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.