A week in the life: 12/9/22

I have thought before now about writing a weekly account of life as a headteacher.  I don’t imagine anybody else will be interested and have no wish to force that.  My words are ‘Long Reads’ and who has time for those nowadays?  Nevertheless, I would like to hear for myself how the rhythms of a school year syncopate from a head’s perspective.  A voice of guilt telling me that “Once term time begins its relentless pace there will be no time for this nonsense”, has stopped me trying previously.  But with Covid hopefully past its peak and with so many great colleagues working with me, I am determined to make the time this year.  At least let’s see how long my resolution lasts.

Monday 12th September 2022

First thing Monday is first lesson of the year with my Year 8 English class.  We are going to be drafting a response to our Summer Reading Challenge, but before we get to English work watch a video of ‘Austin’s Butterfly’.  I ask Year 8 to think about why I have shown this video at the start of our year together, and what key lessons we can take away from it.  They tell me:

  • Persistence
  • Giving one another feedback to make our work better
  • Making the feedback very specific

This is great to hear.  I promise the class that I will be reminding them of Austin’s Butterfly throughout the year because we are all going to be helping one another to be better learners.

The Bank Holiday for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II requires decisions to be communicated about closing the school but keeping our boarding houses open.  I have worked in a boarding house at two schools myself and I know that the simple sum of one extra day doesn’t really add up to how long and tiring this weekend will be for our dedicated boarding team.  We discuss asking for volunteers from the broader staff body to support the team and getting gifts for those who work extra hours.

The rest of the day is admin and line management meetings until I join the leadership team of our prep school, Cadogan House, for their after-school meeting.  They would like to join the anti-bullying alliance, and the team use the meeting to audit the extent to which our pupils are currently supported to be actively involved in anti-bullying initiatives.  It is the actively involved that is key here.  Whenever you look closely and honestly at an area, you tend to realise that there is always more work to be done.  It is a good, honest discussion.

Tuesday 13th September 2022

Year 8 English periods 1 and 2 again.  I know a little more about each of them by the end of this second lesson.  Knowing where the students are, as young people as well as learners, is a key aspect of teaching this age group.  I am excited about being the sole teacher of a class for the first time in too many years.  

For some years as a headteacher, I have shared an English class, which was fine.  One year I taught one short poetry unit with every class in Year 8, which was great.  I even taught one double period a week of Sociology with a couple of Year 12 classes once.  But the responsibility of having your own English class for the whole year is a larger one.  It’s solely on me to help and develop these pupils.  Some of my class have already shared that they are not confident in English, or do not enjoy reading.  No matter what term throws my way, I need to ensure that these students get the time and support that they deserve from me as their English teacher.

We have a wonderful DFO (Director of Finance and Operations) who has been with us since Easter.  Sometimes she and I get to think about strategic matters such as a five-year business plan.  But most days it is trying to resolve more mundane but important operational matters.  Today these include the new process for bursary support; the pressing need to mark the floor correctly on our temporary hall for important Drill rehearsals, (a truly unique RMS tradition); purchasing lockers that don’t leak outdoors; how we might keep a great member of our team that a competitor school has tried to poach; resolving start-of-term accommodation issues for staff who live on site; and checking the degree to which the coach service is working as we wish after a 10% increase in pupils using the service.

After school, we have our latest Parent Information Evening.  This is the fourth of five PIEs that we hold in the first fortnight of term, letting parents across the Prep, Senior School, and Sixth Form meet their daughter’s tutor/class teacher (which is the most important bit) and hear some key information.  Some of these PIEs have been deemed “insanely impressive” by parents, but a couple of others I myself have been slightly less happy with and we’ll want to rethink ahead of next year.  Every opportunity that we get to bring our parents into school and enjoy it is key.  We want parents driving home feeling that we are delivering on the promise we set out when they and their daughter chose RMS. 

Wednesday 14th September 2022

All of our new Year 7 pupils depart for three days on the Isle of Wight this morning.  I wish them well and wave them off, hopeful that these Induction Days will help every new Year 7 pupil make more connections, yet also conscious that some Year 7 pupils in all schools will currently feel that every pupil but they have already made “best friends for life”.

HR departments have increased in size and importance in all schools since I started teaching, and rightly so.  As ridiculous as it might sound to those working in other sectors, twenty years ago ‘HR’ in schools was often literally nothing more than the Head’s PA sending out offers of employment.  I can remember having dinner with a group of teachers in my first independent school twenty years ago and hearing complaints about too much money being spent “on these HR and Marketing departments”.  I have heard versions of this same conversation repeated in each of the three independent schools I have worked in since then.  Independent schools are both schools and businesses, and most need to work very hard to attract pupils and support great staff.    

My meeting with our Head of HR covers a range of matters including current contracts, new posts, ways we can work to continue to diversify the staff body, colleagues who are on probation, how we might best show appreciation of the boarding team that will work the bank holiday, moving to an electronic system for Leave requests/staff absence, and an applicant tracking system to allow ‘blind’ tracking of applicants that will help to reduce unconscious bias

Highlights among my conversations with pupils today are a break time discussion with a pupil I had asked to see and who tells me about her love of drama and dance outside school, but who hasn’t got involved in our productions yet, and a conversation with a group of Year 10 students at lunch where I’m told by one that two and a half hours of homework an evening constitutes child abuse!  None of this is true, not the 150 minutes of homework each night or the child abuse, but the conversation is light-hearted in tone yet touches on the challenges of being fourteen years old in important ways for me to hear.  Many a true word is said in jest.

There is a new sub-committee after school, which is promising.  It covers Marketing, Admission, and Development so will doubtless displease those colleagues I heard complaining twenty years ago.  All schools need to tell the right stories as well as possible to their community, and I hope that this sub-committee will help our team to do that.

Thursday 15th September 2022

The day begins with me finishing marking the final few pieces of work from my Year 8 group before I teach them.  It brings back memories of how tough it is keeping up with marking as a full-time teacher, and I remember carrying books home of an evening and then carrying them all in again unmarked, or waking up in the middle of the night to finish a set before school. 

The second English department that I was in learned how useful acronyms and abbreviations were in marking English: Sp, NAS, etc.  The third English department I was in learned to be of most use to pupils by focusing on specific areas in our marking and by having pupils often write shorter pieces of higher quality.  The periods of time when I was on top of marking as a full-time English teacher were when I applied all of the above and also finally realised that I needed to mark a class per day if each class were to have their work marked once each week, and so the very best use I could make of any non-teaching time in school was to mark.  Marking is relentless as an English teacher, but I am nonetheless unconvinced by the argument put forward by some bloggers in recent years that marking pupils’ work is not necessary.  It is for the pupils.  A topic for a post in the future perhaps.  For now, I enjoy having received and marked a piece of writing from each pupil in my class.

The highlight of the day is the opening night of our Art Exhibition of students’ work from Years 11 and 13.  It was simply wonderful.  Superb students and incredible teachers and technicians. There are stories behind every one of these pieces.  I will share a few images to say so much more than my words could do.

Friday 16th September 2022

Today is a “Great Escape” day for all pupils in our Senior School and our Sixth Form.  We first ran this last year, as soon as everywhere opened up and Covid regulations allowed us to break bubbles and get year groups on days out having fun together.  This year I feel that it is less justifiable on educational grounds but the Senior and Sixth Form leadership teams wanted to give it one more go for team-building in the year groups so we have pupils on ‘Scavenger Hunts’ around London, visiting the Natural History Museum in Oxford, out abseiling, and even having fun together in a theme park.

Once all pupils are safely off on their trips, I have meetings with Support teams about site matters, a visit to a local school, and then a BBQ with parents of children in our Nursery.  All pupils return safely and seemingly all very happy.  They have had a day outside the classroom and can see a long weekend ahead of them.  I am on the Friday night “Duty Phone” and untypically receive a couple of evening calls, but nothing major.

Saturday 17th / Sunday 18th September 2022

The weekend is a welcome chance to catch up and to pause.  For obvious good reasons, we have postponed our school Open Day from Sunday 18 September to Sunday 2 October, and so I have one work duty taking my turn out front of the school on Sunday morning just in case any prospective parents turn up unwittingly for the postponed Open Day.  Only one does.  I apologise for the inconvenience and take their details.  Secretly I am pleased that only one out of a few hundred families turning up suggests that the Marketing team has communicated well.

A week in the life: 5/9/22

I have thought before now about writing a weekly account of life as a headteacher.  I don’t imagine anybody else will be interested and have no wish to force that.  My words are ‘Long Reads’ and who has time for those nowadays?  Nevertheless, I would like to hear for myself how the rhythms of a school year syncopate from a head’s perspective.  A voice of guilt telling me that “Once term time begins its relentless pace there will be no time for this nonsense”, has stopped me trying previously.  But with Covid hopefully past its peak and with so many great colleagues working with me, I am determined to make the time this year.  At least let’s see how long my resolution lasts.

Monday 5th September 2022

The first week of September excites me and has done as long as I can remember.  Mornings smell different with gentler early Autumn weather.  There is something special in the collective optimism of new beginnings, the abrupt gear change from summer’s rest, and the joyous noise of a school community coming back together that just does it for me. 

First day back for us is only for Years 7 and 12.  We give the 11-year-olds a chance to navigate uncrowded corridors, and we begin to teach the 16-year-olds about ‘Sixth Form Mindset’.  In both cases a new year group take speculative steps together, and the drab cliche of ‘new friendships that last a lifetime’ shows a glimpse of the beautiful truth that was there when once it was an original thought.

I always enjoy seeing Year 12s walking back into school for their first day. They hold themselves differently this side of GCSE results, are more visibly comfortable in who they are and what they’ve come through together.  I have known most of this year group since they were aged 11, have followed them through tough years of adolescence in lockdown.  They are undoubtedly growing more self-assured, and it is one of the great pleasures of teaching to witness this.

Our Head of Sixth Form speaks and reminds the new Year 12’s of what they wrote on Post-It Notes when she first got them together back in July and asked them to tell her the purpose of education.  She reads their answers:

‘Prepare for future lives.’

‘Develop ourselves socially.’

‘Have fun together.’

‘Learn new skills.’

‘Find and develop our passions.’

She reads out many excellent answers and appears filled with love for their bigger picture thinking.  ‘Yes, it was like they got us and are already buying into what we are about’, she proudly tells me later.

Tuesday 6th September

Today starts with a pair of early morning conversations with Heads of Department.  One is personalising a curriculum for a pupil, the other talks me through how they will be working with a colleague that’s been finding it tough.  In both cases the HoD’s actions greatly impress and do not surprise.

As soon as the pupils begin arriving, I walk the corridors to be with them, to find out about their summers, and to ask them how they’re feeling about returning.  Some like me, are excited like small children on Christmas Day.  Some in Year 11 claim they are not, and others truly are not as they haven’t seen this early in the morning for quite a while.  I remind myself of the self-assured Year 12s yesterday – the worry of GCSEs looming is all part of the Year 11 trip.  They too will come out the other side.

It is a first day of term that goes extremely well in many respects.  New teachers get to meet our brilliant pupils and vice versa.  The pupils love the new servery area and the food at lunch is a big hit. Food was the area that our pupils were least satisfied with in a survey last year, and so I am quietly pleased that they can immediately see improvements.  The Head of Charities sends me the totals raised last year by our pupils, staff and parents for The Dash Charity (supporting victims of domestic abuse in our area), for Great Ormond Street Hospital, and for charities working in Ukraine, alongside the quantity of food collected for our local foodbank last term.  Her team of pupil leaders have done a great job in a challenging year. 

That said, the first ‘Own Goal’ of the term takes place as early as break.  It might not sound much but it really is important: the coffee machine has broken in the largest Staff Common Room and there is not tea/coffee available at break.  It isn’t anybody’s fault, but it sends completely the wrong message.  I apologise to the colleague who tells me about this, quickly call a different colleague to make them aware, and the team here get the machine fixed later in the morning.  I am frustrated that this has happened but try my best to hold that emotion in while we discuss what we can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

Pride in our teams has been on my mind repeatedly in recent weeks. The teams of support staff have done so much over summer to have the school looking amazing. Our examination results rewarded everybody’s hard work through the Covid years. We’ve had good induction days for new staff, a strong Inset with plenty of personal choice for CPD, and great induction days for new pupils. All of this takes considered planning and teamwork from excellent colleagues who are growing into their leadership roles after two or three years in post. I see the Head of Senior School with our Year 7 at break, and again over lunch, just checking how they’re settling in and being there with them. The Senior Team, Heads of Year, and tutors will lead Parent Information Evenings after school three nights this week, and then attend a barbecue for recent leavers on Friday evening. I already know that my pride in all our teams at all levels will be a constant refrain through the year.

Wednesday 7th September

It may sound silly or implausible, but mid-afternoon I remember it is Wednesday and find myself thinking something like, ‘You’re kidding me! It can’t only be Wednesday. We’ve been back about nine days already, surely”. Perhaps it’s because we were in last week with colleagues, but mostly it’s because the start of the new school year is intense – that’s just how it is, very busy for the brain. There’s plenty of cognitive overload around at the start of term, for all teachers and pupils, and probably for many parents and support colleagues too. Long days, lengthy To-Do lists, frequent evening events, PIEs, and BBQs, and visits to boarding houses. Term time, in other words.

Two highlights with pupils today are leading form 7R in an afternoon of ‘It’s a Knockout’ as part of the finale to their Induction Days and being in one of our boarding houses while some of our youngest boarders show me their rooms and let me know how things are going for them so far. In both Year 7 and boarding, the week is full of team activities that help ensure they are all having fun while getting to know the other pupils around them.

Thursday 8th September

Everything about the first week of term changes on Thursday afternoon when our Head of Senior School shares news with me that members of the royal family are racing to Balmoral.  We look through our protocol for such an eventuality, think about how this applies to us now, and begin to talk through possible actions.  It is clear from newsreaders wearing black ties that the news could be imminent.

Confirmation of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II arrives towards the end of our Year 8 Parent Information Evening. The value of the afternoon’s preparatory conversations with colleagues is felt by me. The Union Flag outside our chapel is immediately moved to half-mast. I send a short email to our parents. The website and social media accounts are changed to grayscale. An assembly is arranged for first thing in the morning. The Friday BBQ for recent leavers is postponed.

At 7:30pm I take my own hungry children home to be fed and spend the evening writing tomorrow’s assembly while speaking with the four Heads of School at RMS about details including more suitable plans for our youngest children, the possibility of a reading in assembly from one of the Head Girls, etc. We move fast about decisions for Friday and agree that other decisions can be reached in the morning when we have all had time to process and to reflect further.

Friday 9th September

The assembly for all pupils and students from Years 4-13 upwards is also attended by many support staff from across school.  It is a large and important gathering of our school community.  I have been up until the small hours the night before writing my words because I very much want to strike the right tone for all.  I hope that I got it right, and the messages of appreciation afterwards suggest that the RMS community certainly appreciated us all coming together in this way.

A small group of colleagues gather later today to make further decisions for the coming days. The experiences of pupils will not be impacted so Geography fieldwork, our Year 7 residential trip to the Isle of Wight, and the ‘Great Escape Day’ for all other year groups in Senior School and Sixth Form will still take place. It appears that there is an appetite for a Book of Condolences and colleagues in the Art Department offer to design loose leaf pages that sound beautiful. Our Open Day planned for Sunday 18th September is put back two weeks, which may have consequences for our Admissions, but it is the right decision during a period of national mourning.

Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th September

Two colleagues and I have signed up to take part in The Great North Run, raising money for two charities.  We have done this before with a coachload of pupils, and it was truly wonderful, taking the students out of their comfort zone and raising £15,000 for The Rainbow Trust.  This year it is a different scale, just colleagues, though we are planning on doing it again with students next year.  The drive up to Newcastle together is nice because it’s lovely talking with colleagues without the demands of school life.

The run itself is tough though, for us all I think. Too much sun. I am not a regular runner and have nothing left in my legs at the end. But we all finish, happily, and a couple of us beat our previous times. The heady mix of emotions when you cross the finish line is quite unique and really good to experience: sharp relief that you can finally stop running, strong emotions that have built through the race as you read about the good causes people are running for, and the most gorgeous view of the South Shields coast as a reward for your efforts. You don’t get out of South Shields quickly though, so it is near midnight when we arrive back at school. We have all been away from our families for the weekend, but it was unquestionably worth it. “See you at school in seven or eight hours’ time” we say to one another then head off to our homes.

Sunday 30th January, 2022

Over the last year or so at RMS we have been working to set our Objectives for the five years from September 2022. We are now in the final weeks of consultation before the important practical work starts of how we are going to get there. I have shared an image below of the front page of our Objectives as the draft of it stood earlier this month – we are definitely getting there in our view. However, it’s the process itself that I will write about here, sharing the story of the steps that we have taken, lessons I’ve learnt, and the challenges we’ve faced along the way.

A draft of the front page of our Strategic Objectives from early January 2022.

We have taken time to consult and listen. We originally started this process with staff back during Inset in January 2020, (before the pandemic paused things), having gathered the views of pupils in advance. We looked at examples from both education and the corporate world, and shared feedback with staff about what pupils liked or were less convinced by in our current Values. In small groups, staff then shared their thoughts on what should be in our Mission and Vision statements, and drafted their own versions of these.

We liked looking at Mission and Vision statements from the corporate world as well as schools.
The feedback from pupils that we shared with colleagues back in January 2020.

January 2020 was an important early session insofar as it provided us from the outset with a strong sense of what is valued about RMS, and of where there was consensus among our staff that also chimed with pupils.  We have held similar sessions with pupils, parents, alumnae, and governors, and have also reread feedback from each of the various surveys with these groups over recent years. 

Looking back now, I can see that the sentiments behind direct quotations from pupils that we shared with staff back in January 2020 are very much present in the latest draft.  For example, lines such as:

  • “School makes you want to do well for yourself, regardless of ability”
  • “RMS works each pupil to their own potential, and it caters for everyone’s personalities”
  • “You have opportunities to find your passion”

are there in the first three words of our Mission statement that, “Every pupil thrives”.  Similarly, repeated lines from pupils such as:

  • “You need to highlight our distinctiveness, our difference”
  • “RMS is different.”

are also there in the final words of our Vision, about us being a school that is prepared to think differently about the purpose and nature of education. Until I started typing this post today, I hadn’t realised just how direct that connection was, and I have to confess that I find it pleasing: our Objectives have to belong to everyone and with our pupils always at the heart of it.

The governors have been important from the outset in a variety of ways.  They are “eyes on, hands off” as a Board, but rightly understand that governors must play an important role in establishing the overall direction and development of a school.  One key point that our governors made from the outset was a need for clarity and brevity.  They introduced us (or me, at least) to the concept of a Strategy on a Page (SOAP), requiring that the essence of our strategic objectives can fit on one page including a one-sentence Mission and a one-sentence Vision statement.  The rationale here is that it doesn’t matter how brilliant any school’s vision is, if the key document is 34 pages long (or even 4 pages long) then not everybody can remember it, or articulate it, and so there is a risk of losing clarity of focus.

In November 2020, the governors and SLT held a couple of sessions with an external firm (which were useful in some respects, but that were not adding enough value for us to continue with them), before we established the structure for our SOAP, with a Mission, a Vision, our Values, and then five Pillars that we would be following in order to achieve our Strategic Objectives.  The original template without any words on it looked like this:

It wasn’t a bad template.  You can see from comparison with the latest draft how it’s changed.  Space to highlight the financial infrastructure and marketing have both been removed, rightly in my view.  Each are hugely important areas for any independent school, but their place isn’t the front page of our strategic objectives (and different audiences told us this).  The three focus areas (or Pillars) of Pupils, People, and Place kind of ‘pick themselves’, as it were, but focusing on Partnerships and Planet as two other key areas were selected by the governors and were very good choices for RMS that have met with approval throughout this last year.

After pausing this process to devote energies to managing the first year of the pandemic, things picked up pace again in Spring and Summer 2021. Five working groups of up to ten people were set-up, comprised of governors and staff (both support and teaching, always), with representation on some groups from parents and pupils too. The working groups each produced a draft page for their Pillar, and these drafts were shared with colleagues during Day 1 of Inset in September 2021, before everybody then contributed the following day to offering their thoughts on aspects they liked, were less impressed by, or felt were still missing. This process was incredibly useful. We had always intended the September drafts to be just that – drafts – but colleagues who know the school well were quick to call out ideas that hadn’t landed correctly in their view, and also offered a big bunch of fresh thinking. This was exactly what we wanted. The drafts have improved a lot between September and January, and it’s down to everybody’s input.

Concurrent with this process, one great colleague (non SLT) was working with all pupils and staff evolving our RMS Values from 9 Values (one for each month of school) to 6 Values (one for each half-term).  We have always been a strong, values-led school, since long before I arrived, and values are crucially important in setting the expectations that underpin the day-to-day ethos of RMS.  But reflecting on and evolving our Values has nonetheless been repeatedly requested by pupils and some staff with the key rationale being that the Values for some months got much less focus than others (we have boarders at RMS so break up earlier than some schools at the end of terms), and because it was felt that some of our previous Values needed updating.  For example, we used to have “Tolerance” as a value, which is a great quality in many respects, but that also has connotations of tolerating somebody’s difference rather than celebrating difference.  There were surveys of pupils and staff, and then our Sixth Formers supported by one colleague rewrote our Values to the six you can see below, and these have been in place since September 2021.

The pupils chose to keep two of the original nine (Courage and Perseverance), adapted a couple (Inclusivity rather than Tolerance, and Kindness rather than Compassion), and selected two new Values (Ambition and Integrity).  I love the fact that it was our pupils who led on the new RMS Values.  Truth be told, up to October 2021, my input into the writing of any of this had been minimalI wasn’t a member of any of the five Working Group (though got along to at least one meeting of each).  I didn’t write any of the words shared as drafts in September 2021 (and didn’t agree with all of them, to be honest, though that wasn’t the point).

My role in this process has increased throughout the last term, though again I have chosen to interpret it largely as a curator who carefully selects and organises a collection, in this instance the ideas of our community. I held a series of open sessions on the evolving drafts of our Objectives with 87 current RMS parents, with the Student Council and groups of students, with alumnae, and with staff and governors once more. There is a debate in the minds of some between ‘Leaders have to have the vision’ and ‘It’s not my school’, but I think both of these positions are true, and that setting them against one another is a false dichotomy. I’m not wishing to absolve myself of any responsibility for our Objectives and will stand by them as being right for RMS right now, but they are far better Objectives for being the managed thoughts of a community curated by me rather than simply my best thoughts, or SLT’s thoughts. Across the six slides we have drafted so far, I reckon that fewer than 5% of the words were written by me, and there are a few ideas I’ve put forward last term that haven’t landed with the community so haven’t made the latest draft.

It sounds corny or cheap, but it is simply the truth to say that every one of the sessions I ran last term was incredibly useful. Being honest, I didn’t imagine in advance that they would be, possibly holding some anti-marketing bias in my mind that focus groups aren’t the best way to arrive at a set of Objectives for our School. But I was wrong, and this has been part of my learning with this process. Every person who chose to give their time to feedback was connected with and hugely invested in our school, and all of their thoughts were valid. Yes, some of their opinions were in direct opposition to one another, and of course I can’t please all the people all of the time and will upset some with our final, published Objectives, but the current draft is much improved as a result of those sessions.

I should point out that behind our front page there is also a slide for each Pillar.  Similarly, from the final version of these Objectives we will be devising our strategy to get there, the Department Development Plans, etc.  The front page is intended to capture the essence of who we are and of where we’re wishing to head.  I have shared an example of the latest draft of our Pupil Pillar below:

So we are now very close to being finished with our Strategic Objectives for RMS. And in many respects this is the starting point. I have learnt from previous schools that it is arguably better to have a mediocre idea well implemented and embedded than a great idea done badly. It ain’t what you do…etc. But as we reach the final draft of our Objectives at RMS, I do believe that we have a clear vision that everybody has had their say in devising, and that will provide us with a destination to work towards, giving the community a definite sense of purpose and a focus towards something that is ambitious but also achievable within a workable timeframe. And I’d argue that all of that is what you want from any school’s set of Strategic Objectives.

I haven’t gone into my thoughts about the content of our Objectives in this post. There are lines that excite me, lines that I know the full story behind, and some targets that will be tougher than others for us to achieve. That’s all for another post on another day, possibly after our final set of Strategic Objectives have been published and we’re all busy working towards them.

Sunday 16th January, 2022

I have been attending a monthly Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leadership programme with Diverse Educators since April 2021.  It is led by @Ethical_Leader and @Angela_Browne, and it has uplifted, educated, and inspired me every month.

Hannah and Angie are clear and correct that DEI work is safeguarding work, that well embedded DEI makes school communities safer places.  The aim of their programme is not to rush into anything in a knee-jerk way, but to listen, reflect, learn, and then start to put together a 3-to-5-year plan that works for each school: carefully planning sustained change over time.

At the start of this week’s session, mention was made of an excellent candidate for headship who so far has not been appointed and there was a feeling that this may at least in part be connected to his race and from that perhaps also in part to his strong accent.  This anecdote stayed with me after the session, conscious as I am that over 96% of male and female headteachers in England are white, and with my own awareness of how frequently my accent was referenced when I was applying to be a Headteacher.

I have decided to share a couple of anecdotes relating to my applications for the post of Head at independent schools when my accent was considered a relevant factor. 

I once applied for a Headteacher post where afterwards I was told by the head-hunters, “You were the preferred candidate, the first choice, but the Board have decided not to appoint.  They were quite vague and evasive with us about why this was, and they could only give reasons such as ‘His handshake wasn’t strong enough’, whatever that means.  I think you can draw your own conclusions from this, Kevin.”  A few months later, the Bursar at that particular school later told me straight that the Chair of Governors didn’t wish for somebody from my background as Head of ‘his’ school. 

On another occasion I attended a training session with one of the head-hunter firms, as part of a course for half a dozen applicants who they felt were close to headship.  Afterwards, the course leader told me, “We agreed that you were the strongest candidate from the process we saw today.  You are 100% ready to be a headteacher, but we think that you should seriously consider booking yourself in for elocution lessons because your accent will be the reason that you are not going to be appointed.”  As an English teacher I know enough about language, culture, and identity to be able to reply that if a school didn’t wish to take me as I am then they weren’t the right school for me and I wouldn’t wish to be their headteacher. 

For those who do not know me, as my About Me section says, I grew up in Huyton, Liverpool, a working-class area that is in the second most deprived borough in England, and I have quite a strong Liverpudlian accent.  The Chair of Governors at my then current school did make a decision to directly address my accent in his reference, raising it as a potential consideration before clarifying why this shouldn’t be a factor in a Board’s thinking, pre-emptively calling this out as it were.

I am a straight, white, male headteacher of an independent school.  I have a 1st class degree, and an M.Phil. from Trinity College, Cambridge – there is a whole bunch of privilege there.  At the time of the anecdotes above I was also Interim Head of The Grammar School at Leeds, a large, diamond model school.  I had quite a strong CV on paper, and to be honest I suspect that in a comparable way to my accent wrongly being deemed relevant at interview, it is also not inconceivable that my educational background helped get me to the interview stage.  Some Boards like this kind of thing, taking it to signify far more than it should.

I want to be clear that this is not a post about bias and class in the independent sector.  I have worked in four independent schools, valued them all, and have found them all to be far more egalitarian workplaces than some might imagine.  Very many people working in the independent sector desire to do social good and to help to create a more inclusive and sustainable world.  More specifically, in RMS, I have found a values-led school with a strong ethos that is prepared to think differently about all aspects of education.  I feel appreciated there for who I am, and my accent or social background aren’t referenced in relation to the job that I do because nobody feels they are relevant.

But I have shared a few of my experiences here, (and each of these are only from six years ago), as anecdotal evidence that bias is still out there in appointing Heads.  The education system would be a better place if this were not the case, and we all need to consider the ways in which we can demonstrate commitment to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive staff community in our schools.  For me, it was bias in relation to attitudes to social class, and a little bit of auditory bias.  The government figures from 2019 indicate the extent to which this is a far greater issue in relation to race and ethnicity.

A few final thoughts on this topic for now from me:

  • I hope and want to believe this bias and prejudice is receding, gradually diminishing.  I believe in the transformative power of education as a force for social change that makes a positive difference.  Interestingly, the Foundation that found my background not the right fit for them and that blamed it on my limp handshake have changed their entire Board since then, and there are now seven women and three people of colour on a more diverse Board there.  You would like to think this would not happen again.
  • @jillberry102 was a great source of advice and support throughout my applications for headship.  She always said that in the end you find the right school for you, the right fit for you.  I do think there is something in this. I can now view my earlier experiences as lucky escapes.
  • There is a great deal I have taken from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leadership course, both from the leaders and from the brilliant colleagues that are attending with me from both sectors, and from the UK and overseas.  I am sure I will write about this learning again, including about how we strive to apply it at RMS.  We have just appointed two DEI leads at RMS – they are brilliant colleagues who will do a great deal of good in this role.  My first show of support for them was to sign them up for Hannah and Angie’s training course with Diverse Educators.

Saturday 8th January, 2022

Last Monday sits closer to five weeks back than five days ago in my mind.  I’m not alone in thinking that this week.  I will share a few samples as a specimen of the long first week back in education.

Brilliant Staff are Anxious

The Inset day after the Christmas break is always a mix of emotions for teachers who have enjoyed their well-deserved break and who know full well the demands and rewards of the coming term.  4th January 2022 had an extra dimension though, and @Rachael Warwick7 said it best in an article for @guardian newspaper this week: “increasing Omicron case numbers and ongoing uncertainty about how this will play out have created a nervous start for us all”.

For two years, at every stage of this pandemic, teachers have shown an absolute commitment to making it work for their pupils.  And pretty much every term for two years the rules of the game have changed: teach remotely (to most but also in-person to some); teach in bubbles with no mixing; pivot to deliver high-stakes assessments as an alternative to GCSEs and A Levels; teach with schools as close to normal as possible and feel that gear change; and now teach amid the uncertainty of a new variant.

Some colleagues this week are asking if we should be running assemblies, or clubs, or after school events in person.  These are all good questions being asked from some of our most committed staff.  There are no absolute ‘right’ answers to any of this, and we’ll get to better solutions for good questions being asked by colleagues.  I always appreciate this dialogue.

The SLT at RMS are always considering the health and welfare of our staff, our pupils, and of all their families, while simultaneously feeling responsibility for prioritising the education and well-being of our pupils.  The last 22 months has been about constantly trying to find the optimal point between these two sets of concerns.

We are starting this term with School running as close to normal as possible for our pupils, but with a very close watching brief on rising cases and with our Outbreak Management Plans at the ready.  For the start of term, all the staff and the pupils from Y7 upwards will wear masks when indoors in a school so well-ventilated that many wear coats!  All visitors to our school will also be asked to take an LFD before attending.  We believe that excellent ventilation is a key factor in our cases having been consistently low to date. 

The Politicization of Face Masks Doesn’t Help

On Tuesday I send an email to our parents outlining arrangements for the term and confirming masks must be worn.  As ever when masks are mentioned, I received a handful of replies from parents expressing their strongly held views that pupils shouldn’t be wearing masks, that their daughter will not be wearing a mask and must not be judged, and/or that they are considering withdrawing their daughter from our school because masks are required.  

Each of these emails are from great parents, brilliant families who are highly supportive of our School, and I do respect their views.  We have to agree to disagree – I respect all views but the strength of any one opinion from either side on pandemic issues can’t stop me doing what I think is the right thing as I strive to find that optimal point between safety and the education that all children are entitled to receive.

The virus is airborne and I do believe that one of the most important measures to prevent transmission of an airborne respiratory virus is the use of a good quality mask.  We distributed five FPP2 masks to each colleague this week.  It’s interesting how politicized this debate is in England as masks have become a flashpoint in the culture wars, and I recurringly read The Telegraph, The Times, and The Guardian to try to gauge the scope of opinions out there.  It’s interesting that in several other European countries children younger than 11 have been wearing masks since last year, being worn by children in nursery and upwards in Greece, compulsory in French primary schools since December, and mandatory over the age of six in Belgium, Spain, and Italy.

The Wonderful Things

Amid the ongoing daily challenges of the first week back (staff and pupils testing positive; our Pre-School Nursery almost not having enough healthy staff on Friday (we would have borrowed colleagues from our Prep School); safeguarding issues after the Christmas break; an ongoing review of our assessment and reporting system; presenting the latest draft of our strategic objectives; supporting the new Head of our Prep School; etc) there were very many wonderful moments. 

Two of these came from the last two evenings of the week when brilliant staff stayed until late, first for a Year 9 GCSE Options Evening, and then on Friday for our 2021 Year 13 Leavers to return for a celebratory evening to collect their A Level certificates. Time and time again, on both evenings, parents stopped me to say how incredible RMS teachers are, how their enthusiasm and subject specialism is infectious, how the pastoral support here saw their daughter through the toughest of times during adolescence, and how their child wouldn’t have thrived anywhere else but here.

One of our two socially distanced and hybrid GCSE Options talks

I don’t need reminding of how fortunate I am to be the headteacher of this incredible school community, but I am given regular reminders, and it is always a pleasure to be given them. I also saw on each of these evenings how much our parents have loved the opportunity to get into their school again and to connect with us in person.

This term will doubtless bring its challenges, but always also the joys of working with our incredible pupils, their parents, and my colleagues.

Thursday 5th August, 2021

The Institute for Government this week published, Schools and coronavirus: The government’s handling of education during the pandemic, a report based on interviews with figures within government and education experts. It is an important document, an excellent account of a period that was “easily the most disruptive in children’s education since the start of the Second World War”. You can read the report in full here. I am not going to add a great deal of my own words here, but instead will paste a dozen quotations from the report and offer brief responses of my own from our school’s experiences.

1. “Its most important conclusion is that the most unforgivable aspect of what happened is not just the failure to make contingency plans in the summer of 2020 but the refusal to do so – when it was already obvious that fresh school closures might well be needed, and that exams might have to be cancelled again.”

We had great teachers who after the experience of 2020 chose to leave middle leader positions because they, like most all of us, could see in Autumn 2020 that exams were unlikely to be held in the Summer of 2021, and they were not prepared to put themselves through a blame game with the government allowing an accusative finger to be pointed at teachers, heads of departments, and schools following the own failure to make sensible early contingency plans.

2. “Throughout 2020, not just the prime minister but education ministers and in particular Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, seemed determined to appear to be in control of events that they could not in fact control. There were repeated assertions that this or that would happen – that test kits would be available in schools in September, for example, or that schools absolutely would reopen in January 2021, or that exams would definitely be held in 2021 – up to the point where they did not happen, forcing last-minute U-turns.”

This was absolutely our experience.  With each of the three examples provided above we heard the Government’s assertions and did not believe from our experience on the ground that this would happen, but nonetheless had to waste time planning as if this were to be the case.  It felt to us at the time that the government were focused more on trying to control the political narrative rather than managing the pandemic.  This point matters because it had significant consequences for the lives of many good people in our school and doubtless in many others.

3. “Williamson was to announce that three million pupils in secondary schools would do precisely that – switch to online learning – for the first week of the January term to allow them to set up mass testing for their pupils. That came a mere week before Christmas.”

This was a low point for me personally and, I know, other headteachers too.  To be honest, I was more than a little frustrated at the government’s incompetence when the mass testing missive first landed before Christmas.  After months of online learning and then everybody in schools working their socks off to deliver a superb service throughout the autumn term, we all just needed a brief break without this kind of nonsense.  I told relevant colleagues to ignore this diktat until after Christmas when hopefully the government would see better sense, but no sooner had Boxing Day passed than colleagues and I had to sit watching webinars telling us what we would have to do in order to set up testing over the next week.  While we were watching we all knew and discussed that if there was any good sense in Whitehall then schools would not be reopening in January given that Covid cases were so high and that our watching, planning, and organising testing would all be a waste of everybody’s time over the Christmas holiday.

The report’s author, Nicholas Timmins, writes, “I don’t think it is harsh to look at this period as one of the more shambolic bits of government decision making that there has been throughout this pandemic. It is hard to look at this and find a defensible series of decisions.”

4. Moving onto to May 2020: “…in declaring the ambition that all primary pupils would return by the summer [of 2020], ‘the department was saying something that it just did not believe and which it knew was wrong. Nobody in the department from ministers to officials believed that could happen, on the basis of the guidance about bubbles of 15 pupils. We knew that there were neither the staff nor the space to open all schools up fully before the end of term. Everyone in the department knew that and yet it went into the guidance. And I am as clear as I can be that it came from No.10 and was insisted on by No.10 … it is a credibility-shredding thing to do to say you are going to try to do that when you have no way of trying to do that.”

We all know that making unsustainable promises has been characteristic of how No.10 has responded to the pandemic.  Again, it matters because the cheap and easy words impacted the lives of teachers and school leaders who spent time planning for things they knew or strongly suspected would not come to pass: primary schools could open three year groups in bubbles that were half the usual class size, but most primary schools simply would not have the space or staff to do this for all seven year groups.

5. “Between mid-March and the end of May 2020 no fewer than 148 new guidance documents, or updates to existing material, were issued to schools.”

Tell me about it! This is what all school leaders lived. Some of these DfE documents arrived after 11pm and nonetheless called for immediate action, some contradicted previous positions, new policies were sometimes announced to the public before official guidance had even arrived. This is how the last year has been for us all. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and University College London found that the DfE issued more than 200 pieces of guidance in the first 90 days of the pandemic starting from 18 March 2020, including a dozen days when the department issued at least five separate pieces of guidance. It felt like they were in panic mode and everybody else had to live with the consequences. At first, in March 2020, it was understandable and forgivable. As time passed and this mode of working changed little, increasingly less so.

6. “[Gvmt] ministers hated local government and they wanted central control….DfE are very, very top down. Their relationship with schools is that we will tell you something, and you will do it.” 

There were occasions when we believed the DfE’s decisions were dangerously flawed and so we went in the opposite direction. One example is reinstating face coverings when the Delta variant was on the march in June 2021. Another is during what the report terms the “shambles at the beginning of January 2021, when many primary schools were opened and then told to close again on the same day”. In January 2021 the government finally concluded that the infection rates of the virus were too high to open schools yet nonetheless required Early Years settings such as pre-schools and nurseries to remain open and to do so without any of the additional restrictions that had been required when schools and nurseries reopened previously in June 2020 when there were far fewer Covid cases. Early Years settings are too often an afterthought at the DfE. At that moment in time cases locally in Three Rivers and Watford were among the highest in the UK. In our school we wanted to prioritise the safety and well-being of our community, the children, their families and of course our staff, and therefore made the decision to delay the opening of our pre-school nursery to all but children of critical workers and to vulnerable children. There are times when informed local decisions work better than the heavy-handed approach of central government. Maintained sector schools had been threatened with legal action by the Education Secretary for reaching similar conclusions in December 2020, but we did not let this stop us making the right decision. Whether being an independent school gave us greater confidence to ignore the DfE requirement or not I couldn’t really say, probably not to be honest, but I certainly appreciated the ear, the advice, and the support of my Chair of Governors and Board in agreeing with this decision to protect our staff and community.

7. On the run-up to GCSE and A Level results in 2020 and the use of an algorithm to reach grades, the report says: “A No.10 insider confirms that ‘There were assurances from DfE that it was fine, and that it was the right approach. There would be a row, but it was rideable. That’s what No.10 was being told.’ In practice it became not so easy to ride as teachers began to realise the effects the algorithm would have on individual pupils.  The day of publication, 13 August, returned an all-time high of A and A*s. But almost 40% of predicted grades – a much higher percentage than in Scotland – were downgraded, with 3.5% going down two grades or more. The media was full of tearful tales from distraught pupils who had lost university places. Williamson urged schools to appeal. Asked on Sky News whether he would give ‘a cast-iron guarantee’ that he would not be forced into the same U-turn as Scotland, he replied: ‘Absolutely.’”

In the summer of 2020 the Education Secretary came across to many of us who work in education as a man who had not spent enough time thinking about these problems or listening to others, and possibly as somebody who was not concerned about the individuals, the hardworking individual pupils, in the same way that schools and teachers are very much concerned. 

8. “The single biggest issue has, however, to be the failure in the summer and autumn of 2020 to learn lessons from the first wave of the pandemic – and to make contingency plans.  And on contingency planning, over the summer and autumn of 2020 there was not just a failure to do that. There was a refusal to, and on the part of both No.10 and DfE…It seemed to be driven by the view that if you make a contingency plan it makes it more likely to happen in some way. Which is a very peculiar way of thinking about the world. An unsophisticated attitude to risk. So we ended up, far too many times, in a position where, without much planning having gone on, a late decision was made…A No.10 source says that ‘the clear steer’ that officials received from the prime minister was not to make contingency plans. Schools were going to reopen. Exams would be held. The view was that ‘if you prepare for these things not happening, then the outcome is that they are far more likely not to happen … people will look for the easy way out and take it.’ According to this insider, the prime minister’s ‘default is to bluff. To talk up things to such an extent that they will happen through the force of his own personality. Which is a very powerful tool. But the virus doesn’t listen to those messages’.”

Do I need to add any words to this?  If true, the above shows shocking arrogance and incompetence.  Everybody in education knew and said at the time that there had to be a Plan B.  Teachers left their posts because they could see what was coming and that there was no proper plan in place early enough. 

9. “On 6 January, Gavin Williamson was unable to spell out how GCSEs, A-levels and BTecs would be assessed, beyond the slogan that it was ‘time to trust teachers, not algorithms’. Geoff Barton, as head of the ASCL union, again said: ‘It is frustrating that there is not an off-the-shelf Plan B ready to go. We have repeatedly called on the government and the regulator to prepare such a plan in the event of exams being cancelled, and have repeatedly offered to work with them in doing so’…As late as 9 March, as schools were returning, Nick Gibb, the school standards minister, was promising ‘an enormous amount of guidance’ still to come from the exam boards on ‘how to assess a grade, grade descriptors and so on’.”

Aside from pointing out that ‘an enormous amount of guidance’ did not arrive from exam boards, the issue here is that the lack of forward thinking and planning placed unnecessary levels of stress on pupils, teachers, and parents. Of course I won’t share their stories publicly, but I saw this first-hand in each of these groups.

10. In summer 2021, “the government was desperate not to be accused of having an algorithm, and not to be seen to be introducing ‘exams by the back door’. But that meant ‘no common assessment taken under standard conditions’.”

This year we have absolutely had exams by the back door. Many pupils took more exam assessments than ever would ordinarily be the case. What there has not been is anything to anchor these different assessments to, no real quality assurance between different schools. And that approach risks the integrity of pupils’ grades, which is wholly unacceptable given all of the hard work of pupils and their teachers.

11. “…there is a worry among some that teachers ‘have been set up to fail’, that they will be blamed for the yet greater grade inflation that many believe is on its way.”

I have sat in meetings of headteachers this year when we have discussed the government’s proposals and reached the conclusion that a main motive in planning for GCSE and A-level grades this year has been to ensure that it is teachers/schools rather than the government who will be blamed if anything goes wrong.

12. “It is impossible to separate out what happened in schools from the government’s handling of the pandemic more generally. The repeated failure to lock down fast enough and hard enough. The prime minister’s wild optimism across 2020 – seen in his claim in March last year that ‘we can turn the tide in 12 weeks’ and ‘send the virus packing’; in April that ‘we are past the peak’; in July that there should be ‘a significant return to normality by Christmas’; in November that there was ‘every reason to believe’ that ‘the worst is nearly behind us’.” 

I agree 100% with the first sentence above.  I wrote in the first post of this blog that, “I realised today that I can’t write honestly about being a Head and running our school without putting life at our school in a broader national context that sometimes includes the current political context. The experience of everybody in schools this last year is enough evidence that successfully navigating our way through a pandemic is bigger and broader than personal responsibility.”

Schools and coronavirus: The government’s handling of education during the pandemic is an excellent and important report. While it contains few revelations or surprises, it is cathartic to read given its confirmation of so much that we knew or suspected all along. It is also important that these interviews took place now, as contemporaneously as possible, and that this report has been published. Ahead of the publication of next weeks A-level and GCSE grades, let’s hope that we can we stop vilifying teachers and instead give them credit for the exceptional care that they exercise every year, while applauding their extraordinary efforts over the last eighteen months.

Friday 30th July, 2021

The Department for Education intends to remove funding for most applied qualifications such as BTecs from 2022 and to abolish them by 2023. It is hard to find anybody in education who thinks this is a good idea. The proposal has been opposed by the Association of School and College Leaders, the Grammar School Heads Association, the former Conservative education secretary Kenneth Baker, and 12 organisations representing schools, colleges and universities who wrote to the education secretary yesterday urging him to rethink.

Even Ofsted has raised concerns about learner choice being adversely narrowed and a risk that a barrier to student progress may be created.  There is a petition opposing this proposal that can be signed here.  It would be nice to think that the education secretary and the DfE will not ignore the significant concerns raised across the sector.

Scrapping BTecs and applied qualifications will leave students with fewer alternatives to A-levels and will narrow learner choice. 260,000 students in England take BTecs and other applied qualifications, and 470,000 students take A-levels. A-levels are not suited to all students, and BTecs provide an excellent alternative to or complement for A-levels.

BTecs are recognised by over 95% of universities as equivalent to A-levels, including Russell Group universities.  At our school we offer 26 A-levels, 2 BTecs in Health and Social Care and Performing and Production Arts, 1 applied course in Applied General Business, 1 Pre-U course in Mandarin, and the EPQ.  Our sixth form students pick the right mix of subjects and qualifications for them.

BTecs and applied courses are also viewed as helping social mobility.  44% of white working class students who go onto university study at least one BTec.  37% of black students access higher education with only BTecs.  In this respect, scrapping applied general qualifications such as BTecs does risk harming social mobility.  The Department for Education’s own impact assessment concluded that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to lose if applied general qualifications are defunded.

Instead of applied general qualifications such as BTecs, the DfE wants a binary system of A-levels and T-levels.  T-levels courses were launched last year and currently there are 1,700 pupils enrolled.  They are designed to be a single two-year course focused on a specific career such as accounting, catering, or hair, beauty and aesthetics.  One T-level is equivalent to 3 A-levels. 

BTecs provide far greater flexibility than T-levels because a student can study a range of subjects and a mix of applied courses and A Levels as opposed to deciding at 16 which one single T-level route they wish to go down. How many of us aged 16 know which career we wish to follow? As an addition to the post-16 offer T-levels may be fine, but as a replacement for most all vocational and technical qualifications they are not offering enough choice or enough flexibility for learners.

One further risk of removing funding for BTecs and applied courses is that students who don’t wish to study 3 A-levels, or for whom that route simply isn’t right/best, will instead drop out of full-time education altogether.  Kenneth Baker yesterday described the proposal as “an act of vandalism”. There is a petition opposing this proposal that can be signed here

Sunday 18th July 2021

Twas the night before so-called “Freedom Day”, Monday 19 July.  England is removing most all Covid restrictions including requirements to wear face coverings and to socially distance.  There are 48,161 daily cases, up 50% on last week, third highest in the world, but the new health secretary has said we must “learn to live with the virus”.

Our Prime Minister said we must “move from universal government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility”.  Back on the 5th July, as soon as Boris Johnson announced his plan for Freedom Day, in our school we were thinking, “What must the parents of our overseas boarders be thinking of England right now, the most unrestricted society in Europe?”  We drafted an email of reassurance to those parents saying that we would continue to ensure the safety of their daughters by going beyond whatever Downing Street required.

Twas the night before Freedom Day and the double-jabbed new health secretary Sajid Javid was “feeling a bit groggy” and isolating after testing positive for Covid.  On Sunday morning, Downing Street said that two of his close contacts, the PM and the Chancellor of the Exchequor, were not required to isolate along with 1 million isolating Britons because they were participating in a pilot programme.  Two hours and thirty seven minutes later, after the entirely predictable furious backlash, we were then told that both men would in fact be isolating.  Insert your own U-turn adjective here: humiliating, handbrake, fastest, another, major, contemptible, GIF-inspiring, shameless, etc. 

By Sunday evening the Prime Minister was then characteristically lying/trying to reframe his poor judgement by saying: “We did look briefly into the idea of us taking part in the pilot scheme which allows people to test daily, but I think it’s far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules”.  Who is he trying to kid? 

I am just back from a week in Aberporth with my wife and two daughters.  It was delightful, our first break since summer 2019, and we have possibly never before needed a family holiday quite so much.  We are fortunate at RMS; some schools have not yet broke up.

I am back in school tomorrow morning, continuing to prepare for the start of the next school year. Eighteen months into this pandemic, thinking about how we might start each term is essentially now a familiar three-stage thought process of looking into the future:

1/ Try to work out where the country will be by 1 September.  How many cases, hospitalisations, and deaths?  How anxious might some of our staff reasonably be by summer’s end?  Most children won’t have been vaccinated, further new variants may have emerged, Long Covid will still be an issue in some colleague’s minds. What will our parents be thinking then?  There is always a spectrum of thought here too, of course, but what will most parents be concerned about and what might they want to hear from us as a school?  Most importantly, what will the pupils need after 18 months of Covid impacting their lives?  My 9 year old daughter asked me this morning “When will all this Covid end?”  Last week she was surprised to discover it had only been 16 months since schools first closed.  She said it seems like many more years to her.  It must do. What will all of the different pupils need after living through 18 months of this?

2/ Try to work out how the government will choose to present the UK’s Covid context to the press and public by 1 September, what they will require and expect of schools, and which bits of the DfE’s current “Operational Guidance” document for schools will have changed by then. Given that there have been 32 versions of that document in the last year we can rest assured that some things we are currently being asked to prepare for will change between now and the end of August.

3/ Factoring in all of the above, consider what we will do at our school to find the optimal point between an exceptional educational experience for the pupils and everybody being as safe as possible.

I realised today that I can’t write honestly about being a Head and running our school without putting life at our school in a broader national context that sometimes includes the current political context. The experience of everybody in schools this last year is enough evidence that successfully navigating our way through a pandemic is bigger and broader than personal responsibility. Being a headteacher in England during Covid can, at times, seem that we are living through the worst of times, an age of foolishness, an age of incredulity, a season of darkness, a winter of despair.  We don’t seem to get much of the wisdom, the light and the hope from our leaders of late.  It gives me no pleasure to type that time has told me we cannot always believe our Prime Minister and his government. And that is problematic for headteachers and their teams who take seriously their responsibility for the safety, well-being, and happiness of school communities.