Why we should celebrate when Evil is also Plain Stupid – School Leadership Masterclass – Part 3

From Hitler to Trump most tyrants and despots achieve their status through subtle manipulation of public opinion, cloaking their dark intentions behind a positive and public spirited crusade to make things better for those in their key demographic then nudging that over into hatred of those they perceive as obstructing this end. Their supporters can quickly find themselves wondering how they came to be on the wrong side of the argument. But then pig headedness and a competitive urge to be on the winning side kicks in and they rationalise it away and go on to achieve terrible things. With hindsight the leader’s writings often reveal hints that should have warned us of what was going on. 

Likewise in education we have schools, and especially academies, that slip under the radar doing bad things like encouraging the least able to leave to improve their data and adopting draconian discipline systems. But just occasionally we find a truely stupid, or perhaps brave and subversive, leader who broadcasts publicly all the awful things they are planning to do and, like a footballer crying ‘Ref, what did I do wrong?’ is amazed at the animosity this engenders among parents and fellow educators. However, since this is going on quietly and secretively in some other schools and children are suffering the consequences, we should be grateful to Barry Smith of Yarmouth Charter Academy  for being open about his plans, which I consider to be evil. It is helpful that they shine a light on the most reactionary end of education so I say ‘Cheers Bazza!’ you might just have prevented this sort of thing from happening:


When should NQTs smile (and other usefultime checks)

There has been a bit of untwitterly bad tempered discussion about the advice sometimes given to NQTs not to smile until Christmas and how literally it should be taken.

Clearly prescriptive inflexible advice given without consideration of different contexts can be really unhelpful and cause a lot of frustration, so here is some more…

On the upside though you can do the following from pretty much day 1:

Relish the progress the children have made.

Realise how important you are to them.

Remember that you are doing one of the most important jobs in the world.

Be proud of your achievements and give yourself a bit of slack over things that don’t work well.

Look after yourself; take time off if  you are ill. Anyone who says ‘I’ve been teaching for 20 years and never had a day off.’ Is either incredibly lucky or an irresponsible idiot.

Ignore foolish advice from hasbeens on twitter. 

Follow the advice of Mr Sinatra and Mr Vicious and Do it Your Wayeeeeeeeeeeee! (One also sang ‘The best is yet to come’ which will be worth remembering on some of your darker days, while the other sang ‘I wanna be your dog’ so you can take your pick!)

5 Tips to help you hit the ground running this term

There seem to be lots of pieces about at the moment giving advice on starting a new term. The writers all assume that the problems they have are shared by their readers, and that their solutions will work for all. So, in that spirit here my addition to the cannon (this is the high bar I’m setting for my team this year)

  1. Turn up on time 
  2. Turn up sober 
  3. Try to remain positive until at least break time (or 9.30 if it’s a training day) 
  4. Turn your swear-mode from ‘Holiday Brickie’ to ‘Term-time Prude’ 
  5. Memorise the faces of your nearest and dearest, you won’t be seeing much of them till late October 

Why having a long summer holiday is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman, (and how to justify it to critics) – School Leadership Masterclass part 2

Since I am leaving the profession at the end of next school year, I want to take the opportunity to share some of the wisdom I have collected over the last 30 years and share it with you in the brief window before it becomes irrelevant and I become another bitter old ex teacher.

Why having a long summer holiday is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman

In many ways the long summer holiday is both the chief blessing and at the same time the chief curse of our profession. I probably need to remind everyone at this point that teachers’ summer holidays are unpaid. We are paid to work for 1265 hours per year over 195 days. The fact that our wages are averaged over 12 months is purely a convenience measure. On the one hand it is great to have this amount of free time but, once you take into consideration the enormous proportion of the holiday that is taken up by having to repeatedly explain this simple fact to friends or acquaintances on Twitter, there really isn’t much leisure time left at all. 

A key test of your skills as a school leader is to explain the above to the Tory-boy (or girl) on your governing body. We all have one – I think it’s obligatory (though I must confess we currently have a vacancy – Nigel, you are much missed). If you have struggled to get this across in a positive way, may I commend the following as it contains a clear explanation of some of the drawbacks of having long holidays, incorporating some SPAG friendly constructions, and just the right hint of casual sexism which will keep your free market obsessed governor sniggering into his/her copy of the Daily Mail:

Having a long summer holiday is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman because…

  1. You look forward to it for ages, but the reality rarely lives up to the expectation.
  2. Deep down you feel that you just don’t deserve it.
  3. It would be wildly optimistic to expect it to happen more than once a year.
  4. You are so unused to it that that you initially become very disorientated and appear to be in a daze.
  5. Parts of your body which stay covered for the rest of the year finally see daylight.
  6. Friends shake their heads and complain at your undeserved luck.
  7. In spite of your best efforts it’s all over much too quickly.
  8. The whole experience can be spoiled by being seen by parents/children from school.
  9. You should avoid putting up too many photos of it on Facebook/twitter to avoid causing jealousy in others.
  10. It can be even more exhausting than being at work.

And finally, although overly positive and highly inaccurate memories will see you through the cold Winter months, you should resist the temptation to bore your colleagues to death by going on about it endlessly in the staffroom.

The 3 Keys to being a World Class Head Teacher  – School leadership masterclass part 1

Since I am leaving the profession at the end of next school year, I want to take the opportunity to share some of the wisdom I have collected over the last 30 years and share it with you in this brief window before they become irrelevant and I become another bitter old ex teacher.


The 3 Keys to being a World Class Head Teacher

Reflect on these over the summer and you will return in September not only a better and more thoughtful head, but also a more worthwhile human being (you’re welcome!).

Step 1: Lead Better

Without buy-in your inspiring education vision counts for nothing. All too often we head off boldly on a new and questionably useful initiative, only to find that the staff are not with us. It is essential that our colleagues follow us, even if it’s only on twitter. 

Step 2: Manage Better 

After mansplaining, manspreading and manscaping, managing is the greatest challenge facing male head teachers. The effects of stress and the passing of years plus the fact that we will now all have to work until we are 74 have taken their toll on our appearance and perceived age. As someone once addressed by an angry child as ‘ You grey haired nob!’ when I was only 34, I am acutely aware that we need to appear youthful and in touch with young pupils and teachers. To this end we have all spent the past year weaving examples of the modern lingo such as ‘bruv’, ‘dude’, ‘daddio’, ‘groovy’ and ‘hip’ into our briefings, staff meetings and assemblies. We may now have to up the ante by surreptitious use of toupees, hair dye and Botox. 

Step 3: Delegate Better

(Matt could you fill this section in on your next management day, or ideally by first thing tomorrow. Make it pithy and witty)

DOS for Dummies – a guide to politics by and for someone who wasn’t really paying attention

Over the past week or so politics has suddenly become interesting and much talked about. Inspired by seeing an episode of Murder She Wrote in which Jessica Fletcher goes into the Cabot Cove computer store and lingers in front of a copy of ‘DOS for Dummies’, I have decided to help ensure that those who haven’t been following the news get a chance to catch up. I have, therefore written a quick summary so that, in just five minutes, you can be up to speed on everything and not feel left out, or look foolish, in conversations with your fellow liberal elite members. Apologies if I am not 100% accurate all the way through, but I have been a bit busy too.

In 2008 largely because no governments dared to restrain them, bankers caused a massive crash which left economies around the world struggling. The British Prime Minister of the time and his chancellor (Brown and Darling) intervened to ensure that the country maintained growth and gently reduced spending to bring about a recovery. In a far more important matter Brown called a bigoted woman ‘a bigoted woman’ and lost his credibility. The new conservative leader, David Cameron, saw that Brown and Darling had averted crisis and did not like it one bit. He immediately and publicly vowed to create a Broken Britain. Using Brown’s catastrophic policy of not turning his microphone off in the car against him, and backed by his heavy weight supporters  (Michael Caine and Coldplay) he toured the country vowing to break it by making an imaginary number smaller, which he claimed would delight our grandchildren when they learnt about it, and protecting the NHS from the excess of money which was piled up in operating theatres getting in the way of surgeons etc(while showing his sincerity by winking every time he said it). The electorate agreed that Britain needed breaking and voted him into Downing Street (although he had to take in some lodgers to pay the rent). Initially it was thought that the lodgers would stop him breaking Britain, but in the event they just held his coat while he got on with it.

The main tool Cameron planned to use was the referendum. This was a process in which people volunteered to be broken, assuming they were voting to break other people. His first attempt, asking Scotland if it wanted to be poor and isolated, failed and he took out his frustration on the poor and disabled, somehow framing the banking failure as their fault. Britain was instantly broken in two parts, the skivers and the strivers. Interestingly though almost all of the skivers thought they were strivers and acted as cheerleaders for the attempts of Cameron and Duncan Smith to punch them in the faces. There was even a TV debate in which a skiver shouted ‘Go on punch the skivers in the face!’ at which point Cameron punched her in the face and she was horrified. Still not satisfied that Britain was broken enough Cameron drained money from the NHS, education and Social care while freezing all wages. In a final attempt to destroy Britain totally, he arranged another referendum, one which would not be binding but which would give him an idea of how people were thinking. The wording of the referendum was something like, ‘Do you want yourselves and your children to be really poor and the laughing stock of the world?’. He knew if he lost the referendum then the country would be destroyed, but having it was his best hope to hold on to power. Egged on by Cameron’s rivals Mr Blobby and Govlum (who both really planned to heroically lose the referendum and become leader) the people narrowly voted yes. At this point, with Britain broken and divided, Cameron, his mission complete and with a song in his heart, left power, like his predecessor Brown, by leaving his microphone on.

Meanwhile the heavyweights of his party including Blobby and Govlum, slugged it out in the style of boxers paid to take a dive all collapsing to the canvas together. Meanwhile the illegitimate offspring of Cruella DeVille and Imhotep rose from the ruins to claim leadership unopposed and, sucking out the life spirit of her rivals, take on the mantle of breaker of Britain. She was in a position to utterly destroy Britain by enacting the referendum result as if it was binding and thus fulfil Cameron’s legacy. With the full army of Mordor behind her and her ring of power ably wielded by the press she had the world at her feet, except for a small corner called the Corbinshire. Determined to be the one PM who ruled them all she took on the humble harmless and divided hobbits who lived there with her army of Orcs. All that stood between her and total victory was a rag tag band of elves and dwarves, led by a single bearded figure leaning on a staff barring her way on the bridge crying ‘You shall not pass!’ She looked down at the hooded figure and,with the full force if the Mail and the Sun behind her, she struck him down. To her and everyone else’s surprise (with the possible exception of Michael Rosen) powered by an army of children, he rose up more powerful than she could possibly imagine. 

And now Mayhotep sits in her bunker, her regime in tatters, wondering whether to get her husband to put her out with the bins or to swear allegiance to a band of Morlocks to hold on to power.

Meanwhile, we hobbits are left to await the final outcome so that we can begin to clear out the evil from our constituencies and town halls ready for a new and optimistic vision to flow across the country and plant the strong and stable oaks that will guarantee our country a genuinely strong and stable future. 

Ten strange years then and exactly as I remember them. But it will be up to the youngsters to decide what happens next.  By the next election whether it is months or years away, more of them will have turned 18 and more of us oldies will have shuffled off this mortal coil. I hope they will be in a forgiving mood after all the messes we have created for them.

However you spin it the moral of the story is that sometimes the young people surprise us in a good way! See also:
‘When William Came’ by Saki

Reality Check: What I tell myself VS what I really know deep in my heart

As one of those who broke up a week ago, I have now reached the 7 day low that we all experience as the dark first week of holiday of the soul, and from this uncharacteristically low point I inexplicably feel the need to reflect on the past 18 months. 

After all, 2016/17 has seen a huge change in the mood of our country and shown us a glimpse into the dark heart of our culture. We can’t close the alt-right/brexit/Trump door that has opened and pretend it doesn’t exist. However it doesn’t mean we have to accept it. I think we have to look deep into the fetid depths of these ideas that have unfortunately become mainstream and recognise and confront them in our own selves before we can comprehensively reject them. To me that means we (or at least I) have to stop kidding ourselves about our nature and some of the cultural garbage we have inherited. And then we will be free to decide that, just because we have these influences, it does not mean we have to act on them. We always have a glorious choice whenever we act.

At this point I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the following, but I hope they will help me make sense of the world and be more effective at making some kind of a difference. 

I tell myself: People (including me) want what’s best for them, their families and friends. 

Deep in my heart I know: People (including me) have a strong drive to take sides and win. The consequences are not important until afterwards, and only then as guidance in deciding who to blame. 

I tell myself:  People (including me) vote according to self interest or sometimes altruism.

Deep in my heart I know: People (including me) most commonly vote for whoever is promising to hurt people they don’t like.

I tell myself: Groups are aggregations of the views of the people who make them up.

Deep in my heart I know: Groups are zombies controlled by the strongest feelings present usually hate, anger, lust and jealousy and are usually remote controlled by someone with a financial interest in the outcome.

I tell myself: We are rational beings who make thoughtful decisions 

Deep in my heart I know: We are influenced by, and at the mercy of, currents and rip tides of feelings from those we associate with either personally or electronically (as well as attitudes that have festered inside us since childhood.).

I tell myself: We want to do good things and be guided by love, but often don’t have time/money/influence to act on this. 

Deep in my heart I know: We really don’t care about much. We have sentimental attachments to things, people and ideas, but these rarely transcend into love or commitment; however since hatred can be fanned for far less effort than love it more often guides our actions.

I tell myself: People will love the subtle horticultural joke in the picture for this blog 

Deep in my heart I know: No one will read the blog let alone look at the picture and realise it is of Gertrude rather than Dr Henry, unless I put in a none too subtle hint disguised as a final paragraph. 

Please feel free to declare yourself an exception to any of the above, but be aware that that will just be ‘what you tell yourself’.

If you cut us, do not the children bleed?

When I started teaching we had it tough. My final teaching practice in 1987 was at Colmers Farm primary school in Rednal just up from Longbridge where the car plant was laying off workers. It was a pretty grim site at a pretty grim time. The infants were on the ground floor, the juniors upstairs and the secondary school was over the playground. It felt as though children were condemned to 12 years in the same prison like accommodation. The teachers were a great bunch and there was a lot of team spirit, but there were precious few resources and no teaching assistants. The the only port of call for teachers or pupils having problems was the headteacher in his office in the middle of the school. Staff were stressed, parents were angry and children unsettled.I had 35 year 5 children on my own in a classroom and some days I had to teach with my foot wedged against the classroom door or children would leap up, with much rattling of chairs, punch each other and run out. Few days passed without blood on the polished herringbone tiled floor and I’m not convinced that much quality learning went on. In the 30 years since then we have had more funding, especially since 1997 and have been able to improve the physical spaces, and have more teaching assistants to support learning, enabling troubled children to be included and helping the other children achieve. Boy have we come a long way! Neither I nor the children in that class would recognise a primary classroom these days: the calm working buzz, the number of adults helping, the sense of enjoyment and what children now can achieve.

With this has come additional responsibility, OFSTED inspections, the ever increasing expectations of the standards of attainment in tests, and we have absorbed a lot of this by making our TAs ever more skilful (and as I’ve said elsewhere gaming the system somewhat); but however you look at it, the prospects for being a child in school are so much better now compared to the way it was in the 1980s. Try a little experiment; read my first paragraph then visit Colmers Farm’s current website: http://www.colmersfarm.bham.sch.uk/tour.htm.

This is what my generation of teachers, together with support from governments of various hues, has achieved, not just at Colmers Farm but across the country. And are we proud? Damn right we are! What a success story, what an achievement! And that is why I am so upset today (it won’t last but it will turn into anger). The DfE now believes that we don’t need those teaching assistants any more, they think we should save money by letting them go.

Nicky Morgan believes we have to take the strain of cuts with other manufacturing (really? Is she referring to manufactured data?) industries. These children are worth investing in, they will, I hope, power us out of the next recession long after I am cold in the ground (next week at this rate), they must not be put in the position of those children I taught in 1987: no support, no one to help them and all children’s achievement brought down by the worst behaved. One teacher in a class on their own cannot deliver the highest quality, and certainly not the ludicrously high expectations teachers now have to ensure their children achieve.

This problem is not caused by the new fair funding formula, nor by local issues or falling roles. This is CUTS, pure and simple, the biggest cut in a generation. Keeping funding flat while allowing (and indeed causing) energy costs, resource costs, national insurance contributions, pension contributions and the apprenticeship levy to rise enormously. The scale of the problem leaves a school of 215 children trying to find 45k savings, and other local schools affected proportionally. This can’t be done and sending us patronising documents about efficiency in schools does not help. When the DfE submits to the National Audit office that it is optimistic as to schools’ capability of adapting to the changes as schools are being given the responsibility of making the cuts work, and the Audit Office office says ‘The department can demonstrate using benchmarks that schools should be able to make the required savings in spending on workforce and procurement without affecting educational outcomes, but cannot be assured that these savings will be achieved in practice’ (headteacher update March 2017), while Nick Gibb is sounding off about the importance of direct teaching (one teacher, one class) we should all be aware exactly where this is heading – 1987 at full speed. This puts the continuing statements from DfE spokesman that education spending has never been higher into its true context. 

And here I am not only talking about this year’s cuts. Just that we might be able to survive but we are told we can anticipate even deeper cuts over the next 3 years. Children’s progress, safety and mental health will be affected as will stress levels among teachers and the ability of schools to recruit and retain the best teachers.

I am at the end of my tether. I am not prepared to be part of the generation of heads who tear down what everyone has worked hard to achieve. So what can I do? Sadly my options seem to be closing by the day…

Why what I do isn’t necessarily right and why people who disagree with me aren’t necessarily evil

Having been in this profession too long and having, while I wasn’t paying attention, grown old, I guess I have seen a lot of changes and, just maybe, learnt a few things. I have also championed causes, led protests, taken sides, changed my mind, made a stand, given in too easily, got in arguments and talked myself into difficult positions.

Right now I am up to my neck in funding issues which could turn out to be insoluble, but they too will pass. However it still heartens me to see young(er) teachets getting passionate about their role and about the philosophy of education. I therefore feel I should make my contribution to these choppy waters, based on nearly 30 years in teaching, so that they can be rejected as the demented babbling of someone so out of touch that their ideas are no longer relevant. There are only two things I have learnt through somewhere near a hundred thousand hours of a career.

They are as follows


Pretty much anything done with integrity, hard work and compassion will probably work, whereas pretty much anything done in a half arsed, lazy or greedy way will almost certainly fail.

Pretty much anything can be made to look ridiculous if you extrapolate it to an absurd degree. This does not constitute evidence that it doesn’t work, or is misguided.


Here are two examples (one real and one imagined) that have led me to the second point (the first point is largely supported by what I have seen pretty much every one of the past 6000 or so working days):

1) Early in my career there was a big argument between those who favoured a phonics approach to learning reading, and those who preferred something that more closely resembled how adults read, namely whole word recognition or ‘real books’ as it became known. It was a very polarised debate, and somewhere along the line it was argued that the weakness of the real books approach was that children sometimes misrecognised words with similar shapes. The classic was that ‘aeorglane’ could be read as aeroplane, and therefore this approach was fatally flawed. This statement was presented as though no one using synthetic phonics ever made a mistake. Somehow, however, it carried the day and these days it is heretical to suggest that anything other than phonics works. Personally I now feel that it’s probably more of a horses for courses thing and using a variety of methods is the best approach, but then I am a bit of an ideological fanatic.

2). Dialogue marking. We have introduced a green pen/red pen system of marking. The idea is to support children in being more self reflective about their work (or learning if you have banned the ‘w’ word). It’s meant to make marking meaningful rather than a wasted effort. We don’t mark everything this way and recognise that it impacts on workload. We have therefore cut other stuff to make space and time. It is by no means perfect yet. However there has been a recent push back against this approach, someone is doubtlessly working on publishing an example ad absurdum:

Well done Josie. I enjoyed reading your story. The characters were well developed and their actions were consistent throughout. The ending was appropriately unexpected and, though rather gory, provided good closure on the different story strands in a most satisfying manner. Have a look through and see if there is anywhere you can use fronted adverbials (don’t forget the comma!) to slow down or interrupt the flow of your narrative and make it less easily readable.

Thank you for your nice comments Mr Swapboy. I have had a look through my work and decided the last paragraph could have started, ‘With her head attached by just one last sinew,  Jane lashed out and caught hold of the clown’s throat…’. What do you think?

That’s a great idea Josie, that way your writing will achieve the expected standard. Don’t forget to write out your spellings.

Sever…sever…sever…contusion…contusion…contusion…eviscerate…eviscerate…eviscerate. Thank you Mr Swapboy I have really enjoyed this sequence of work.

I’m glad you liked it. Thank you for the feedback.

Well, no thank you for being a great teacher!

And you are a great pupil keep up the good work. Now we need to stop this dialogue!

Ok, you stop first.

No you stop first.

No you!

You stop!

No you!

Hey why have you stopped commenting? Don’t you care about my progress anymore?

So my message today is that life may be a little more nuanced than twitter may lead us to believe. However in the interests of full disclosure you should be aware that hidden deep down inside me there is an unreconstructed part of my heart that believes that if you disagree with this message then you are evil.

Where’s Gibbo? – A Twenty First Century Mystery

Until his sudden reappearance on twitter last week pushing a fact-heavy, skills-light, fun-absent curriculum, my favourite politician, Nick Gibb, together with his boss Justine Greening, had been suspiciously absent for quite a while. Many of us worried, were they ill? Had they been abducted by aliens? Or had the embarrassment at the shambles they preside over at the DfE finally caught up with them.

Fortunately the Rogue Marker had been busy keeping an eye on them for us and has been updating me on their recent activities. So nothing to worry about…

Don’t have nightmares!