This is written from memory due to my notes being a bit rubbish. It’s not in any order and is a flavour of the meeting rather than anything else. I am sure the others will give better detail so please read theirs.

with @educationbear @emmaannhardy @Heymisssmith @gem1001 @franNantogwe and @JWEnNorfolk

Ofsted’s HQ is on the 9th floor of a rather grand old building. It’s all rather light and airy. We tweeters all gather together and explore the etiquette of meeting in human form for the first time. Michael Wilshaw walks past to give the moment an air of further reality. This quickly turns to the surreal as we all cram into the worlds smallest lift with the enthusiasm of Freshers after one too many Alcopops to the cold hard stare of Mr Wilshaw standing in the corner. The worlds smallest and slowest lift then ascends to awkward silence that flirts with childish giggles. We all then pour out of the lift and @heymisssmith breaks the ice by noting how stepping out into Ofsted World is a little like arriving in heaven. I think Mr Wilshaw stays in the lift (there are only 9 floors. So he must have a bat cave type floor somewhere above).

This strange beginning quickly changes when we meet with the rather charming and easy going @mcladingbowl. He is clearly comfortable around people. He’s the kind of lead inspector you really hope you might get… More HMI than traditional Ofsted. After some brief introductions the topics for conversation are aired.

@emmaannhardy was concerned about performance related pay and how heads might be using Ofsted as the reason for making teachers do more than they need to do. There was much from Ofsted about how they DON’T prescribe and they are trying to get this across. But it is shocking what some schools are expecting teachers to do so they can evidence (for Ofsted) that they have ticked off performance management pay. We discussed brave heads and common sense heads. How Ofsted don’t want conformity and how they are concerned at how many Ofsted reports note ‘marking’ as the improvement point. As though the ‘in-vogue’ issue therefore continues to perpetuate the ‘We need to do this for Ofsted!’ line from senior managers. The power of trends in education never stop amazing me.

We are then joined by @HartfordSean who also adds much to the conversation and is another Ofsted person you want to talk to.

We discuss consistency a lot. Consistency of inspections and in particular consistency of training. When @educationbear raises a big issue regarding his training and the dated material it is genuinely addressed – they want to see it. This is what I got from today. Though the changes will not be as radical as some would like this is a new approach. Joining Twitter and engaging IS a strategy and is one that will continue to develop. I didn’t go to the DFE but I got a strong impression that it was clear to the people who did that they were talking to skilled education professionals today rather than politicians playing at being education experts.

@mcladingbowl had much to say about a greater emphasis upon the wider curriculum. He was challenged as to how this would filter down in the current climate but you can see that it is something that he wants to happen. With the changes to lesson observations already filtering down and clear from September this would be a welcome new emphasis.

In all the meeting was a good conversation. Nothing more. I have no idea what they go from it but I wanted it to go on into the evening. I wanted to explain more about how Ofsted inspections could be judge-less and how Ofsted is set up to work with the profession rather than fight it. I wanted to pick up on the Death Star theme and relate how the Empire was not all bad (it was an eclectic conversation). See I have always been a fan of Ofsted. My experiences have in the main been very positive. Having met some of them I feel even more positive. The charm offensive really works… Then I picture the disapproving, almost lonely, eyes of Mr Wilshaw in the lift corner and realise that’s what most teachers see when they think of Ofsted. In the past Ofsted would say tough… I am sure Mr W would. Though by it’s very nature Ofsted will always have to be tough it was nice to briefly see the other side today.

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So here I am. Sitting in the morning sunshine, spilling coffee over the suit I had to fish out from hibernation at some ungodly hour this morning. I am off to meet THE OFSTED at their head quarters. I have two images:

Dark dusty corridors with doors carved from human bone where twisted, vaguely human, shapes acting as servants to the secret state are wringing their hands and cackling loudly in anticipation of the new dawning of the inspection season.

Or

Cold hard white walls. Retina eye scanners. Memory wipes and grey suits. Data tracking across large screens and red lights flashing as the data eye finds an anomaly. As you stand like a rabbit in the heads lights staring at the 20ft letters spelling out POWER and in cursive script beneath… ‘We know where you work’

As I find out later neither are true. Imagine my utter disappointment.

Everyone has their Ofsted story. They are rarely positive (even when they are positive) and usually recall some bonkers moment or evoke outrage at the utter bizarre (these stories are usually popular and get @theprimaryhead a million hits on his blog). Mine was whilst in the early stages of training to be an Ofsted inspector and is at the heart of my concerns regarding inspections.

We had just watched a filmed lesson and were asked to make judgements based on filling in an EF to back up our final judgement. I was in a room with 15 head teacher colleagues (many who I knew and respected). The judgements came in. We had a full house – inadequate to outstanding. One head was furious. I think it was totally unacceptable that he mentioned to the children that his wife fancied that famous chef and he used the word ‘bottoms’. We could not agree and I left thinking – if that was a real situation that teacher’s career was being massively influenced by one factor. Luck. Toss a coin for an inspector – it’s your lucky day! You got @primaryhead1 … He thinks it was good and has the evidence to prove it. OR: oh well, you got angry head who thinks you are inappropriate and therefore YOUR lesson was inadequate in her eyes and she has the evidence to prove it.

This inconsistency seems to be at the heart of many peoples experiences and concerns.

I had this experiment in mind when my last school was graded outstanding. The night before I had degraded the SEF from outstanding to good because the current data in the school was not outstanding. I felt more comfortable arguing from a good perspective rather than defending an outstanding one. In the end it was an easy inspection. What the inspectors saw, heard and experienced was outstanding in their eyes and therefore they just needed to ensure the data could be seen as strong overall – it could. But imagine 10 teams coming in? Would I have got 10 outstanding judgements? Experience tells me no. So I lucked out then? It’s this lucking out or NOT lucking out that is at the crux of the Ofsted debate.

So, what can Ofsted do to make the experience more level?

Firstly, become more receptive to the debate which is what I think today is part of. It is clear that Ofsted had a meeting and someone said, “We need to engage with social media”. Hence they have a social media manager and suddenly over night these people appeared and engaged with the community. That was a significant shift… Especially if it does impact upon future interactions and directions in a way that responds to concerns.

I think that the inspection process is a game of two halves. One is your data. There is much to do on interpreting this and what is important and what is irrelevant. But, currently, you can do a lot of this from a deck chair in sunny Spain. There is nothing worse than hearing an inspector say (this happen on my second inspection as head), “I am impressed. But I can’t give you outstanding in any area because your data is not outstanding…’

So why have you turned up then? You could have told me that on the phone!

The second part of the inspection needs to go the way of lesson judgements. Making graded judgements about the work the school does in nurture, care and provision is far more loaded than the cold hard facts of the data. This part of the inspection should be a dialogue and discussion. It could be more like the HMI visits. Yeah, write a report but don’t grade what the school is doing. I worked in a special measures school in which staff were solely responsible for bringing down a child and adult trafficking ring… Grade that!?! It impacted upon the children in (or not) the school and it took great staff away from some of the basics… But it was more important in the moment. Being part of it (I have written the blog but for legal reasons can not publish it yet) is one of my proudest moments in education. More (in many ways) than sitting across a table and being told the school I was head of was outstanding. I had been part of making a real difference to the lives of people that could not be measured.

But I also hate the, “Well, Ofsted got it wrong” argument because usually it hides lazy, complacent individuals who have taken a bash to their ego.

So, as my train draws into London I know I have many thoughts and concerns that can not be answered in one meeting. But the fact I am invited feels good.

“Do you know what leadership means Lord Snow? It means that the person in charge gets second guested by every clever little twat with a mouth. But if he starts second guessing himself that’s the end, for him, for the clever little twats, for everyone.” Allister Thorne (Game of Thrones)

Terms out. That mad head rush of inexplicable crazy is history. Do I remember it? A little… The special moments. The sad goodbyes and kind words. But the vast majority of year end is a waste of energy and space. It is created by us to sap and strain. It’s as though we feel so guilty because of the summer holiday that we have to cram a heart attack inducing final two weeks in to feel that we have earned the break. It is even worse when you are leaving your school. You throw strange emotions into the mix. This last week I have been in rehab (drink! swimming, reading… drink!). Tearing myself away so brutally was the hardest thing. Though I am convinced it was the best way to do it.

Now that I am going to a new school I have been thinking about all the things I have done that frustrate and annoy and wondering how I will do things differently in the future. So here are three reflections on my leadership style and what I feel about them now I am going into a new job.

Being TOO understanding.

I think it is called integrity. I really do try to do my best for everyone. This means that some people get an inordinate amount of my time, energy and goodwill. Is this fair? I keep thinking that in my new school I will be colder and harder. But will I? I am what I am. I can be as hard and ruthless as anyone, but I have always tried to find a way to meet everyone’s needs in a solution. Is this good headteacher practice? I read a guardian article today in which the Principle of a failing academy got rid of the councilor because the children needed A’s and A*s rather than a cuddle. On reflection being nice is tough. I am still principled and I still have to hold my ground and be strong – usually against those that do not understand what I am doing and why. Where this approach is weak is when certain people just milk your human kindness and never really pay it back by doing their job as well as they could. Though they will often be the first to say they are over worked and under paid. The issue is we work with lots of people and the efforts they put into the job (their motivators and drivers) are different and therefore we get such a range of outcomes from people we work with. I think I will continue to be understanding but I will be lowering my threshold tolerance for people who do not give back what they have received. 

Getting your priorities right

School leadership is never dull. Since the end of term I have had a break in and social services issue to deal with in the school I am leaving (even though the corridors and rooms are like a ghost town). Keeping focused on the main priorities is a tough task. Especially when so many factors distract and demand your time. New school – new Rules! I will be keeping some simple – very basic – priorities in check. They are:

Learning… I keep teaching out for a reason (I will have a team of skilled people who can go in and impact here based on the learning findings – though in truth learning is teaching). Learning is a data driven, scrutiny backed, process for me. I will be in and out of classes, talking, looking, discussing, arguing and searching for evidence that learning is fluid. I will then be doing it for each and every one of the children in the school. I will analysis that data to within an inch of it’s number life (I will look forward to the late nights). I will then be testing that my teachers and senior leaders know the who, what, why and when.

BehaviourMaking sure that expectations are clear and secure for everyone. Especially the adults. I find, more and more, that children’s behaviour is easy to deal with (Unless the system has broken down or there has been a long period of gradual breakdown and inattention – in which case it is still the adults fault that discipline is broken and quite often their behaviour is on par with the unruly children). It is adults that need reminders about their conduct and expectations. How clear is this in the school? It will be a focus for me. Even if all seems well and wonderful. We, the adults, model the behaviour we expect from every one. No compromise.

Systems... We have so many in schools. My focus will be working out which ones count and are they followed? Starting with the policies (summer reading) and then on to the day to day routines. There is nothing I hate more than doing things that have no real purpose or, even worse, no real impact.

Looking after me

I tried rewording this altruistic heading but felt that I should write it as I mean it. The longer I have been doing headship, the things I have seen, had said to me (done to me even) and the toll that this takes means that I need a certain selfishness about my approach to the role. I am not a sponge but nether am I a stone. I am flesh and blood and have to accept that each battle, each challenging moment, every tragedy or success shape and form me into what I have become or will become. This does not mean I will be leaving at 4 PM every Tuesday. I will work the hours needed. What it does mean is I will be finding time to swim. I will find a mentor – someone I can talk to who is ruthless in their appraisal (someone who will not pander to my insecurities).  I will also look for my new colleagues, new partnerships to build upon in Somerset (where I am going) but at the same time I will continue to build upon my existing ones.

Quite often when I have moved on I have seen it as an end to a chapter in the book of my life and the new start the beginning chapter (Corny I know). This is very true to how I feel as I write this. I have a new job (a big challenge), a new house (hopefully) and my family are all going through this BIG move as well. I loved my old school and my old life. I have deep fears for this new start… but I will not be second guessing what will be because I do not know. What is certain though is I have a feeling I’ll have some blogs to write about over the next 12 months… Let’s hope so.

I think I ate some bad cheese the other night. I had a nightmare. Dreaming about being married to Micheal Gove is not for the faint of heart. What made my twisted mind put me through this? I am stressed! So I thought I’d publicly divorce him, to help me recover from the ordeal, through writing my Dear John letter..

My Love,

I am a bad teacher Micheal. I want out of this marriage! That is why I am leaving you. Like the other 380,000 of us who you said were bad because we disagree with you and no longer support you.

Firstly, you repulsed me before we got physical (not the best starts to a relationship… But I have known worse!). I tried to love you but something about your smile just told me – we were not meant to be… I wanted to love you. Honestly. To hold your ideals close to mine and stare into your idealistic blue eyes and say, “Yes! Yes, we can make this work!” 

When you first appeared. I clapped you on to the stage, even when stared down by colleagues. Not because I was a Tory. I was never going down that shady alley with you. I willed you on because your success meant something. So much rested on you being the right voice. You impressed me with your political verve. I was a fool. A young inexperienced fool. You see… Our educational dream has turned to dirty brown muck. I blame you of course. My lawyers agree. My best friend called you the enemy (among many other things). Though I do not adhere to such bass language and I am not too sure what this really means. But I do not hate you Michael. I know you truly believe you are doing the right thing. I support this. But ask yourself, how do you improve something when it’s very soul (it utter core) despises you such? By continuing to dismiss and discount? As though you top trump because you are truly important. YOU are Secretary of State for education, god damn it! How often I have seen you try to win an argument that way.

I think our relationship broke down because you never quite managed to fulfill your promise. You flirted too much Michael… It was as though you wanted to be somewhere else? I had much riding on you making education fresh and relevant… But all you did was turn us into robots. Slaves, waiting to hear how good we might be. My skills are dead. Being good at what I do has been narrowed down to being good at what you want me, need me, to do. That’s not how a happy relationship flourishes? I am but a number… And that number fluctuates according to simple mathematics. Where’s the love? Where’s the pride in what I do for the greater good of our time spend together? I just need to accept I am a slave and play the numbers game. My years of work is now condensed down into simple formula. Did I make the thresholds? Am I good enough for your love? If I pass… I am relived. I feel on top of the world, for an hour or two, and then I think about next year. How can I secure this relationship by making sure that future expectations are met? I ignore our family to feed your needs. This is not love Micheal. This is primeval needs. The needs of the desperate. I have bought into your game. I am now a victim of oppression. Worse still I take my fears out on our family. I allow this dysfunctional relationship to exist. How many do I ignore to feed this obsession?

Maybe I should take your hand firmly in mine. Look into your eyes and say, “Trust me. This is wrong. I can make us all as loved as you so clearly want (deep down). Ok, the sex has gone but you are a good man. You want what I want. We just see this educational love thing differently. That’s ok? Isn’t it?”

As they say in the literary world… It’s a Migration of Meaning. That’s what it is!

I did not strike. In fact I did not support the strike. Apathy? No idea. But, I want nothing to do with the center of education any more. Probably made that clear in many a blog. I am going out and starting on my own. Minus any romantic notions of educational utopia. I don’t need you Michael! I don’t need to come home at night and have you make me feel like a lump of shit. I am a good man! I am a good head. I tried so hard for you when it was never you I needed to serve. But now I am on my own, making waves in my world. It will be tough. It will be lonely at times but it will be on my terms. I dream of a day where I look back and think about what I mean rather than how well I did meeting your ever more mysterious thresholds. I know you want the best. I just feel like you whore me out and I just play the game. Rather well I may add. But it is no longer enough. Goodbye Michael. I hope when we next meet you look across the room and feel the pangs of regret wash over you as the realization hits home. Moral purpose was never about numbers. It was about actions, compassion, hope and desire. Yours were too well formed before you started. You were never going to change. From where I come from nothing is as writ in stone as your political friends would lead you to believe. You live in a world of rotten lies and for that I grieve for you.  From where I come, your heart is a better policy than your politics. I hope your next love makes you happier than I could.

Bad Teacher.

 

What a difference a year makes. This years CfBT, ASCL and NAHT (Acronym hell!) sponsored school leaders conference was excellent. It did exactly what it said on the tin – Inspire. In fact it did more. Initially I was worried. What will a Minister and National College empty conference offer? Well, quite frankly, everything good about previous years and SO much more. I left with a sense that the power to change education lay in our hands… I was like a school boy, dizzy on one too many fizzy cola bottle sweets, believing I had the world at my feet.

The theme was very much about LEARNING (surprising that) but on a global level. Learning from each other as two teachers learn. Not top down but side to side in partnership. I think that the greatest thing the lack of a GOVE (Or even better a Charlie Taylor!) bought was a freedom. A sense of space. I was certainly less angry on day 2. Here’s a few of my many highlights.

Steve Mumby:

A man who talks in a way that the profession can not fail to understand. I can not say the same about Richard Gerver who I feel unconvinced by – he’s funny in a Micheal McIntyre sort of way. Steve Mumby has substance behind his words. He has genuine warmth and empathy (I will certainly reflect on my ability to say sorry with confidence). When he says that the time is right to seize educational reform from politics you believe him. You also know that give him the space and together we will do it and do it well.

Benjamin Zander

I was NOT expecting Benjamin Zander… As the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra I thought I’d get a little insight into the world of conducting (“You’re all conductors in this room”) and some nice classical music (Chopin)…  I feel privileged that I have spent some time in a room with this man. Over 70 years old, running around the ICC Birmingham conference room with compassion, wisdom and mischief in equal measure; his two hours were a wonder. I think we will all remember singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to poor Anne (I’m sure she won’t forget it) and the music and words of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – Ode to Joy are emblazoned upon my mind. His standing ovation was the most comfortable I have ever given.

I suddenly feel that next time I am faced with stress, disaster or problems… I will rise my hands to the sky and say, “How fascinating!”. Almost Ken Dodd like and the problem will become an opportunity.

Andy Hargreaves

Up Lifting… What’s your dream – the more improbable the better. Full of insight backed by evidence. Every other sentence was eminently quotable, ‘Don’t use up all your fuel on take off.’ Change at the point of your success and be counter intuitive if you want long term success. All was backed up by global educational evidence. He has been there and he has seen it and he told us lots about it. His new book looks like a must buy.

Dr Avis Glaze

Her passion for equity was powerful. Her worksheet has a thousand future blogs in it. Some great dilemma’s facing system change in schools in the coming years.

Sir Clive Woodward

He did not show that famous drop kick. He did not need to. Leadership is suddenly easy when you listen to people like him. They know it’s not but their experience takes you along. You become a sponge rather than a stone. A great talk.

I missed so much as well. From listening to colleagues I WISH I had heard Dr Tererai Trent. Certainly the highlight for most I spoke to. I would also give an honorable mention to Andreas Schleicher who, though the text was rather small and difficult to digest, showed why intentional data is crucial if we are to make education work on a global scale.

A truly great conference. I can not wait until next years.

 

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“Trojans, don’t trust this horse.” Aeneid, Book II

I fell out with @theprimaryhead recently. It was over partnerships… This blog is not about partnerships, though much of @theprimaryheads ire is reflected here. I have recently been appointed the head teacher of an academy… This blog is not about academies. This blog is about politics- the politics that are responsible for both of the above and right now a sense that education is a battleground in which the most brutal and bloody stratagems are being played out in the dazzling frenzy of the media.

Let me start with ‘Britain First’. You may have seen their deeply disagreeable photographs shared by a school friend you regrettably befriended on Facebook. ‘Britain First’, according to its site, is a patriotic political party and street defence organisation and they exist because UKIP have not only fuelled right wing hysteria – they have gentrified aspects of it. So, if you see a picture of a D-Day veteran on a beach with a flag in a moment of reflective emotion – you can like (even though two pictures down it says, ‘Share if you are a warrior of Christ’). I have an education point in all this. I feel some of this current mania within the media is starting to show in more mainstream politics. I feel the recent ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal is a classic example. Suddenly Mr Gove is talking about the systematic failure of the DFE, Ofsted and the LEA. I think this is the very LEA that his politics has stripped down to a mere powerless acronym.  It avoids the primary issue – LEA’s have no capacity to inspect what is going on in their schools. I can count the number of SIO’s in Bristol on one hand – and they don’t call me two fingered Joe because I am a cantankerous old man! Excuse culture at its very best. It is not just aspects of extremism that could (the evidence so far has been pretty flimsy) go unmonitored in schools, it is dodgy accountancy, bullying and narrow curriculums. They are happening and the evidence is almost overwhelming. Read the blogs, read the secret teachers, read the papers, look at the pay structure of head teachers and look at the weekly letters to Mr Gove from teachers and other influential people in education or arts.

Subterfuge is an art and in the current climate of mistrust of politics and politicians I see this as yet another example. UKIP are the flavour of the month. Give them what they want Mr Gove. Give them ‘British Values’, I am not looking forward to the ‘Britain First’ take on this. Thugs outside shopping centres under the flag of some cod political party spouting what it is to be ‘British’. Has it really come to this? I just wish Michael Gove could step back for a second and look over his Empire and have an epiphany (Not in the religious sense though!).

The fragmentations of Local Authorities have been badly executed.

Criticism of Ofsted has been bungled and in fighting has only caused further resentment.

Standards obsession on the new curriculum has effectively culled the eminence and impact of foundation subjects (It’s only a matter of time before some schools just do SPaG and Maths).

As much as the Trojan Horse scandal is a story – I don’t think it should be at the root of our fears (As certain parties and media moguls may want it to be). Is the evidence (when we see it) going to be any more worrying than other things that are happening in schools up and down the country since Mr Gove has taken office? I think the Trojan horse is chicanery which distracts us from the real deception here. Somehow we have allowed the piece by piece dismantlement of school accountability systems by a man who clearly seems to want his empire to account to him. We used to have to meet with our SIO three times a year. We had a relationship with them – even though we didn’t like them. That has gone. I could have an illegal gambling den set up in my office… If I’m careful I can keep it going until Ofsted arrives in about four years’ time.

The Trojan Horse is Mr Gove. He came bearing great gifts but they are turning out to be impossible to control. Truth is an interesting word. Who’s truth and what truth? The more I read about this story the more I feel that the truth is being buried beneath the wheels of a lumbering colossus.

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The romantic notions of assemblies hark back to an age that has long since pasted – and yet the classical ideals behind them have not changed.

Assemblies come in many forms:

The Celebration – well done Cromwell for focussing for 23 seconds. Have a black and white piece of thick paper to put in your reading bag and forget about.

The Patriotic – banned in the UK since Victorian times (or something) though seemingly popular in other countries, if you read the Daily Mail… Which I don’t!  Is this where Old Primary Head declares himself a UKIP supporter? Trying to out-do Game of Thrones for SHOCKERS.

The PreachySomeone’s been throwing wet tissue paper onto the toilet ceiling. Let’s have a mass gathering condemning the mystery culprits and shaming them into admitting their crimes publically.

The Themed – YES! It’s the WORLD CUP… let’s talk about FLAGS and Brazil and … and… FOOTBALL!

The Moral – The world is NOT fair and you should listen to what these people are doing to make it better – while you sit here doing nothing! I hope you feel bad?

The Critter – Yeah, just thought having this 4ft Eagle in to eye up the Reception children will help rebalance the order of things… A little perspective in the grand circle of life… Anyone seen Frank?

The Worship- 50 ways to confuse a child…

They go on and on and they follow a pretty formulaic order and ORDER is the key constant throughout. As you may be guessing I have an issue with assemblies. An Issue I have been trying to address this year.

My new approach has hit upon two methods and a few tools to help me.

Firstly, I don’t do any of the above (apart from celebration on a Friday). I do three assemblies a week. Monday (EYFS and KS1), Tuesday (KS2) and Friday (whole school celebration).

If I have a theme it is THINKING. Questioning everything and looking at the world we live in from a different perspective. I love this film as an example of seeing the world differently:

The greatest compliment I have had so far this year is a Y5 girl saying to her teacher,

“Do I have to go? He makes us think… My head hurts sometimes!”

I use either P4C (Philosophy for Children) materials or other philosophy starters (The Philosophy Shop by Peter Worley being a favourite). I then plan it through using PREZI which helps me organise the questions and stimuli. I look for video, music, pictures or anything that allows me a starter that can get the children thinking.

Last week I used the Who Gets What and Why idea from the Philosophy Shop. I have attached the Prezi which is not particularly inspired but will give you an idea of my motives (you need the book and story to fully understand – especially the Bully bit).

http://prezi.com/bxw1xzc6iznj/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Over the year I have developed talk partners within assembly to a degree where it is very lively and focussed (Using simple wide hand to signal – finish conversation). I have pushed with the children that ALL thoughts are worth saying and quite often this has caused more questions and incredible answers (In particular when exploring the idea of ‘nothing’ a Y6 response to what is in the box, “The residue of a dead star!”

I have also started to get children to illustrate the assembly. Initially I did this with KS2 and picked G&T artists. I made sure they had good quality paper and a range of good marker pens. I then dictated what they drew. Here’s an example of a recent session

“I need a box! Draw an empty box!”

“What can be in the BOX?” Draw shoes! Draw dust! Draw angry ants (The kids love this…)

“Ok… What cannot be in the BOX?” Draw Brazil! Draw Mr Walton! Draw NOTHING!

It gives a focus and if done well it is a good way of getting the assembly recorded. Children also see their ideas get illustrated and written down. If you add someone who is a good speller and has great handwriting to the mix you can get quotes and ideas down too.

I still struggle with ENDING…

Special thought?

Bigger questions?

Poignant observation?

Reflection?

Homework?

I tend to leave it floating a little (not intentionally)… But it is nice to feel that this is my new art and it is one that I feel a novice in suddenly. By moving away from a more traditional formula I feel that I have something to learn and perfect. I feel that the next stage for me will be to get a colleague to observe and feedback. To test the learning going on… Maybe all heads should have their assemblies observed this way?

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“You know nothing Jon Snow” Ygritte

SATs are a game. If you think any different you may be delusional (or a politician – don’t panic there are tablets!) and you may have bought in to the single greatest lie about a ‘good’ school out there.  Why is it we feel that the greatest way in which we can judge schools worth is through this testing system? Are we that lacking in knowledge and understanding of learning that the test is the only way we can investigate the effectiveness of our system? Ofsted do it, though I wish they were braver and had more time; Government’s do it! Even Finland does it. We compare the effectiveness of education globally on moments of knowledge transfer within a set time… that’s it? So, technically evolution will have perfected the human race when our minds become INTEL tm processors (cue the music). I am not saying this is all bad (Well the INTEL tm (*music*) bit is a bit creepy). I think it has a real place in education… but I also think it has made many people (mainly head teachers) very scared and conservative regarding our approaches to educating children. It has constrained us and instilled fear.

We are terrified of failure, wrapped up in our fragile paper armour desperately hoping all goes well (X turns up, Y doesn’t panic, Z remembers what they forgot last week, teacher A knows what they are doing etc). We are holding on for dear life as our finger tips bleed from holding ourselves above the threshold. Furtive eyes looking left and right as a bead of sweat trickles down our noses… OK, a little melodramatic. But I believe educational success in primary is weighted heavily upon SATs and getting children of this age through the test is something that a decent manager, with decent teachers can do time and time again… But it does come at a cost.

How does it go? “You spend so long weighing the pig, you forget to feed it.”

I sometimes ask myself, “What does it take to be brave in education?” To set your own path based on your knowledge and experience multiplied into your morals and belief? How many can do this today and trust themselves to see it through? Or, more likely, how many have tried this and fallen foul, impaled upon their own sword?

Is it a test or is it life we prepare children for?

I have always loved the Barometer tale (by Alexander Calandra – an article from Current Science, Teacher’s Edition, 1964), ever since I was told it in 1991 whilst training to be a teacher. It’s likely one of those Urban Myths but is about a student who failed a test and had to go to a hearing about it:

…the examination question, which was, “Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.”

The student’s answer was, “Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower the barometer to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.”

Now, this is a very interesting answer, but should the student get credit for it? I pointed out that the student really had a strong case for full credit, since he had answered the question completely and correctly. On the other hand, if full credit were given, it could well contribute to a high grade for the student in his physics course. A high grade is supposed to certify that the student knows some physics, but the answer to the question did not confirm this. With this in mind, I suggested that the student have another try at answering the question. I was not surprised that my colleague agreed to this, but I was surprised that the student did

Acting in terms of the agreement, I gave the student six minutes to answer the question, with the warning that the answer should show some knowledge of physics. At the end of five minutes, he had not written anything. I asked if he wished to give up, since I had another class to take care of, but he said no, he was not giving up. He had many answers to this problem; he was just thinking of the best one. I excused myself for interrupting him, and asked him to please go on. In the next minute, he dashed off his answer, which was:

“Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula S= 1/2 at^2, calculate the height of the building.”

At this point, I asked my colleague if he would give up. He conceded and I gave the student almost full credit. In leaving my colleague’s office, I recalled that the student had said he had other answers to the problem, so I asked him what they were.

“Oh, yes,” said the student. “There are many ways of getting the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of simple proportion, determine the height of the building.”

“Fine,” I said. “And the others?”

“Yes,” said the student. “There is a very basic measurement method that you will like. In this method, you take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and this will give you the height of the building in barometer units. A very direct method.

“Of course, if you want a more sophisticated method, you can tie the barometer to the end of a string, swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of ‘g’ at the street level and at the top of the building. From the difference between the two values of ‘g’, the height of the building can, in principle, be calculated.”

Finally, he concluded, “If you don’t limit me to physics solutions to this problem, there are many other answers, such as taking the barometer to the basement and knocking on the superintendent’s door. When the superintendent answers, you speak to him as follows: ‘Dear Mr. Superintendent, here I have a very fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of this building, I will give you this barometer.'”

At this point, I asked the student if he really didn’t know the answer to the problem. He admitted that he did, but that he was so fed up with college instructors trying to teach him how to think and to use critical thinking, instead of showing him the structure of the subject matter, that he decided to take off on what he regarded mostly as a sham.

Now, how do we manage to get pupils like this leaving our schools? Able to use their knowledge but not be restrained in their approaches to solving problems?

Pupils who could get creative on Q24 in this year’s SATs Reading test:

24. Where would you expect to find the text Weird but wonderful… The Octopus?

Tick one

On the front page of a newspaper

In an advertising leaflet for an aquarium

In a report on a scientific investigation

In a magazine about the natural world

At my most creative I could have given a reason for three of these. I worry that the way we test the knowledge in these tests is restrictive. I would rather have a spelling, grammar, written maths and mental maths tests with expectations for children leaving Primary… Test knowledge that is important and non-negotiable… But when it opens up a little I want a little danger and creativity – I want the see where the knowledge can take us… With an attitude like this I’d lose my job in 99% of England’s schools…

I have seen so many head’s roll over poor SATs results over the years. Men and women who seemed to fail to understand that they needed to ensure that children could navigate the tests. They stick to their guns, their principles – that education is more than a test – and they shoot themselves. Some of them probably have the answer to producing a school full of children who could approach the Barometer problem with knowledge and creativity that creates new ideas and knowledge. Whereas, us SATs-game-playing-robots? Well, we still have our jobs…

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“I just want a quiet life.”

This life on the road is killing me. I am fed up with being dragged from one competitive family to the next. I have no friends and no life! This week I was stuck with the Boris family.

Mr Boris is the head of EPIC Primary Free School and they had SATs? Some sort of test thing… Mr Boris was not happy.

Monday:

Crawford vomited over Tabitha’s test paper.

There was not a bloody single question on creationism?

Tuesday:

The adjudicators arrived at EPIC.

It seems bribery is no longer an accepted form of ‘meeting the grade’

Mr Boris was incredulous about the ‘bag’ problem?

“You have these grey bags and you put the tests in them in order and seal them… but there are these other bags that you have to put the tests in before they go in the grey bag? Then there’s this code you have to get right for the register and then put the right register with the right bag and the right labels on the right bags and seal them, lock them away and hide the key and only tell your priest during confession where it is in case you die. You can’t put the grey bag tests in the green bag – that’s bad.  Then you have to put labels on this form for the post. Finally you are left with labels that seem to go nowhere…”

Mr Boris got confused and sealed the level 6 papers in the grey bag! He then had to contact some secret phone line and go onto a website where they checked his legitimacy for UK residence, any past affiliation with the Democratic Party and his IQ. He says he failed two but they refused to tell him which?

“When Lord Clegg gave me this job I had no idea I’d be expected to adhere to rules! I took a pay cut for this! 140K is hardly worth getting in at 9AM for!”

Wednesday:

Hugo’s parents took him to the Maldives’ unexpectedly.

Mr Boris just kept repeating, “5%” like some crazed monkey. His wife was very understanding telling him floor targets don’t apply to the ‘Old Etonian’ network.

Thursday:

It would seem the parents of EPIC had not been doing enough to prepare their children for the tests.

“They have let us all down! You’d think it was their school?” Said Boris, as he cried into his Sushi. “This running a school lark is no fun. I’m going back to investment banking.”

In all it was a good week for me. I just sat in the window, gathering dust, watching other peoples misery rather than dwelling on my own. Of course the diary entry that went back to Gilmore Academy on Friday was all ‘singing and dancing’ and about as legitimate as EPIC’s administration of the tests.

I wonder which little darling will be taking me home next? I do hope it’s that young Clegg child. I hear they have extravagant and interesting dinner time conversations.

This is not my progressive’s anti SATs blog – I think.

I agree with having tests and see them as a vital part of primary education. As a head I need them to give me a certain picture of performance across my school. I think they are limited though and believe we invest too much in them. I have some questions that I cannot remove from my brain – like stubborn stains they flare up at key times.

I was a teacher in Year 6 for over 5 years and I know what I needed to do to get children through the tests. It was not quality teaching – not as I observe it now (High quality marking, feedback and planning). It was quality cramming, quality revision, quality short cuts, quality squeeze – get them to a certain standard of ‘test taking’ by a certain date and all will be well with the world (applying quite a narrow knowledge base across the test field). No different than getting ready for a driving test. Just because you pass it does not mean you are safer on the roads (And, as we know, many secondary’s contest L4). In the end I came to the conclusion that to get results you need a certain type of teacher with a certain mind set in Y6. I felt that the longer I was there the greater the de-skilling of my teaching talents. This may not be the rule for all schools but it was for me. I used to get by saying, “Oh, in June and July we do really interesting stuff.” As I know now that was about as helpful to the children going into Y7 as shaving their eyebrows and drawing them back on. It synthesised education, plastering over the real need, which was what I should have been doing all year – rigour in key elements of Literacy and numeracy. It is here that my argument rests – How do we get the balance right? Has SATs created this false economy in education? We are so focussed on our schools not looking like a bunch of chumps heading for an almighty Ofsted hiding that we plaster Y6 with one key objective – Operation SATs – Through the Threshold! Let’s face it – you want a good or better Ofsted… get good or better SATs results. This would be written large across Chapter One of ‘The Dummies Guide to Headship’.

It’s a shame because I think it holds us back. This has much to do with trust – or a lack of it between education and politics. Politics cannot leave us alone to decide what knowledge children should know; education cannot agree on what should be known. In fact considering all the new freedoms we are continuously told we have I have never felt more shackled to a narrow SATs based curriculum.

So SATs – what are they good for?

Equal – same test for everybody.

Easy to mark – pretty clear.

Performance feedback.

Promotes accountability.

And the Cons?

That super narrow curricular format.

Teaching to the test at the cost of other knowledge and skills that are important to life on planet earth.

Grade inflation of test scores or grades – secondary’s can be left hung, drawn and quartered here and it does nothing for quality transition and creates myths..

Culturally or socioeconomically biased – the classic being the CAVING reading paper some time ago. I did tweet on Monday:

Potatoes, Octopus, Wolves… Fits nicely with the average south Bristol Y6… #SATS

As much as I joked, context is a factor I believe.

So, over the coming weeks I thought I’d do a few blogs about the subject. About the logic of SATs in our education system and if it was to change – HOW and WHAT?

Bugger… this sounds like the mad ramblings of a progressive!