Sunday, 20 July 2014

Is it the greatest, or is it just standing on a box?

I follow all sorts of nonsense on twitter, as you would expect.   I follow this brilliant thing called classic photos (@History_pics), which links into lots of historical photographic sites.  The other day I saw a photo with the legend “The world’s biggest horse!”, and my first though was, of course, “How do they know?” My second though was “Is it standing on a box?”

Many are hailing this summer’s world cup as the best one ever.  I admit it largely passed me by; I was allowed to iron along to the Brazil-Germany mismatch, but other than that, I wasn’t bothered.  It appears to have been open and entertaining and full of the usual stories of heroes, villains and daring do.  As far as I’m concerned, Italia 90 will always be the best ever world cup, but that is tinged with rose-tinted nostalgia, and the fact we had a team, a manager worthy of the name and a chance greater than a prayer.  But again, you have to ask, how do they know?  How will it be measured?  Goals? People watching globally? Oral hygiene?

I’ve always preferred it when greatness has come tinged with a hint of irony, such as Tenacious D’s “Best and Greatest Song in the world Ever….tribute”.  But who’s to say it wasn’t, and how will it be measured?  When I was younger I used to read music magazines religiously, and at least once a year they would compile a “100 greatest albums ever” chart.  It invariably ended up with the Beatles’ Revolver coming top, but again, how is it measured?  Who’s to say that the two best albums this year (Crimson / Red by Prefab Sprout and Love Letters by Metronomy since you asked) will not soon send Revolver toppling?

It’s all about the measuring.  The benchmarks.  The indicators. 

Regular fliers of my blog will recall that I predicted a few weeks ago that our outcomes – our measures – were not looking too clever.  Sadly, and highly unpredictably to many of the women I work with, I was right.  I was gutted.  Devastated.

I felt like I had been kicked on a thousand fronts, but not one of them about me.  I have enough self-loathing in the tank for any man.  No, I was gutted for the kids, and for the staff who have worked so hard. How will we be measured, if the measurements do not give an accurate reflection?  It feels as if we will be measured using a picture of the school that is 10 years out of date.  And blurred.  With a coffee ring in the top corner.
I will not list the reasons why things did not go our way, and why I predicted this downfall; the world hates a whinger, or, at least I do.  What I will tell you is why I was so gutted.

We know our teaching as good, if not better.  We know our methods, our procedures and the anal systems we have imposed work.  One candidate told us this summer at interview “I want to come here because all the staff say you make teachers even better.” Anyone who has visited has only offered praise.  But the measurement isn’t there.  The world’s biggest horse is simply standing on a box.

We know that the quality of our work is stunningly good, again for all of the above reasons.  One candidate told people he wouldn’t need to keep his books that way.  He left shortly after that comment. 
The opportunities we offer our children are many fold.  Today’s core visit was held between a 1980s party and key stage 1 participating in the Big Bear hunt. Yesterday 120 children went to the farm and I took year 6 swimming.  We have had to plan not one but 4 music assemblies in order to show off everyone’s skills.

 It’s all there, but it’s not measurable.

3 weeks ago we took 14 children up to London (my biggest nightmare ever – measured by the amount of grey it gave me) and won a national reading recovery award.  It’s great, we’re in the Evening Post and we now possess a Darlington Crystal obelisk. 

We now have a PTA – first time in my time at the school, completely set up by people outside the leadership, and brilliantly supported already.

Our school improvement work has already started, and we have 8 projects running concurrently during the summer.

Our school has grown from around 200 to over 300. And we have a Children’s Centre.  When I started we had 206 children and were on the way down – now, across the entire organization, we have close to 450 children and 100 staff.  Will it get a mention?

But the very things on which we are judged may well become defunct, and any assessor may well toss them all aside whilst stamping a huge and damning “Must Try Harder” across our ever improving track record.  

This kills me.

There is another train of thought.  Perhaps we are suffering from “Inverse Expectational Proportion” or IEP.  It would be in all the recent medical journals had I not just invented it.  It is a difficult paradigm to adjust to, but allow me to offer you the basics.  Perhaps what is upsetting us the most is the fact that we have risen our expectations so high that aligning ourselves to previous thresholds is not agreeable.  We will have (fingers crossed) another 7 100% attenders for the whole year next week.  2 years ago that would have been amazing.  Now it’s just…what we do.

Writing results in the 70s two years in a row would’ve been unthinkable 2 years ago.  It’s just what we do. 

As for children taking level 6 … it’s what we do.

If you measure it via a balance of time versus progress made over an evolutionary continuum as opposed to quantifiable empirical data, then you’re not having a lot of fun if you’re the kind of saddo who knows what half of those words mean.

 I’d prefer to sum it up thus:  we know, in our heart of hearts, that we’re on the right track.  We know how good our teaching is, how good our work is and what we achieve for the lives of the children and families of Southmead on a daily basis.  We continue to be proud to serve the children and families from Doncaster Road, over to Pen Park and between Greystoke Avenue and Southmead Road.  And anywhere else for that matter.  It was never our job: it was our privilege.

The measure perhaps should be woven into the cobbles of Greystoke, instead of coldly dissected at Whitehall. 

Let me conclude another year’s worth of utter edrivel by saying a simple “Thank you” – to our children for their unswerving efforts to be better; to our staff for buying into chronically high expectations and delivering exceptionally high standards (both measurable and non); to our governors for standing by our convictions; to the community for the support they never fail to give us.  One thing that will remain utterly unmeasurable is how proud I am to be the head of our organization, and my feelings about what we have collaboratively built.

Have the most wonderful of summers everyone.  Next year, we aspire-achieve-enjoy even more.

That, with my inestimable gratitude, is all.