportunities abroad…’



The million dollar question of course is – what is the answer to this crisis? I was at a recent event listening to an Ofsted Inspector talking about leadership and succession planning. Herein lies the challenge. In order to plan for succession you need teachers to stay in education for more than a couple of years and you need experienced leaders stay in education, so as to role model great leadership to them. When asked if Ofsted had a solution – it was neatly batted back to the profession as our problem to solve. Great! Leaders are leaving in droves – we are struggling to recruit teachers – budgets are being slashed. Thanks for that! Fortunately, we are a driven and solution focussed profession!

Yes, Mr Ofsted Inpsector we can identify talent. Yes, we can fast-track this talent. Yes, we can take the altruistic approach and applaud when our teachers and leaders leave schools and join others knowing that they are still in the system. If only this was a true reflection of the educational landscape. In reality, if you are trying to turn a school around and you also happen to be located in an area of deprivation and in a known hard to recruit area – it is a mammoth task trying to get teachers in schools and then get them to stay. Leaders of these schools are taking ‘resilience’ to another level, when constantly faced with having to rely on the revolving door of supply teachers just to get someone in class (at least someone is profiting). I’m not even going to go into the numerous other challenges faced by our increasingly stressed headteachers.

So, and the reason for my blog. Let’s champion our leaders. I would like to invite leaders to share their success stories with the world via the twittersphere using #talkupleaders (here I must thank Paul Garvey of Talk for Teaching who started #talkupteaching you can follow him @PaulGarvey4).

Let’s spread some light and positivity on our epic profession! #talkupleaders


‘Why is your Ofsted Grade more important than your Parent Grade?’ Via @Oldprimaryhead1 This Distance Between Us – Parent School Relationships

“You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better.” Pam Leo This blog has been inspired by Carrie and David Grant who spoke about the parent school relationship at this week’s NAHT SEND Conference. I was once browsing in a very large HMV close to […]

http://oldprimaryhead.com/2016/03/12/this-distance-between-us/

Power of collaboration via ipad4schools.org                                       Time is Gold for Teachers

Hey teacher, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more time to do things properly? Teachers around the world are expected to somehow fit professional growth in-between planning, teaching, marking and parent communication, and so I understand why many don’t get round to much professional development or reading. So it was especially exciting for me […]

http://ipad4schools.org/2015/10/24/time-is-gold-for-teachers/

Conceptual ideas on school leadership – a video library.

http://headguruteacher.com wrote…
In a previous post, I highlighted some key contemporary educational ideas for all teachers that can be accessed via youtube. Here I’ve put together a collection of videos from some key thinkers on educational leadership.  Each one is worth watching; there’s a lot to take in. Michael Fullan: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact. (see […]

http://headguruteacher.com/2015/08/19/conceptual-ideas-on-school-leadership-a-video-library/