It's how he says it...

Published:

It's not necessarily what Sir Michael Wilshaw says, it's how he says it that causes our headteacher diarist so many problems in school.

Five weeks on, the term seems to be moving at an accelerating pace. Open Evening has come and gone with lots of positive feedback from our new visitors as well as existing families. Staff and students worked extremely hard to showcase our day-to-day practice with real enthusiasm. 

We have started the self-evaluation meetings with faculties, performance management reviews are coming up and generally the mood remains positive… and then we have the latest media soundbites relating to the views of Sir Michael Wilshaw. 

I’ve always thought that it is healthier to address these types of issues as they arise rather than just ignoring them. So, I read about it, thought about it and then I raised it at a staff meeting. I don’t think that I have ever seen my staff of 200-plus with more than 110 teachers, a group of hard-working, dedicated and skilled individuals, so demoralised and feeling that they were just at the mercy of whoever else wanted to come along and berate them in a public forum.

I agree with much of what Sir Michael believes about the profession and education; it is either how he says it or how it is reported that causes the problems. Of course, all children deserve the best; all teachers should be prepared to deliver the best and to be accountable for that and paid accordingly. If they are not, then they should find something else to do. 

However, how are we going to find the people prepared to give of their best or nurture those who already do if we continue to belittle the status of our profession and provide the mud for others to sling? How many teachers do you know, or support staff for that matter, who are “out of the door at 3pm”?

It is clearly unacceptable for staff to do less than that which is required of them – if this is what Sir Michael meant by his remark. It is also unacceptable for staff to presume increases in pay where teaching is consistently less than good enough. We have systems to deal with these issues. However, no excuses, but teaching isn’t the same as other professions; we maintain our relationships with children and their families day-in, day-out and not on-demand as in the case of medics, solicitors or dentists. We take on society’s ills and failures and do our best to ensure change and a better way for those who follow. We are idealistic and we believe in the future.

It seems to me that Sir Michael is only using a few of the clubs in his bag; a “big Bertha” is great when you are driving from the tee at a long hole but it would be foolish to try to putt with it. If I could change one thing, I would ask him to use the sand wedge occasionally.

Who is our champion? Who stands up for the profession as a noble vocation? We face challenges in our schools in the light of “Action Short of Strike Action” – a response to changes at national level which may well cause local difficulties.

At the same time, we are still waiting for a resolution to the GCSE-Ofqual issue, our examination system seems to be coming apart at the seams and at the heart of it all our students and teachers are working in the dark, not knowing what the future holds. How will the year 9s of today fare in two years time? Will the GCSEs they acquire this year be recognised at that point? What will our curriculum look like and how much choice will students have?

Let’s have the open and honest debate. Let’s understand and be honest about why some schools felt pressured into early entry, bagging the “Cs” to insure against the impact of failing to meet floor targets. Let’s not forget those students whose C grades will not help them at the next hurdle and who could have achieved more. Let’s ask how we are going to cut into this vicious circle so that next year’s cohort can feel confident in what they have achieved and we can restore pride and confidence to the people who helped them to achieve it – our staff.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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