Diary of a Headteacher: Out of school in September!

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Mondays are always busy in the life of a headteacher – so to be out of school for a Monday in September is unheard of...

Mondays are always busy in the headteacher’s world. The same is true for anyone who spends their working life in schools. And as we all know, Mondays in September are in a whole different league – setting up our classrooms, establishing the norms for the year, getting to know students...

At our school, we have also had a major change that we’re all happily getting used to. Our condemned swimming pool was renovated over the holidays after we secured the external funding to turn it into a dining hall. Our students are now treated like civilised human beings and have a lovely setting to eat in.

So lots happening, but for this headteacher, the second Monday in September was highly unusual. For the first time in 24 successive Septembers, I was out of school – and for a very good reason: the curriculum.

Who isn’t thinking about the curriculum at the moment? If you’re not, you had better catch up. Ofsted is coming to get you if your curriculum “intent, implementation and impact” is not up to scratch. This is belt and braces stuff when it comes to a decent education but, for some, it is a revelation.

If you are not worried about Ofsted, you might want to consider your learners. I am absolutely convinced that a renewed focus on the curriculum will improve the educational experience of the students in our schools. In turn, it will improve the experience for all of us who work in education.

My unprecedented Monday absence took me on an interesting and thought-provoking journey. Our multi-academy trust had organised an event for its secondary headteachers. We were to listen to a keynote speaker (eminent in current curriculum Zeitgeist) and we would have the opportunity to share our own schools’ curriculum journeys.

To say the day was inspirational was an understatement. Our speaker talked about the curriculum as the tool for progression. Such a simple concept but it was like everything that I have had in my mind for the past 25 years since I started my PGCE being put into one succinct sentence.

“The curriculum is the tool for progression.” What perfect sense.

Ofsted was on my mind again when chief inspector Amanda Spielman published her latest HMCI commentary on managing behaviour research (Spielman, 2019).

It instilled in me precisely the same conclusion. The paper begins: “Everyone stands to benefit from good behaviour in schools.” Who would disagree?

When I joined my school in April 2018, staff were still reeling from an “inadequate” judgement two months prior. Behaviour was poor and students were literally left to do as they pleased. Staff talked about the dangers they faced in the corridors and classrooms with marauding students. It was not a pretty scene.

I have always been of the opinion that fixing behaviour is the easiest component of school improvement. For the most part, students like routine and they like to know where they stand. After six successive headteachers in two years, no one knew where they stood in my school.

I distinctly remember the incredulous feeling when I went round classrooms prior to starting to find at least 10 sets of conflicting rules. Each new head had brought in their own – yet no-one had thought to remove the previous incumbent’s. No wonder everyone was confused.

But things are changing and have changed. Most pertinently for me, our work has been validated by external experts. We are on the right page and we are really happy about it. That – and our new dining room!

  • The author is a headteacher in her second year of headship at a secondary school in east London.

Further information

Managing behaviour research, Spielman, September 2019: http://bit.ly/2kyJV8W


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