Thursday, 17 December 2015

Times and places of magic and wonder - the 5th Christmas blessay

As many of you more frequent fliers of my blessays will acknowledge, it normally takes me a little time to warm up and get to my subject matter.  No such prevarication this year: there is only one subject, and it lies just across the channel.

A few Saturdays ago, my wife came into the kitchen as she was about to go out for the day looking horror-struck: who’s called? I thought.  What news has she received?  I knew that this particular look augured only bad news.  Finally, she said it – “There have been loads of shootings … in Paris.”

You all know me well enough by now to know that news of this sort, in any format, always troubles me.  As a confirmed and dedicated pacifist, by which I mean against all acts of anger and aggression, regardless of their motivation, the news of any death toll – regardless of the number – always makes me recoil with horror.

But this news was that little bit more important.  For my wife and I, this news meant more.  It was one of those moments in a relationship where words were not enough, but a hug and a few quiet moments were required.  For Paris, for reasons I shall now share, had recently become very close to our hearts. 

In February of this year, my wife and I celebrated / commiserated over twenty years together with a trip to – you’ve guessed it – Paris.  Having wanted to go for several years, she finally managed to overcome my natural reluctance to anything out of the ordinary, and to my inbuilt British sentiment about our Gallic cousins.  In the run up to our trip, people gave us mixed reviews, from the tepid to the downright frosty, and the general consensus was that if the waiters looked like they wanted to kill you, it was most likely because they did.

So, on Valentine’s itself, we boarded Eurostar with a picnic and a vague idea of how to get to our place to stay.   We discovered, in a very short space of time, that the reviews and the doubting Tomas’ were wrong.  We discovered, quickly, pleasantly and easily, that there is one simple truth about Paris.

It is wonderful.

All this, recall, in the wake of the Charlie Ebdo event in late January, which shook the city and brought it to international attention.  The shooting of a journalist, and this attack on the free press in a country famously and rightly proud for its freedom of speech, had been reported on the news with almost ghoulish intrigue. Despite this, the mood in the city was upbeat, friendly, enjoyable, and we didn’t encounter a single person who wasn’t pleasant, generous and welcoming.  There was no backlash of hate – a friendly city simply became … even more friendly. 

So now you can start to see why the news of a few weeks ago was so upsetting, and had such personal resonance for my wife and I.  It was as if someone were attacking our personal memories.  It got even more personal when we discovered that the attacks had taken place at a music venue and at various restaurants – pretty much how we had spent all of our time there.

Furthermore, I have been watching in awe how the people of Paris have continued to display awe-inspiring dignity and imagination in their recovery.  Have you seen the wonderful news about the silent protest?  As they still languish in a state of emergency, large gatherings and protests are outlawed, and, in order to show how much they still care, thousands of Parisians placed a pair of their shoes in the Place de la Republique – a way of registering their protests surrounding climate change at a time when protesting is banned.

That, of course, may be part of the problem.  When you visit somewhere for such personal and, let us not deny it, romantic reasons, you will invariably only ever view it through rose-tinted specs.  A Sunday spent by the Seine will most probably only ever be looked upon through the hazy glow of warm nostalgia. 

And I think this is the key to this time of year.  It is connected to a thousand thoughts and feelings and emotions, wrapped up in triggers such as food, music, people and places, smells, sights and sounds, and irrevocably linked with warmth and happiness (or, for some, for the reverse). 

For me, as a child, there were certain key signals and signs that Christmas was due to arrive – the furniture would be moved to accommodate the tree, and our house would be full of food stuffs it never saw at any other time of the year such as dates and nuts.  Certain decorations that belonged solely in a Birmingham flat in the early 1980s still live with me – a Rudolph and his reindeer frieze used to adorn the entire wall above the fire, and a pop-up Santa in his car was filled with confectionery.  As the years passed, and I turned from blonde haired child to floppy haired teenager, this time of year was always accompanied by that mixture of too-cool embarrassment and warm pride that decorations I had made as a child were still part of my Mum’s Christmas collection. 

I always loved – and still enjoy even now – those weekends in the lead up to Christmas when you see, little by little, our dark world transformed from drab and humdrum to bright and welcoming, filled with lights and warmth.  It is a real signal to my children that December is about to start when the people at the end of our road decorate the tree in their front garden which – for the other 11 months of the year, is an eyesore, ugly thing, but for the twelfth month is adorned with beautiful lights, and is a real thing of beauty.

As our family grows older, so too does it embed further and further the little rituals which make our Christmas … ours.  The calendar which comes out every year, the candles, the box of decs for the outdoor tree, and those decorations and baubles which are becoming old friends.  When the winter Chris Cringle comes out of the tree box, we know good times are arriving.  My wife commented this weekend that we needed a new bag for some of our stuff, so old and falling to pieces is the current one.  I bluntly refused: “We’ve had that bag longer than we’ve had Thea!” I protested.  The bag has stayed.  For now. 

Tell me, how did your first mince pie taste / feel / smell?  And at what other time of the year would you say to yourself “I think I’ll have a plate of stodge now please”?  I’m no great fan of turkey, but you can guarantee that I will still be picking and gnawing away with greed come the 28th or 29th.  

Our special times, and special places, are so intrinsically linked with our memories that their emotional value is priceless.   I still cannot feel anything but warm when I hear the opening bars of certain songs, and having two warm mince pies with cream for dessert on a Tuesday evening is only ever permissible at this time of year.

Schools carry their emotive and emotional indicators as well.  A wooden toy cot lies, usually on the very top shelf of that groaningly full cupboard for most of the year, and filled with all sorts of junk, before it becomes the centre piece of the infant nativity in mid-December.  I cannot recall a year in my working history when my first Christmas card has not been presented to me, unexpectedly, from a child in the playground.  The school starts to rock to different tunes, and there is a corner of each classroom filled with props and items that were not there at the end of December.  You can recognise gifts of frankincense and myrrh from a Judean mile away, even if, beneath that fancy packaging, they are really just empty biscuit boxes from a disco of yesteryear.

Of course, it is at this time of year that schools also hum to another tune – ill adults trying to keep their snuffles tissue-bound throughout productions, whilst a child invariably shouts out something inappropriate but hysterically funny half way through the donkey’s one and only big moment.  The jingle of sleigh bells is almost imperceptibly accompanied by the near silent rattle of paracetamol in staff handbags.   Yet do you want to know something strange? Staff are rarely absent at this time of year…

When the lists go up outside classrooms, asking for foodie donations, I am almost instantly whisked back to Warren Farm J&I school and the childhood I loved, the manic and almost obsessive anticipation with which we looked forward to our Christmas parties in school.  When I see a child dragging their bookbag in one morning, whilst over their shoulder they carry their party clothes with reverential care, I know that the party season is in full swing.  And, quite simply, why not?

You see, even the worst Christmases, the ones when you had that row, or burnt the cake, or got completely the wrong present (I recall being the fortunate benefactor of an Ultravox misunderstanding as a child) are generally blotted out by the sentimentality of the good.  Although they might’ve stung at the time, you can gaze down the portal of hindsight and almost laugh at the slightly awkward memory, so strong and powerful is this time and place of wonder and magic.

I am, however, not too niave to acknowledge that this is not the case for everyone.  I am fully aware that there are people for whom this is not a time of wonder or a place of magic, but a time of hurt and sadness, and a place of grief and loss.

I am all too keenly aware that there are many who at this time will be living not in a place of wonder and magic, but in a place torn apart by war and conflict.  There can be little magic, and precious little wonder in such places, other than wonder at how, once again and despite the multiple lessons of the past, man still seeks to excel in the field of hurting others.

Furthermore, consider a moment all those place where Christmas does not thrive, or, indeed, is shunned or even outlawed.  It would be difficult to appreciate the full majesty of tinsel and paper crowns in places where such things are banned.  Think about the places where Christianity and its most important messages are not only unpopular, but where they are scorned and derided.  It is difficult yet sad and extremely important to acknowledge that there are places on this planet where the story of the virgin birth, and all its inherent beauty and wisdom, are mocked as heretic.  Little magic here, sadly.

Places where danger lies hidden, or silent, or ever lurking, are nowhere near magical or wonderous, yet still they exist.  They often lie hidden in places that you wouldn’t expect; not necessarily in war torn nations or cities under siege, but in houses closer to home, where we suspect all is calm, but I can assure you that, for some, not all is bright.

Although you have never known me to meander in to the world of religion or politics without flippancy, even I feel duty bound to acknowledge places where belief and faith have been lost, be that religious faith, or secular belief.  There are such places, and they cannot contain enough magic to look after all the people within them.

My deepest thoughts are, as ever at this time, to those whose feeling towards this special season is marred by the loss of someone near, and the coming of the season does nothing to comfort, only to remind.  In this place or time, there is no hiding place.

And Paris? Surely if any place deserves to feel unmagical and devoid of wonder at this time it is the Gallic capital.    

Having heard me ramble on for more pages than seems fitting, this year’s blessay contains, believe it or not, three simple wishes:

Firstly, to those for whom Christmas is not special or wondrous, then to you may I pass on nought but my simplest human good wishes, devoid of any spiritual intention or agenda.  I hope simply and humbly that, as we reach the end of a calendar year, I may wish you well as you forge your path in this world for another twelvemonth.  The world is becoming a difficult place, and I hope we may become some sort of friends in seeking a solution to some of the troubles, no matter how small. 

Next, to those for whom it is a special and magical time and whose homes will become special places, to you I offer all the wonders and joys of the season.  I share with you the sheer magnificence of what this season can bring and mean.  The rumours around our school which suggest I dislike Christmas are utterly untrue, and completely inaccurate.  The truth is that I don’t like Christmas in November, or even earlier.  It robs the season of something of its splendour.  I, like you, am looking forward to each and every one of our little traditions that would mean nothing to anyone other than our family.  There are hundreds of little things – now that we are close – that I’m looking forward to enormously, and I hope that any magic or wonder visited on our house in the next few weeks is visited a thousand-fold upon your own.  A magic time, a special place, enjoy it all.

Finally, and this year most importantly, to the beautiful people of Paris.  How you have retained your dignity, humour and nobility at this time has been a lesson to us all.  Times and places of magic and wonder litter your every corner and square, every flagstone flanking your beautiful river – never let anything stop that, and never change.  Joyeux Noel to everyone concerned – in the face of one of the most hideous acts of unpleasantness imaginable, Paris showed the world what it is to care.  In the darkness of what will inevitably become war (sorry to drop a spoiler) Paris has been a light; in a world growing all too realistic and harsh, Paris has sprinkled some magic.  I’ve said in these blessays before, the world is suddenly becoming very scared of its own shadow; perhaps Paris’ light is one we should all walk towards – together. 

As ever, I hope my little festive rambling has caused no upset or outrage; certainly none was ever intended.  I hope it may have raised the ghost a smile, or a passing thought, even if that thought is “What is fatboy going on about now?” or “He’s really lost it this time”.  Whatever your thoughts, please take from this blessay my warmest and fondest Christmas wishes, and nothing but goodwill towards you all. It goes without saying, but I hope your Christmas is a time and place of magic and wonder…and more.

From the desk in the corridor, looking ahead to what portents to be a challenging and important 2016, that it all.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

(Isn’t it) Great (to hold such high) Expectations?

I have spent a lot of time this term “monitoring”.  It’s a funny old phrase that gets used an enormous amount by people in education, and sometimes it doesn’t mean an enormous amount.  You could be monitoring footfall (something we have to do at the children’s centre which I don’t, if I’m totally honest, understand well enough to explain here) or monitoring the budget, which has often meant us checking how much we are in deficit.

Monitoring is often thought of as an exclusively leadership-orientated activity, with leaders monitoring whilst teachers and children are monitored.  If you go even further, the actual origin of the word monitor is the latin monere meaning “warn”.   Earliest English use is attributed to the Grammar school system and its appointment of monitors in the 16th century, who were essentially thugs selected to impose and maintain discipline.  Dickens, bless him, is full of them. 

So it would be all too easy to follow this natural discourse and assume that what I have been doing a lot of this term has been largely punitive.  I have been skulking around, cane in hand, beady eyes aware to every minor infraction of polite and civil decency, ready at a moment’s notice to … No.  Of course not.

What I have been doing is setting myself various questions – hypotheses as my old science teacher Mr Turnbull tried to impress upon me for the entirety of year 7 -  and then using “monitoring”, a means of observing and collating information over time, to test these questions and ideas out.

I’ve set myself questions such as
-          How creative is our maths teaching?
-          If I were a child who struggled at school, how much support would I get?
-          How much do our brighter children get pushed?  How about all the other children?
-          What experience do our children enjoy in lessons that aren’t English and maths?

I have also had to ask myself, how many times to teacher training students say “Ssshhh!” in a single day?

What my monitoring has revealed repeatedly and to my utter pride and joy is that our phase teaching, our own brand of whole class teaching and learning that refuses bluntly to engage in teaching the whole class (I’ll explain over a pint), is delivering, on a daily basis, a broad and exciting, challenging curriculum in English and Maths. Furthermore, our teachers’ enormous creativity ensures that our children receive and enjoy a rich and varied diet of subject matter in the rest of their time at school. 

English teaching is bold and dynamic, from our ReadWriteInc lessons and the progress that brings with it, through key stage 2 children writing poems and haikus, publishing and recreating classic epic poems at length, using all the ICT they can muster.  I hear children debating whether employing alliteration at that point would be an interest to the reader, or “just a bit over the top”.  Above all, I see children writing with purpose, with confidence and, above all, with enthusiasm for what they are doing.  (I also learned an awful lot from those Year 6 leaflets about how to use an iphone.)

In maths, with the challenges brought about by the new curriculum, I have seen children rising to the occasion, ably supported by their innovative teachers and the ways they support them.  I never thought the words “Youtube” and “Long multiplication” went together very well, but I was wrong.  Furthermore, when I see children in the zone or in the corridor agonising over a task or an equation, I am always impressed by the resilience and the determination they display.  I write this having not long returned from a learning walk where I have seen shape work, symmetry, directions, extended addition, grid multiplication, roman numerals and converting measurements all being delivered in an exciting way.  Every child was engaged, every child was busy, and every child was – for that moment – a mathematician.

Yet monitoring, I feel, is at its best when it not only answers your questions, but poses some of its own. 

The main thing my monitoring has taught me this term is this: although the new curriculum is generally deemed to be “far more challenging” than any of its predecessors, what we are discovering is that, in the skilled hands of our learning craftsmen and women, this curriculum is about as exciting as it gets.  In the last three weeks I have seen children challenging themselves in English and maths in a way never before seen.  Beyond that, and possibly even more amazing, I have seen children studying amazing topics and subjects, learning fantastic new skills and discussing new concepts as diverse as Asian shadow puppets, Victorian childhoods and the skills of a good listener.  Just yesterday, on a learning walk in the afternoon I had the privilege of “monitoring” researching, inventing, building, designing, creating, playing, singing, performing, sketching, experimenting and, there was no denying it, enjoying

So the questions posed by monitoring are how lucky are we, as a group of educators and professionals, to be given a licence to challenge these amazing children in ways we never thought possible?  Are the expectations greater (as in larger, as in good old Dickens), or have they never been simply more, for want of a better word, great?

Until next months’ Christmas – blessay, that is all. 

PS On Timehop, which my wife has got me semi-addicted to, I was told yesterday that my blog of exactly this time a year ago was all about generosity.  I am delighted to say that this year’s November blog could’ve been of a similar ilk, with so many amazing things going on – harvest, remembrance, children in need, and, this year, compassion and sharing in the playground the like of which I have not seen at our school before.  One year 6 boy has nearly cracked my ribs on more than one occasion with his manhugs, and we have a new tradition, of which I hope we never tire, of starting each lunchtime with a group hug.  Yes, how lucky are we?

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Our Charter for Excellence - just the beginning...

Term 1 is all but complete.  The final vestiges of another "lovely" Harvest festival are being swept away by a (no doubt wonderful) Hallowe'en disco, and we all look forward tomorrow to the final attendance figures for the term, before we bid each other a fond but brief farewell for our October break.  My jobs list for the break (don't tell the wife) now extends to a second page, but I am actually looking back on a first term with not a little pride and satisfaction, and one of those autumnal glows (which may mean we have left the fire on).  That jobs list fills me not with trepidation, and it will not linger in the corner all week - I'm actually looking forward to it.  Most if it, anyway.

So what have we achieved?  How far have we got?  What have we actually done? In order to reflect on the term in its entirety, let's go right back to day one: the combined staff of the school & children's centre met and discussed what we felt truly constituted excellence.  How would we know it was present?  What characteristics / traits / symptoms are there in an organisation if excellence is present and widespread? Our first attempt was as follows:

We believe that, in order to demonstrate excellence in all we do, the following values, characteristics and attributes should be present.

Pride in all we do


Positive relationships

Shared goals

Care, and a sense of belonging

Willingness to grow

Time for reflection

Environments that encourage, nurture and support



Celebrating differences

This was our basis, our starting point.  We never thought for a second we would get it right first time, and we have not; already there are changes I want to make.  However, it's not a bad start by any stretch of the imagination, is it.  Is it?  Well, the proof of the pudding and all that....

Using the Charter for Excellence, what kind of term 1 have we actually had?


It gets a bit of a bad press does pride.  All that 7 deadly sins stuff has really done nothing for its long term image.  However, when it comes to school work, in particular to our English and Maths books, pride is not misplaced, and certainly not fatal.  Far from it.  The pride our children take in their books is in fact extremely well placed, and does our children and our school an enormous service.  As one visitor told us (more of this later) "Your books are an absolute credit to you".  Thank you.  We know.

They are a credit because we put an enormous amount of importance and prominence on them.  Children take enormous pride in presenting their books at my desk, and rightly so.  Do they always get the sticker they crave?  No.  If it's not good enough, if it doesn't conform to our own ridiculously high standards, I tell them.  Do they get sad?  Disillusioned?  No.  They go off and work harder, then come back for more.  That is true pride - what can be wrong with that? 


Loads of examples of this.  However, the one I am going to select will probably surprise a few people.  There are several examples of how well our team pulls together to achieve great things - our lunchtime gang (see below) are a good example of this.

However, sometimes team work does not look particularly matey or chummy, and sometimes it involves challenge, but it can still be highly effective.  Take, for example, our performance management discussions this term - not friendly, not easy, but a classic example of a team working together, challenging itself on different levels.  A further example is SLT last week: was it friendly?  Was it easy going? No - we had some right ding-dongs, and some people (present company excepted) getting their proverbial hair off.  Are we offended?  No, we had a high quality discussion about how to make our school even better.  People represented their views and their ideas with passion and dedication, and it was immensely gratifying to be part of that team - uncomfortable, but still gratifying.  (Even more so when the initial data this week shows us that, you know what?  We were right all along...)

Positive relationships

The previous bullet point and paragraph may make you think otherwise, but some of these discussions have actually made our relationships even stronger.  We have also faced some individual challenges, with some extremely frank discussions, but we have all come out better people, and, more importantly, a much better school, as a result.

However, don't think it's all antagonism.  A far better example of this would be lunchtimes: our lunchtimes, with our playpod, and our climbing frame and our new structures (both physical and organisational) have made lunchtimes an utter joy.  Yesterday, I was playing catch with a year 2 boy, a year 4 boy and a year 5 girl.  A child from reception came to join us, and was accepted with almost open arms.  No arguing, no antagonism, just really good fun, built on positive relationships.

Shared goals

Too numerous to mention, but perhaps a better / more appropriate description is a shared weight of responsibility.  When I announced to the staff that I had "invited" the LA to come in an undertake a mock inspection, there were very few grumbles.  It was more a case of "okay, let's do this".  And we did.  And it was brilliant.  

When you get such a call, one of the leader's major worries is "Will everyone be able to sing from the same rock sheet?  Will everyone be one point / message?" I did not have to entertain this thought on this occasion - and it showed in the feedback we got.

Care, and a sense of belonging

As I say, it showed in the feedback.  However, the exact words used would cause us and others embarrassment, so let them remain in the feedback room.  Let's talk more about how our attendance figures continue to grow, and how our praise system is on overdrive.  How our uniform is the best it's ever been.

Mostly, let's picture the scene of children coming in to school today, clutching their carrier bags full of goodies to donate to the festival today.  Already people are talking about Children in Need.  Caring, whatever form it takes, is never out of fashion, thank goodness.

Willingness to grow

Today's harvest festival was a good example - we are now officially too big for our own hall.  Normally, we have room to spare.  Today, it was pushchairs out, all other furniture out, and almost a few children out.  Yet the overwhelming feeling was of a shared experience which did us all some good.  We hijacked the festival to offer our wishes to someone who has given the school 40 years - yes, 40 years - and all we got were more and more warm wishes.

Yet its more than this.  It's not just physical growth, its the ability to allow our systems to grow and develop - and sometimes get it wrong.  The rolls in both the school and the centre are pretty much at their biggest ever - so is the staff roster.  It's a time of amazing excitement.  And scariness!  But's that's good, surely...

Time for reflection

We don't always get things right first time.  Big deal.  Yet it is in the bravest organisations that people say "We haven't quite got it right yet - how can we improve?".  That was what that "loud" SLT was about the other week, and wasn't it all worth it.  Trust me, it was, I've seen the data, and Miss Beeks' dance once she had finished the data.


This is an area where we simply never stop, and I'm glad we don't.  However, one of my favourite memories from this term is leaving the final decision on the new outdoor dining area to the boy in year 6 who gave me the idea in the first place.  He spoke to the builders, he made the decision, the builders agreed.  It was a really nice moment, not just a warm and fluffy off-the-cuff affair, but a moment that showed the strength of the relationships overall, and how it can impact positively on our whole community.

And he made a better decision than I would've done anyway.

Empowerment             Aspiration

There are so many examples of this I do not know where to start.  There are the bikes, the music, the forest school and the new curriculum I have bored you with in previous blogs.  But I think the most telling aspect of these two elements - which I have deliberately combined - is our brilliant friends group, the Buddies of Badocks, who are, as I type this nonsense, hosting not one but two hallowe'en discos.  All of this less than a month after they - yes they, no-one else - brought the circus to Southmead.  It was someone's idea, and my only contribution was "Fine, get on with it".  They did.  It was stunning.  One of my proudest moments at the school in fact.

Celebrating differences

Where do we begin?  All of the above is based upon how we can work together and allow our differences to be our strength.  It is not just cultural differences - it's differences of opinion, differences in expectation, and differences of experience as well - that can be both a barrier and a contribution.  But in acknowledging this, we become much much more than the sum of our very different parts.

What I'm really hoping all of the above tells you is that we're on the path.  We are still on an exciting journey towards excellence, and our ideal of it, but we have started that voyage, and we're having a great time.  We've made the first tentative steps on a journey, no, an adventure that will at times be challenging and difficult for us all - there will not be much comfort in these early stages.  Yet already we are seeing the green shoots of our outcomes, the fruits of our collective labours, and already I am prepared to say "It's worth it!".

So it's not excellence, not yet.  But there is much in which we can take pride, we know what we do really well (and what we don't) and, above all, we know how to work together to overcome the barriers that will inevitably stand in our way.

Not a bad piece of work for term 1, eh?

Have a wonderful break everyone - in term 2, we continue our exciting journey, and everything it brings with us.

From me, with my enormous thanks for everyone's indefatigable efforts towards our aspirations of excellence, that is all. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Being for the benefit of Mr W - the lessons of the circus

Many regular travellers of this eprattle will know that last year, despite being a year of growth and success, ended on a sour note, with results at the end of key stage 2 not quite being what we had hoped.

This led to a real summer of soul searching on behalf of yours truly.  What were we going to do? How could we change to make the improvements required?  What did we need to get rid of?  What, fundamentally, did we need to collectively build in order to ensure our children and our community got what it rightly deserved?

I made a few decisions.  Firstly, my relationship with hair is over.  Many people will have seen it coming long before me.  Secondly, some of my shirts just had to go.  Again, I was possibly the last to know.  Mostly, I made decisions about what I was prepared to see happening and, arguably more importantly, what absolutely could not happen this year.

Many beach / car / tent / back garden hours were dedicated to this thinking.  Although I reached a million personal decisions and convictions, too many to list here, they all essentially boiled down to the following: this year I was determined that we would do only the things that we needed to, and would do them very well.  There would be no room for added extras or fripperies; we’re going to keep it simple.

So, day one arrives – and I have to say how much I was looking forward to it – and along comes the best uniform I have ever seen at our school.  Year 6 parents could not have been more receptive to our plans, and we have really good news about our planned improvements.  Above all, we’re keeping it simple.  After all, simple is what makes us a good school.

The quality of the books and the work in week one confirm my conviction that this is the way to go.  Everyone stay in their own classroom the whole day.  Keep it plain and simple.  No fuss.  I was unshakable in my conviction, and determined to deliver this no-frills school. 

Then, murmurings.

What about bikeability Mr Willis? Well, yes, I suppose we can look at that.  After all, that should be part of our remit, and we can still keep it simple.  Good books and hard work and, for a few, bikeability.

What about multisports Mr Willis? Surely we can’t’ let that go?  Well, no, you’re right.  That was a real winner last year, and the children loved it.  It also gave our younger children chance to participate in some really exciting events such as archery.  So, books, work, bikeability and multisports – but no more.  That’s what we need to do.

But what about all our additional reading volunteers Mr Willis? We’ve trained them and they’re raring to go, and it would be a real shame not to get them into our classes, don’t you think.  Well, yes, I have to agree, and it will really help, but only targeted support mind you.  Books, work, bikeability, multisports and reading.  Shop shut.

Oh, Mr Willis, what about phonics?  What about our assessments and our groups, meaning our children get to work in really exciting groups at the start of the day?  After all, the school has made an investment in it, and it shouldn’t go to waste.  Okay, I get it, and you’re right.  We need to ensure our children are getting the very best when it comes to phonics, and that means applying the groups and the assessment we have worked so hard at.  So – books, work, bikes, sports, reading and phonics.  That is it.  Enough.

Big man, what about forest school?  Surely you remember putting that in the SIP?  Well, yes, actually I do, so yes, let's have it.  Books, work, bikes, so on, forest school, job done.

Mr W, what about the fire engine and the fire men we’ve booked to come and work with the children in key stage 1?  Well, I don’t like it, and if more than three female staff at any one time are in the car park with them I will send the fire crew off on an emergency (and do keep certain female staff away from the toaster) but as it’s curriculum based, and I have seen it in your medium term planning, well, okay.  But that’s it – books, work, etc.

I know you said that’s enough Mr Willis, but what about these two new structures we want to build on site?  The outdoor dining classroom and the new playground?   Can we get on with those please?  Okay, go ahead, but it cannot be a distraction from books, work, you know the rest, and that is absolutely the last.

We appreciate that Mr Willis, they said, but what about music?  You of all people should know how much we need our music.  More and more children have signed up for the sessions, and all of year 3 are going to learn to play the ukulele.  Surely we have to go ahead with that?  Okay, fine. Yes, I am the last person to stand in the way of the music.  So, and this will be the last time everyone, do you understand?  So, books, work, bikes, sports, reading, phonics, fire engine, structures, music. 

I glared, as if daring anyone in the entire school to chip in again.  We needed to keep it tight, simple, not invest massive energies into frivolities.  I had bent enough.  This would stop.

Then a hand went up, right at the far end of the school. It started off small, but became more and more noticeable, until I couldn’t concentrate whilst it stayed aloft.  I would deal with this in my new, no-nonsense fashion.  What is it?

But, Mr Willis, what about the circus?

A circus.  I kid you not.  A full sized, flags flying over the big top circus, with lions and elephants.  Well, with clowns and unbelievably handsome jugglers anyway. Yes, in the midst of all of the above, we also end up playing host to a wonderful circus (courtesy of the Buddies of Badock’s).

Sat at the back of the circus whilst Mrs W was accosted by Spiderman (a novel, 21st century circus twist I agree) I got to thinking – perhaps Fatboy, you’ve got this from the wrong end.  Perhaps you shouldn’t be doing two or three things over and over; perhaps you should be doing as many things as possible to make school life irresistible, and do them all really well?  In the pursuit for academic excellence, did you lose sight of the things that make a school truly marvellous, Chubs? 

As I sat gazing up at that lady in the hoop, and thinking about all the new structures, and the children at bikeabiltiy, and the children mastering the uke, and the brilliant phonics and reading, and the wonderful sports going on (but mostly gazing at the lady) I realised that we had produced all our brilliant work precisely because of all of these things, not around or in spite of them. 

The list would continue to grow and grow, and the work would only get better as a result.  In the midst of more soul searching I reconciled myself to the fact that I am the person least likely to tolerate a school where excitement is not allowed, and where children work with no motivation whatsoever. 

So, hands up everyone.  Tell me now, what are you going to contribute, and how will it make our school even better?  Okay, that sounds a little messy, …

Have a great year everyone.  After a wonderful September, with a plethora of visitors who could only tell us how much they liked our school, that is all.

For now…

Friday, 17 July 2015

Not excellence, as least, not yet

Around about a year ago, I settled to down to write a blog all about the world’s biggest horse.  (  No, it wasn’t really about a big horse, but about how such things are measured, at a time when measures and indicators are at their most important.  I received a lot of comment on that blog, and a lot of people telling me to keep my chin up. If at any point in this or any other blog I sound the tiniest bit whingy, please slap me, and remember one thing: I thoroughly enjoy my job, and feel lucky to do it. 

What I really felt last year was gutted-by-association for everyone else: I felt that we had been collectively let down by an externally imposed system that would not notice or appropriately reflect the true quality of our work.  So, last summer, I determined that we would not be in this position again; we’d keep a far firmer grip on all of those “measurables” and do something about it if we didn’t like it.  After all, having felt that fear, that sickening feeling of self-doubt, you can either run and hide or roll your sleeves up. 

And there’s no denying it – we’ve been having a decent little year.  Our attendance has consistently been going in the right direction, behaviour has been at its best (and, at its very extremes, some of its most challenging) and the figures have been strong, not spectacular, but strong. 

The first figures started rolling in – EYFS has improved from 21% on track to 54%.  Not bad eh?  I started to feel a little … content. 

Year 1 phonics came in: consistently around 40%, we notched up a respectable 64%.  This was feeling … okay.  Key stage 1 results followed.  Minor, fractional improvements on last year, but starting from a much lower starting point, so that they had improved their percentage on track by over 3 times.  Okay.  This is okay.  Even better than that, both EYFS and key stage 1 have been moderated so we know it’s all accurate. 

Key stage 2 teacher assessment (and, yes, once again, externally validated) puts us up 10% in reading and maths, and 5% in writing, also taking us to our highest writing score ever.  I began the writing of a new school improvement plan based on the notion of excellence.

In amongst all this came our attendance figure: the first time we have ever troubled 94% - get in! As things stand, we have 14 children with 100% attendance for the year.  Equally pleasing is that we have now gone over a calendar year without an exclusion. 

Then came the SATs results.  Reading was up.  Not massive, but up.  Writing of course we already knew. 

Then came maths.  Oh dear.  Oh dear oh dear.  Of course, as a result, our combined figure also comes tumbling down, and because of one result our house of cards not only looks shaky, but looks to be built on three cards that are soaking wet and full of holes.

-          -  Insert your own exclamation here –

It would be easy for me to sit here and bemoan our “luck” or whatever force may be behind these.  It would be more simplistic to blame external factors and be blasé.  But what would that actually teach our children? And what would it achieve for us?

If we are truly aspiring to be excellent next year, and we all want our school to be excellent, then surely we have to be open and honest about anything which is not excellent.  Aspiring for excellence demands a certain standard, and anything that falls short of that standard is not good enough.  If everything else is going in the right direction but one result still lets us down, is that excellent? 

If we want it, if we want this wonderful excellence, and we believe in what it stands for, then we need to roll up our sleeves that little further and be honest about our standards, but which I mean the standards we set for ourselves.  

If we’re truly looking for measurable, take a look at these.  I like a little counter-intuitivism, as you all know, and therefore I would offer up a set of measures, statistics and standards each of which possess the answer zero, nothing, nought, nada.

How many exclusions have we carried out this year?

How many external reports have we had that question the quality of our provision?

How many grades did we get wrong in moderation? Across all three key stages?

How many grades of inadequate have we received from any visits?

Once you’ve started from this metaphorical ground zero, then look at some of the statistics I’ve listed above.  The signs are looking okay.  Not brilliant, because we haven’t yet reached our own standards, and to call that excellent would be against the nature of what we are trying to achieve.

Because here’s the deal: if you are truly to succeed, somewhere along the way we need to fail.  Somewhere on the journey you need to feel that sickness in the pit of your stomach, that cold sweat, and you need to feel them several times.  Otherwise you don’t know exactly how much success means.

As we head into next year, some might think that we are heading ourselves into mission impossible.  We need, in amongst all the hyperbole coming from the department, to ensure we hit the highest standards ever next year or decisions may be made on our behalf.  We have to do more than our very best.  In short, we need to attain, maintain and sustain excellence, in every sense and on every front, in every classroom and in every book.

Some might think this is too much.  Some might think it’s not doable.  But me? I’ve never been more up for it.  If my sleeves were rolled any higher they’d disappear into my waistcoat.  And although I owe my family A LOT of family time, a lot of reading stories (I've promised to read Ruben the Hobbit, and would like to get through To Kill A Mockingbird), a lot of water fights, a lot of cooking and barbecuing, I honestly cannot wait to get this next chapter started.

To my stunning colleagues, I wish you all a wonderful summer.  I wish you all lengthy days and dusky nights.  I wish you all a million beach BBQs and a million and one lie-ins.  Read some wonderful books and listen to some favourite music, and wherever you go, take with you may enormous thanks and gratitude.  We are truly building something special here.

To our wonderful children, have a brilliant, sun kissed summer full of playful days and dreamy nights.  We couldn’t build anything this special without you.

And to anyone else who has participated and contributed along the way, thank you so much; we may not mention you by name but you know you are appreciated.

From me, from the desk in the corridor, with sleeves well and truly rolled up, that for another year is indeed all.  

Thursday, 9 July 2015

How many smores is officially too many? Really? Oh, okay then ....

We have reached the end of day four.  No casualties, no major issues, almost no energy and lots of sun toasted cheeks.  Another packed day today culminating in the joy that is the disco, and another million successes to report.  We are sat here basking in the glow of the staff win in the disco fancy dress tournament (we were, in fairness, the only entrants) and reflecting on the week at large.

The thing is, we are struggling.  Not struggling to think of anything good; far from it.  We have the reverse feeling - how can we whittle it down to a blog that will be short enough to read this side of our return?  We are sat here sharing stories and tales of courage, resilience, bravery, laughter, friendship, and, if we are honest, not a little fear and frustration.

I have often spoken of camp as weaving some magic.  Although my knees (and I am not using this as an excuse: my right knee and hip have been on fire since yesterday) and my back are threatening me with a Friday night of unrivaled pain, I have been reminded on a hundred tiny occasions of the privilege and joy it is to weave away.  As I have watched children almost stand on a surfboard, watched them shoot a rifle, string an archery bow, light a fire, climb a tower, make a new and unexpected friend, I have taken that quiet moment of pride in the fact that I might have just had something to do with it, if only tangentially, for a second, a long time ago.

What follows are the staff-agreed highlights.  We could report on a thousand, ranging from overcoming massive fears to simply being unbelievably pleasant, but we have tried to be precise in order to ensure we record a tangible outcome for every child to hold onto on a cold wet winter in November.  So, as Dermot would say to a contestant just kicked out of X factor, let's have a look at your best bits.

Billy Joe - champion archer

Jacob T - top of the climbing wall all on his own

Matta - Jumping off the bridge into the river (sorry about the shoe Mum)

Taya - incredible rifle skills

Cheyanne - a brand new, world first climbing technique

Natasha - Body boarding and (almost) surfing

Logan - The chug meister (Mum, I'll explain when I see you)

Lee - Great team player in the pipe building game

Sinead - Basically, doing everything with a smile

Jack F - too many to mention

Nathan - Our born leader, in every sense

Bethany - Not giving up when it was too tough

Connor - No grumbles whatsoever, even when we've walked miles

Harry - Pushing himself up the climbing wall

Jessica - We cannot narrow it down; she had smiled and done everything

Kiera - a great team player on the raft

Bailey S - a champion rower on the raft

Sean - overcoming his fears on the climbing wall

Owen - carrying on with water sports even when utterly freezing

Taneysha - Overcoming her fears to be simply awesome

Ryan - getting into the spirit of camp with lots of interesting questions

Brooklyn - not giving up even when things were tough, e.g., pulling that archery bow back

William - surf skills

Natalia - team work on the spider's web

Taylor - embracing the watersports

Amy - air rifle

Lainey May - Conquering fears on a number of activities

Katie F - Massive team player

Caydon - Assault course

Jack D - His positive attitude to all tasks

Brandon - Double bulls-eye in rifles

Mason - Another of our wonderful leaders - a future surfer dude

Cameron - Body boarding legend

Kane - Overcoming hatred of water to body board - and stay for the late session

Abdi - Jumping off a bridge despite being freezing

Leah - Loving it (in her own words)

Baileigh - Jumping of the bridge - twice!

Candice - Amazing rifle / archery work

Katie - Climbing wall (and amazing integrity... and, we discovered, modesty)

Riley - Helping everyone over the assault course

Magic is magic, and always will be.  Well done everyone, and thank you.

To the amazing staff team, thank you all so much.  The way you've thrown yourself into everything, and the standard and model you've set for the kids has made it all so much easier and more enjoyable.  Have a great weekend.  And the costumes, if somewhat snug, were awesome.

So, from the magic weaving place, the colors of which will always be the most wonderful green and blue I see anywhere on the planet other than my beloved Cornwall, that is a sun toasted, tired but happy all.

And for me at camp?  That is ... something for me to think about once my knees have started talking to me again.

That, for now, is truly all.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Is that a hole in your wet suit or ....?

Day three of camp is often pivotal, for more reasons than it is the middle of the week.  Day three sees those who have grown in stature grow even further, and those yet to relax either feel the new found freedom or shrink back to the cave of safety, almost certain not to venture out into camp's sunlight at all.

You really need to take on everything on day three, or the week is lost.  I had forewarned the gang last night how the day would work, and that their first activity was not watersports, as they previously suspected, but the art, pain and tribulation of getting in to a wetsuit.  However, some of the gang decided that they would start early.  Kiera and Bayleigh wandered up the breakfast hall early to help set up.  Why? Because they felt like being nice, apparently.  Legendary.

Wetsuit donning went with its usual graceless hilarity.  Mr Osborn and myself sprayed several boys into their suits with the world renowned "grab them by the hips and shake them up and down" approach.    Even Billy-Joe chuckled with audible delight.

Watersports itself is always one of my personal highlights anyway, and our new company had us all set up within minutes.  We filled Exmouth sea coast with so many surfers and body boarders that we must've looked like we were invading.  At one point, I got so excited I flung my bodyboard up in the air.  Soz about that everyone, especially the person whose head it landed on.

Why was I so excited?  Because the first of our "look at me, I'm actually stood up surfing" legends was up on his board.  William was closely followed by Katie F, Bayleigh, Taya and Mason.  So many others got within a whisker, and despite the freezing temperatures, everyone was getting literally stuck in.

Then came the legends at the other end of the scale.  I knew Kane wouldn't fancy watersports too much, but like the trojan he is, he got himself up to his knees and bodyboarding with the rest of them.  Two smiling blond faces kept appearing next to me, and I realized Lainey May and Natalia were in with the rest of the hardcore surfers.  And, despite being clearly frozen, Cheyanne and Ryan stayed on for the extra session.

In fact, when we sat down as a staff tonight and talked about who should go in the blog, we almost got to the stage of "who shouldn't we mention today?".  Therefore, despite a few kamikaze sausages in the beach bbq, and tiredness taking a hold for one or two, day three has to be seen as a success.

That would normally be all, but I wanted to take one moment to mention a couple of legends not just because they surfed or scaled a wall or something big and showy.  Legends are often legends because they just make the world a little nicer.  One of our boys went to bed early, and the others in his tent seemed lost as to whether or not to go in.  Mason came along and scooped them up and said (exact words)  "You're all more than welcome in our tent lads!".  Couldn't've done it better myself.

Furthermore, you see a lot of bravery on camp, but you don't often see it coupled with nobility and integrity.  Someone took the fall for something they didn't do today, just to try and regain a treat for everyone else tomorrow.  Special stuff, Katie W.

From behind a sunburnt face glowing just as much with joy, that is all

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The kind of legends a camp is built upon ....

One of the irresistible pulls that brought be out of camp retirement was the promise of the privilege to observe an amazing transformation at source.  I've mentioned it before, but there are few other places, times and experiences when seemingly shy and retiring children metamorphose into something truly stunning and courageous.

I'm talking of course of the transformation from child to legend.  You don't really know its happening until its happened, and the signs become too obvious to ignore.  There's the heroism and daring deeds, but coupled to that, there's a more subtle change: they walk ten feet tall, the look eagerly for the next challenge, they take adults jokes and teases with greater freedom and enjoyment, and you generally start to feel that little bit warmer in their glow.

Today, we have taken our first real strides into the nitty-gritty, business end of camp.  Yesterday was about finding our feet, today was more about getting them very wet, climbing up walls and trees on them and using them to guide us across the assault course.  An early morning call and departure, a coach drive to Dartmoor, and we were there - 7 hours of wall to wall using those yesterday-found feet in ways that are often unimaginable.

So imagine, if you can, the legends that came out of this.  Jack (F), Lainey May, Jess, Harry et al have all seemed to grow a little today in the luminary stakes.  Jess has yet to find an obstacle that will stand in her way; despite the fact she is covered in bruises from hurtling at the climbing wall, she cannot stop smiling, and we have yet to see her move in a way that cannot be described as "skipping with glee".

It will surprise no-one that Jack is being as helpful and self-sacrificing as you can be.  When, however, you hear that he was all of this, whilst on a child-built raft in the middle of a freezing cold lake with, in his own words, "I got a wet bum, I have", then you will know that his fame must surely grown and grow.  Two particular members of the group found it very tough; they found it an awful lot easier due mainly to the big man's presence.

Not everyone is a legend through their large deeds or fearless action.  Some are legends because they quietly and humbly try, even when every bone in their body almost says no.  That climbing wall looked and felt like the north face of the Eiger today to Lainey, but she still got on it and climbed.  And Harry is just making life more fun for everyone else involved.  What more could we ask?

Are these the only legends? No, but we've only had one day.  No-one complained at the fact that we still had a lengthy walk this evening after the coach had dropped us off, even if we were all tired and starving hungry. That was pretty legendary.  Once again, the manners and courtesy of our children in the dining hall was a joy and a source of real pride.  All 40 children built and then climbed on to rafts and went into the middle of the lake - not one fell in. Legend.

That doesn't mean I'm saying that none jumped in of their own accord...

I got a real camp tingle today, again, one I've mentioned before.  I look at my watch and thought "It's 11.40 on a Tuesday".  I then realized I was neck deep in lake water and about to be run over by a raft.  Typical Tuesday really.

Until tomorrow - water sports day, and you all know how I feel about that - and the creation of more and more legends, that is all

Monday, 6 July 2015

Finally broke the news to my knees

So here we are again.  Exmouth camp, with 40 excited travelers.  Having vowed never again on several occasions, the lure was simply too strong for me to ignore.  I needed to be part of the magic again, if only for one more time.

So, having filled the coach with more sleeping bags than Milletts, we set off.  A loud but happy procession down the M5 delivered us to sunny (but not very warm) Exmouth, in all its glory.  I have genuinely missed the place.

But not the zig zags.  I really haven't missed them at all.  Neither have my poor knees.

However, we shall overcome.  It has already been a joy to reconnect with everyone associated with this camp and all the sights, smells and feelings that makes this place so special.  Two sessions on the beach and a fish and chip dinner later, and the first day has well and truly been a cracker.

So, what have we learned?  Nothing too ground breaking yet: year 6 are great at spotting sea life, Miss Stephens is far more competitive than we imagined, and the ever reliable Exmouth menu doesn't change.  And festive onesies look *good* at any time of year.

On major thing we have discovered,. or should I say rediscovered, is how impeccable our children's manners are in the dining room, and what an asset they are to us.  Much more of that to come, one feels.

Therefore, as we go to do the last tent walk around and batten down the hatches, all that remains for me to say is what a good start it has been, and how much we are all looking forward to the next few days.  I intend making good on the many promises I have made recently to throw several people off a bridge.

From this side of the teachers' biscuit collection, that is all.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A new lexicon of love: climbing the mountain of excellence

We have been the lucky recipient of many inspections in my time at Badock’s.  Our last school inspection proclaimed that we were providing a good standard of education, and we were all delighted.  Naturally, we all said “outstanding next time”, because that’s what you do.  But I have been wondering for some time, are we actually on the right bus?

I had the pleasure of listening to Roy Blatchford a few months ago.  A noted education figure, I listened with great interest as he spoke about the specifics of certain vocabulary.  Frequent flyers of this drivel will know that this is a subject close to my heart.  He spoke about schools striving not for good or outstanding (with OfSTED “O”s), but striving for excellence.  More precisely, he spoke about striving for excellence as standard.  He then went on to illustrate this in many different ways.  I don’t mind confessing, I came away from that talk knowing seeds had been planted somewhere overgrown and smelly in the darker recesses of my twisted and devious mind.

I was reminded of many car adverts from the 80s and 90s, which often boasted of certain things that were “excellent as standard”.  I never used to consider how electronic windows would be excellent as standard, but I suppose you would miss them if they weren’t.  My dad only ever had company cars – generally Cortinas or astras which have hardly every troubled the dictionary definition of excellence - and we all thought our ship had come in when he brought a Granada with electric seat warmers.  It’s quite a strange feeling coming home from university for the first time thinking “Funny how dad waited until I left home to buy a new car” and “My bum’s lovely and warm”.  You probably don’t miss excellence until you’ve had something less than that standard, really.

This seed germinated for a few weeks and started to grow into something I didn’t quite recognise.  I tried to crystallise it with some of my reading over half term, including David Taylor and Andy Cope amongst the usual fiction escapism, yet still the shape would not arrive.  I normally come back from the Whitsun break with a SIP pretty much written down.  This year, I simply didn’t.

In sitting / lying down in various places to try and write the next SIP, I couldn’t get the working right, couldn’t find the phrases that would help drive improvement forward.  I struggled, for the first time in a few years, if I’m honest.  I was repeatedly rebuffed by this sense that in getting ready to climb the next mountain, surely you have to be looking at the right one?

Then I read comments from Sir Michael Wilshaw’s speech about the new OfSTED framework.  In amongst all the plans for the way OfSTED will work from here on in, which surely the profession and its leadership can only applaud, he made the point that schools should be striving to be the best they can be for their communities, not the best they can be for inspectors.  Finally, the shadows lifted, edges began to form, the mist evaporated, and I finally saw what had been planted all those weeks ago.

It dawned on me that in striving for the holy grail of an OfSTED outstanding, we were missing the point.  Our attentions became focussed on the badge, and not on the school upon which we would one day pin it.  All along, I felt like I’d been looking at a lovely mountain, but not the one for us.
Scrabbling around for my notes from the Blatchford lecture, I was struck once again by the notion of excellence as standard, and how it could be applied to schools and to learning.  How excellent teaching, every day, should be what we’re striving for, not just teaching that fulfils generic boxes – but actually breaks the boundaries of our own boxes as a matter of course.  How excellent curriculum, underpinned by excellent assessment, could be the cornerstone of the foundations of something really exciting.

One sunny evening, the retractable pencils for which I am famed / mocked went into overdrive, and I wrote about 75% of the mainframe of the next SIP, without once using the word outstanding.  Instead, I was driven on by quotes from Aristotle, from Michelangelo, from some of our greatest educational commentators, Messrs Robinson, Smith and Blatchford included, and from my beloved music.

Is it ready? No.  Is it complete? No, not quite. Is it in keeping with previous SIPs? Not at all.  In it, we make it clear that excellence is our goal, for the quality of teaching, and for the excellent quality of experience we want to bring to all stakeholders.  It talks about ensuring excellence in the delivery of phonics and grammar teaching, which we know is an issue for our children – because excellence for them will bring about excellence by them, if that truly is the standard.   It talks about the excellence we want to bring about for our most vulnerable groups by appointing champions for them who must ensure their best interests are upheld in every sense.  It talks about how various elements of our community can work together for best benefit, and how to utilise the very best aspects of individual tuition for every child.  We want to ensure we can offer excellence for everyone who comes through the door, whatever they may need and whatever challenges they present.

In the words of our chair of Governors when recently questioned, “we want to be excellent for all of our children all of the time, not just outstanding for a few”.

And do you know what? It’s quite a liberating point of view.  I have of course used the new OfSTED documents in order to support our self-assessment, but it has felt a far more fruitful exercise, far more beneficial.   I have used the new framework and its phraseology to help prepare for our core visit this week, and it has been a really good tool in clarifying our thinking towards it, but by no means our master.

It feels very refreshing to be on the right bus heading for the right mountain. It fits.  It’s more comfortable.  It’s an excellent feeling.  It will take a shift in mind-set for some, maybe some of our governors and maybe for some of the community, but I feel it is the right thing to do.

Put it into a different context: we did some recruitment last week, and we never once used the term outstanding.  Some of the candidates did, yet, in reality, they were anything but.  Instead, I sat there, trying to listen (which all my fellow panelists know is not one of my strengths) and thought to myself could I make this candidate excellent? Could they make an excellent contribution to our school, and can they maintain that level?  One candidate got the job with a single answer, and it was all around being brilliant, all the time.  Sounds different, and a little more exciting, doesn’t it.  It also, if I’m honest, rang somewhat more true than “I aim to be outstanding”.

It’s an exciting place to be in, and I’m looking forward to the journey from here.

Whilst I build up the courage to tell my knees and my back that we’re all going on camp this year, that is all.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Little victories - the new triathlon (boxing, fencing, knitting)

I have always been a strange and unusual voice amongst the head teacher fraternity (no, I do not expected you to have swooned from surprise).  There are those who decry it the most difficult job to do, and those who say it’s the best in the world.  I veer somewhere between these two standpoints, claiming humbly that I am extremely lucky to do a job I thoroughly enjoy and pay some kind of service in the performing of it.

I often lecture people when I am asked what’s the difference between being a teacher and a head (which is never) that I think it is quite simple: when you’re a teacher, and a good one, you secure hundreds of little victories on a daily basis that warm your soul – you know the kind of thing; a child conquering a barrier, a brilliant lesson coming off, a colleague commenting on your displays.  When you’re a head, the victories come along far less often, but when they do, they are huge.  In both cases, you need to learn to ride the wave, because if you care about your job and what you do, there will almost always be hard times around the corner, and you need to store up the victories, camel-like, to see you through the negative winters.

Many of my victories as a head will come as no surprise: outcomes, improvements and the successful culmination of large scale projects always put a spring in the step.  Good inset days and staff meetings, and, as I’ve blogged before, the forging of a strong team.  It may seem odd, but I take not a little victory from our staff being snapped up by other schools and settings – is that not, after all, an extremely tall compliment?

But, do you know, I also take enormous personal victories out of the seemingly obvious, and it is only as I’ve got a little older, a bit fatter and a whole lot balder that I’ve come to appreciate it.  Because here’s the big secret, the real  game changer, the greatest victory: every so often, almost without noticing, several things you set in motion a thousand years ago suddenly click and – boom! You have something epic on your hands. 

It happens seldom, and I am in no way so arrogant to think it is all my doing.  However, I hope I was in some way a little instrumental in setting some of these things into motion.  The first head I worked for once told us “You all know when you do a good lesson, you get that warm feeling” and he was right.  It’s the same as a head, only that warm feeling comes along once in a blue lunar cycle, and it gives you a glow that would make ready-brek seem frosty.

It happened to me last night.  It was after school, and we were preparing for the full governing body.  Yet despite the fact that it was long gone 4.00 and school long finished, it buzzed with a vibrancy and activity redolent of 10.00 on a Tuesday morning.  Having delivered my governors stuff to the allotted room and snaffled a biscuit (you always get decent quality at governors) I needed to wander, to see what this pulsating energy was and where it was emanating from, praying it wasn’t the boiler, again.

No, it was nothing to do with any of the nuts and bolts.  Far from it.  In one hall, 6 of our oldest children were enjoying (I use that word loosely) the pains of the boot camp regime at the start of their boxing club.  The music pounded from the system as our learning mentor / boxing coach encouraged our charges to go for “ten more seconds, come on!” in one of the most uncomfortable positions imaginable.  They lasted.  They crumbled.  The groaned.  Then the solitary girl in the pack looked up at me and smiled. 

As I walked out from one building to the other, a legion of three foot high warriors had stormed the playground, all clad in visors and protective armour and wielding swords.  Momentarily, I feared world domination by a group of stealth minion . oompah loompah style ninjas, only to realise it was the key stage 1 multi sports group enjoying their fencing lesson.  The coach put one gladiator through his paces, then stepped back as he faced up to a year one girl, missed his time to thrust and lost the point with a sword to the guts, blood splattering the tarmac and entrails oozing … okay, too far.  Soz, LOL.

From around the corner, on the way to the other hall came some of our previous inmates, splendidly replete in their new secondary uniforms, collecting things from all around the site.  When I say things, I mean teddies, for they were gathering in the protagonists of the teddy bears picnic organised by our outstanding BoBs team.  In the hall itself, 50+ children were enjoying picnic treats and stories, joined by younger siblings, and having a ball.  Yet another triumphant event for our brilliant buddies who never cease to take things to the next level.

As I walked back to governors, feeling the starting salvos of the afore mentioned warm glow, it was further stoked and fuelled by the conversations I overheard in classrooms; colleagues working together on trips and displays, friends helping each other meet the (twenty minutes previously elapsed) deadline for data submission, and just adding greater weight to the meaning of a real team.  As I headed into the governors’ meeting room I thought I had seen it all but I was stopped by a gran I know well.  “Have you seen him?” she enquired.

“No, I haven’t I’m afraid.” I wracked my brains; too old for teddy bears and key stage 1, and not the boxing type, I hadn’t seen him at all.  Gran sensed my confusion.

“He’s at knitting club.” Knitting club.  How could I forget them?  I sent gran down to the library for the end of knitting club, only to see them strolling up the corridor together as a group to meet gran halfway, one of our year 6 girls carrying the box full of knitting club gear, and one of our year 6 boys covered in wool like a naughty kitten.

Governors went well, thanks for asking.  Long, but well; we got the chance to talk about some massive things: assessment, nursery provision, the budget, and an amazing potential vision for the future.  We also tackled some of the tougher issues out there: domestic violence awareness education for key stage 2 – should we place it on the SIP?  Dealing with staff conduct.  Almost three hours, but a thoroughly good and packed meeting focussing on what it so special about our school and where we are heading, and – isn’t this what it’s all about – who we want to be.

I drove home last night thinking three things:
11.  I’m later than I told the babysitter – she’ll be cross.
22.  What’s for tea?
33.  Sometimes, I am so lucky to do the job I do.  Another little victory.  Thank you.

Other than to say it was left-over-bolognese, that is all.