As years go 2016 has to rank as one of the most unpredictable ever. David Cameron gambled, promised and lost. I didn’t see Brexit coming; Boris Johnson and Michael Gove didn’t see each others’ political manoeuvring. Prime Minister May was duly crowned. Following Brexit it came as no surprise Donald Trump was elected; it should have been a total shock.
Every school was to become an academy in May. Following a U or possibly a Z turn the White Paper turned green and there was to be a new grammar school in every town. Miss McInerney became the de facto Shadow Secretary of State for Education; the voice of the opposition.
Budgets were squeezed to breaking point. Scarce resources will soon be more fairly distributed leaving everyone short. If there had been enough high quality teachers to appoint schools’ financial problems may have been even worse. New Primary School assessments led to leaks, dissatisfaction and a Select Committee Inquiry. Changes to GCSE and A-levels were beset with delays. Workload was inexorable. The poor lost out and school leaders and teachers serving the most disadvantaged communities, in the most challenging schools, failed to be given support. Their reward was inadequate; too many paid an undeserved price for their moral purpose. St. Mary’s once again stood alone as the only good secondary school in Blackpool though all secondary schools are doing good work against the odds.
I’ve continued to try to do less but do it better this year; it’s a daily struggle as busyness is often your best line of defence when in challenging circumstances. A chance visit by some headteachers from Wales sent me scurrying into the staff room to ask a couple of staff to talk about our assessment processes. A throw away remark by one of the teachers, “It also tells me what I don’t teach as well” has taken on a significance, in my head, it may not warrant. In the darkness small lights shine unusually bright. Would you feel confident to openly talk about what you “don’t teach as well?” I wonder whether all the teaching staff in the Trust feel equally as confident, as safe, as secure to identify “weaknesses” in their current practice?
What also struck me quite powerfully was the precise nature of the comment with respect to analysing the teaching as opposed to the teacher. It was an aspect of practice rather than an overall judgement. An aspect of practice to focus on rather than I am an outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate teacher. All of us have a massive amount of good practice alongside areas we need to develop. This nuanced approach is much more real, more likely to lead to improvement.
I’ve always talked about our assessment system as a great example of doing the bleedin’ obvious well; find out what pupils don’t know and teach them it. Earlier this year, in numerous discussions, middle leaders told me that we were only scratching the surface of the possibilities afforded to us by the data and information provided through our assessment system. Its evaluative potential was obvious but time constraints had limited progress. Are we starting to develop the next stage of the bleedin’ obvious; find out what I don’t teach well and get some support from colleagues with it?
Alongside never implementing annual performance related pay, pay is assessed every three years on the main scale with automatic progression in between; we’ve totally abandoned lesson observations this year. Is our approach beginning to yield some discernible gains in building a culture in which the professionalism of staff has been given roots to grow and wings to fly? The reality is that it is far, far too soon to tell. Cultural change takes time and needs time. As the darkest and longest nights are upon us I’m seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. My job next year, working alongside the headteachers, will be keep nurturing and building a culture in which staff may thrive and flourish; the light needs to move from bright spots to consistent illumination. This work will all have to happen in the shadow of three Ofsted inspections and a denominational one.
But before all that it’s time for a peaceful and joy filled Christmas break. I wish you and your loved ones the same, especially if 2016 was unpredictably unkind to you.