I’m not completely sure that I have understood the term “political football” before, until discovering recently that I work in one.
There’s a solemn ridiculousness about travelling home and hearing the name of your place of work listed in a detailed Radio 4 report regarding a high profile Academy sponsor being “stripped” of ten Academies by the DFE. The report itself demonstrated reasonable balance but didn’t really add anything to the story that had been developing from the beginning of the week within the walls of our building.
Ofsted’s coordinated inspection of the Academies under the umbrella of this particular sponsor resulted in a DFE decision to remove ten in order to centralise the operation and therefore improve their capacity to support and challenge. The sponsor was judged to not be providing rapid enough improvement, at least in part due to a London-centric operation that was less than effective in supporting Academies that were outwith a certain proximity. The reason for shedding these Academies was not, never was, performance based.
Reading and listening to media outlets however, you would think something completely different.
And here comes the resilience.
Staff are rightly concerned. They’ve, largely, been through one amalgamation of two schools and a number of restructures. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are vulnerable to yet another as another sponsor looms large on our horizon. Amongst this, we smile and make the battle lines clear. We ask supportive parents to speak up on our behalf, local papers inquire and, ultimately print a front page. Our Principal is forced to send a response to a local councillor who feels it is appropriate to engage in half truths and conjecture whilst on the record. We stand up for ourselves whilst doing the day job.
And do the day job we must. I don’t mind saying, and I haven’t minded admitting that my job, love it as I do, is not something I was doing before. These last few weeks since Ofsted arrived, we have led in the truest sense of the various tomes of leadership. Amongst concerns and worries, we smile, reassure and focus our minds and those with whom we work most closely on the day job. This is tiring. This is the resilience we want from our students.
Whilst the circus unfolds, we focus on addressing the points raised from the Ofsted we received but five weeks earlier. We rebuff the first draft of the report in record time to secure some much deserved changes to the final report – a reassurance that Ofsted are a reasonable bunch really? Underneath it all? Or a confirmation of the laxity of a system that judges an organisation whose “raw materials” are humans in purely statistical terms? You decide.
We draft a new agenda for learning walks. One that addresses the need to share the array of good practice that exists in our school and also evolve the idea that our kids, our disadvantaged kids, must develop a set of learning “behaviours” that support them, and us, in becoming more independent in their learning. In becoming resilient, reflective, respectful and creative in their learning. We dust ourselves off and approach the slippery topic of SMSC, maybe attempting to really “find” our “hidden” curriculum. We manage the ever changing, seemingly never finished site that the school grows into.
I buy more than five hundred pounds worth of education books for our growing staff CPD library. Staff suggest their favourites and I push an agenda of resilience and growth mindset. Several copies of Dweck to add to the one that already takes up space on the shelf and the brilliant Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed” are winging their way to us as I write, supplemented by several copies of “Practise Perfect” and many more. Resilience is a theme. Hard work is central. Staff put forward their suggestions for their Lesson Study Triads. School continues. We take the 6th Form English students to London, many of them for the first time. It is tiring and wonderful. It is predominantly wonderful.
And the gravity of the new sponsor scenario is almost lost in the day to day sprint marathon of school life. Until, that is, the brokering appears to begin. The reality of the landscape of modern education is one of subsidiarity, leaving schools like us prone to growing empires of teaching schools, federations, trusts that can now act as “sponsors”. And I am saddened by my suspicion of exhortations of moral purpose and partnership balanced by ear pricking mentions of takeover and again, quickly balanced by discussion of learning from each other. There is no precedent for what we are engaged in. The only clarity exists in the knowledge that we are limited in the autonomy that we can achieve. We are further limited by the fact that we receive no “grace” from inspection as a “new” Academy. Our most recent inspection was eleven months since our last. The reality of our situation is that very little changes in the short term and that financial imperatives will more than likely determine the medium and longer term futures.
It is only resilience that will safeguard us now. That, and a key focus on our priorities. Our students, our community and our staff. Clarity like that is gold dust amidst the kicks to and fro.