Dear Mr. Stevenson MP…

2/5/2016

Dear Mr. Stevenson,

I am asking for your support as our local MP for Carlisle. I have grave concerns about the government’s direction on education policy which I believe will be to the detriment of schools both within and beyond your constituency. There are many things that frustrate me regarding the DfE, including the inability for Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education and Nick Gibb Secretary of State for Schools, to listen to the teaching profession. Hence, I need your support as an MP, even if it means disagreeing with the conservative policies.

I have many current concerns regarding education, including a poor assessment policy, clear cuts to school funding, policies not being based on research or what is best for the children, and my main current concern – the forcing of all schools to become an academy by 2020. I am happy with school choosing to be an academy, and for some schools it is a great decision, however for some schools it is not.  I have noted briefly some points as to why forcing them to become an academy is disconcerting.

Raising Standards

The secretary of state argues that by ensuring all schools are academies it will raise standards as schools will begin to collaborate and support each other. This argument is flawed. Schools already collaborate, as you know schools in your constituency already work in cluster groups supporting each other in all aspects of school life from supporting teaching and learning to joint financial procurement. This assumption that you have to be an academy to collaborate with other colleagues is outrageous.

Cost

The financial cost involved for the conversion of maintained schools to academies is preposterous. The Secretary of State said on Saturday 30th April, that a further £500m will be allocated to ensuring every school is converted to an academy. It has been suggested that this will be over £1bn to convert all schools to academies. With school budgets frozen until 2020, this money could be better spent on the pupils in every school, rather than divert public sector money into the hands of private sector solicitors and accountants. In my opinion, and that of many other people, this would give a better return on the taxpayer’s money to raise standards.

Improving good and outstanding schools

I received a letter from Nick Gibb, in December of last year, stating that our school was in the top 187 schools, how will converting our school into an academy improve the learning outcomes for my pupils? Surely you will agree, if we are as good as Nick Gibb acknowledges, we should be allowed to carry on doing what we are doing. Schools who are good or outstanding are already delivering high-quality learning opportunities for their pupils, changing the school structure will not improve the learning.

Reduction in standards

Many people believe that conversion into academies may lead to a reduction of standards. If the head teacher is out of school, engaging in multiple meetings throughout the conversion, they are not in their schools. This leads to a reduced time spent leading teaching and learning. The amount of time out of school will undoubtedly have a negative impact for the current cohorts of children.

Which system

Nicky Morgan argued last week that an education model of multi-academy trusts structure would be best placed to serve our educational system. Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, suggests that if this conversion is based on convenience then the most convenient thing to do would be to convert all schools to the majority which is maintained schools.

So many schools united against this model

Although the academy model has been around for many years now, the government have been really pushing this since 2010. I have been in meeting with the DfE and been offered cash incentives of above £25k to convert. I have heard from colleagues regarding being bullied into forced academisation. But six years on from the change of direction, there is a reason why over 15,000 schools remain as maintained schools.

You say on your website home page that you have a keen interest in education, if this is so, you will lobby for a change of direction from the DfE. I am more than happy to show you around our school and discuss this further with you. You could invite Nicky Morgan too, so she can see first-hand that you don’t need to be an academy to be successful. However, I know she doesn’t visit many non-academies, but my door is always open.

Yours sincerely

Mr. C. Coady M.Sc

Head Teacher

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Future Head Teachers – Are They Out There?

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We hear often that there is a crisis in recruiting teachers and head teachers – but what should we do about it? The answer in short is, what outcomes do we want.

Let me try to rationalise these thoughts…

The evidence presents itself as a crisis for head teacher recruitment. This is often reported in the national press, at leadership conferences,  training events and has been for some years now. A quick google search leads you to articles over the past few years, such as:

The BBC   –  (Link)

The Independent   –  (Link)

The Guardian   – (Link)

The picture looks very grim. With little or nothing being done, the stories keep emerging. It was only yesterday that Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the NAHT, spoke of recruitment as one of many challenging areas of school life that are not high on the agenda when it should be (link).  This provokes the question – Why is nothing being done by the government?

Call me a cynic, but… is this what the government want??? Do they want a shortage so much that leads us to a situation whereby the shortage of head teachers allows the government rush through an education bill informing us that one head teacher should lead several schools? This would be a cheap alternative allowing more money to filter into the classroom as staffing costs would be reduced. The reality of this is cheaper running costs of schools. However, schools would be thrown into chaos as the consistent leadership and direction given to each unique school would be lost.

What can be done?

We could moan some more and hope that government will listen and come to our aid. I feel though that the moaning strategy plays out of our hands and feeds the advantage to the government. They would be allowed to capitalise on the situation and introduce sweeping yet irreversible changes to the education system. Cynical you may argue, but I believe possible.

Many would argue, but not all, that a solution should be to pay head teachers appropriately. This pay should be comparative to the private sector leadership roles. This would solve the crisis as more people would step up to the challenge and want to become head teachers. I can see the logic in this ideology. However, the reality is this – the budgets given to schools are so tight there is no scope for this to work in real terms without cutting other aspects from the school budget. Schools are already making savings and we have gone past trimming things down, soon we will no longer call them cuts, but amputations. There is also no scope to look to this in the long term as budgets are ring-fenced for this parliament, with no increases in public sector spending likely any year soon.

Prepare, Promote and Support.

We need to keep the upper hand and solve the problem ourselves as we would with any situation in our own schools. We, as a profession, can work to ensure head teacher recruitment isn’t a headline-grabbing problem. We currently prepare senior leaders in school for the next stage of their career; often it stops there. We offer CPD opportunities and allow them to complete NPQH and Masters degrees etc. Yet it is my belief, that this preparation often doesn’t go far enough. We need to promote the role of head teacher to senior leaders and allow them to see it is not all doom and gloom, with parental pressures, accountability pressures and financial pressures. It is a fantastic opportunity to lead a school in your own direction, really stamp your own vision and values to school and lead a school into an unchartered water. Try things that you cannot do as senior leaders, rip up the rulebook and start again.

Senior leaders who deputise need to be given freedoms to build on this experience. They should be allowed the opportunity to enhance the school for the better, not just deal with staffing or parenting issues. Senior leaders should drive a school-based independent research to promote aspects of school life. This promotes the role to senior leaders and gives them glimpses of what they could achieve on their own, with the autonomy to lead a school.

Once we have prepared our senior leaders and allowed them to see the job of a head teacher is at times stressful, but equally rewarding and invigorating, we need to be ready to support them during their first headship. Mentoring or coaching should be given to all new head teachers. We as serving heads are the perfect professionals to do this. This will ensure that they don’t feel daunted by the prospect of becoming a head for the first time and allows them the comfort zone of knowing someone who has gone through a problem will be on hand to support them.

Returning to the question at the start – what should we do about the recruitment crisis? Well, if you want to avoid the chaos, then we need to look at how we can solve this together. Prepare, promote and support would offer one solution.

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Six Weeks Off Right?

FullSizeRenderWith the summer holidays underway, what do Head Teachers from small rural schools do? Six weeks of indulgence with plenty of coffee, cake, and a holiday? – Well partly right.

My six week holiday always falls into three distinct parts and getting these parts right, allows me to be ready for the September term. I always look forward to getting back to school and facing the challenges ahead, but without the right summer holidays, the new term can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Part 1 – Finish Off and Sort Out.

Finishing off of the school year is a hectic time. Publicly we have the plays, the reports, the trips, the sports days, the special assemblies. However, there is a plethora of unknown ‘stuff’ happening usually in the heads office. The majority of the self-evaluations and projects from the term/year are coming to their end. These all need to be evaluated to measure their impact on pupil learning. We complete the tracking reviews and 1-1 interviews with teachers and last years development plan is fully evaluated. This effectively closes the loop on the self-evaluation cycle and leads us to determine the priorities moving forward. The creation of schools development plan is completed with key priorities formalised. Although like most, this is completed during the last few weeks of term time.

I always find the first week of the holidays, I like to reflect on the case studies, re-look at the pupil tracking, and cross reference the outcomes of these against the development plan. This is simply to explore if all the bases are covered for the year ahead. Inevitably, some minor amendments are needed to next year’s plans, but nothing drastic. After this, I can finally put the school year to bed.

But of course in a small school, like the one I work in, the sort out period is just beginning. With contractors on site painting and decorating, other contractors creating and repairing, it is a never ending case of, “I’m just popping into school…” Phone calls concerning the colour scheme are a plenty, and switching off is difficult as we all want it just right. Then comes the deep clean… more contractors on site, washing, polishing and buffing away. Come week three, the calm usually descends on the school.

Part 2 – The Rest and Recuperation.

This is a significant and most needed part of the summer holidays, a time to be away completely from school – no phone, no email and definitely no ‘just popping in.’ It is a time to unwind and get away from it all. It is during this time that I realise how much the previous school year has taken out of me mentally. This is a time for putting my family first and spending as much quality time as possible. Holidays, or lots of days out form a key feature of this part of the summer holiday as well as plenty of time gardening and enjoying the freedom of no timetable.

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Part 3 – The Preparation.

The first two weeks of the September term are always hectic and in my experience to date, I have found being prepared and having a few things up my sleeve, saves a great deal of stress and can reduce anxiety during this period. Leading up to the inset days, I usually prepare a few assemblies that I can roll out with little preparation. I write my termly newsletter in advance of the inset day, so I am not rushing it too much and miss key information from it. I prepare some pages for the school website in advance and sort out what I will be delivering on the inset day to the school staff.  I run through key priorities of schools development plan and look at tasks/actions for the first month. All of which aims to reduce bureaucracy in the first few weeks, and to return my own professional focus.

The September inset days are key for any school leader/head teacher. Whether it is a specific training event delivered by myself, or someone else delivering the training, it is an important few days. I use it always to refresh people on our priorities, key dates for the term ahead, staff meeting/CPD calendar and how this all links to our school development plan. This allows the team to focus on what is important to the whole school.

– – –

For me, all three parts of the holiday are equally important if the start to the new school year is going to be a success. So, not quite six weeks of indulgence…

My top tips to a successful summer holidays:

  1. Get everything sorted and finished as soon as possible.
  2. Take a break – no phone or email allowed.
  3. Refresh mentally.
  4. Enjoy your family time.
  5. Get ahead for the new term by;
      1. Focusing on the school development plan
      2. Sort/remind yourself of school calendar key immediate events
      3. Prepare any newsletters/letters
      4. Prepare a couple of assemblies

All that remains is to jump back on the carousel ride for another action packed school year.

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Just Starting

A blog site to get me started… More to follow soon. 

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