Right that got your attention.
Firstly, to set the record straight, SLT’s should support teachers so that they can teach. It is a no brainer. I have spent my last 10 years as a head doing this. To all the ex-teachers and current teachers who read my ‘secret’ blog (shame on you!), tell me straight next time we meet if you think differently. I mean REALLY tell me.
I have supported teachers 99% in class for a simple reason. Learning happens when disruptions are at a minimum. That is how I came to run schools that have been graded outstanding (by Ofsted and those that visit. And yes I will offer visits to any who DM me). The places are a delight to be in even though behaviour can be ‘challenging’ at times. How we get there may be up for contentious debate though. I don’t believe that to solve a problem you place it elsewhere. Maybe it is my socialist roots? I believe that by taking a problem and putting it in a corner all we do is dis-empower many of us. We don’t face the real problem head on. This gives us short term relief; but it is effectively a placebo. But, there are times we have to admit defeat and make the hardest decisions. Those times need to be seen as a failure on the ‘schools’ behalf. They are tough love moments. Trust me, the easiest thing to do, as a head with all the pressures we have, is to remove a problem. The hardest is to try to solve it… especially when we fail and breed discontent along the way. Then, we quickly become inadequate leaders.
Maybe working in primary I have almost always been able (with the teams I work with) to find answers to behaviour problems (That exhibit externally)- eventually. Maybe there is much about early intervention here… Maybe, in secondary it is far more problematic (I am now a governor in a secondary so experience may be gained here).
So, when I slightly naively wrote the following in my last blog I did not really understand the minefield I had so blindly stumbled in to.
‘But here is the problem. By accepting these issues as leader of a school I have to get all the other stakeholders to accept them as well. The organisation can only be successful if we do it as one. I read a tweet via #SLTchat recently from someone I usually really agree with. I can’t quote it directly but basically it said SLT’s let down teachers because they don’t remove disruptive children from lessons. It should have said SLT’s let down teachers because they don’t prepare teachers to understand and have capacity to support the most disruptive pupils. I know (before you all shout at me!) this is not easy. This is from a head who did a PEx recently because he could see no other solution. But by passing problems on, by not accepting these problems as OUR problem we just make the situation worse.’
I think the reactions were about perspectives and points of balance and maybe I am trying to talk tough here and over stretching? I certainly felt out of my depth very quickly. But, that was not my intention. I was trying to say that the issues we deal with in school need to be faced together and not in isolation. If a child is trashing a classroom then the child needs to be removed. But we cannot ignore the reason ‘why’ the child is trashing the classroom – the SLT or the teacher. What my last blog was trying to say was YOUR problem is OUR problem. And I really meant it. Maybe the divide between SLT and teachers is bigger than I realised? It is certainly emotive and personal.
When I did a PEx (permanent exclusion) I had to sit in a room (the sole representative of the school) with fifteen other professionals. Everyone had at least two reasons why the school was failing the child (including SLT from other schools). They said they understood OUR ‘problem’ but had we:
Engaged the Behaviour Intervention Team?
Tried ‘outdoor’ learning?
One to one tuition?
Using funding differently?
Did we REALLY understand the Home Context? History? Chronology of Support?
Even though we had done all of the above I still came away feeling like we had failed. The class teacher could not have done more – but had the school done all it could to prevent this issue? We knew years ago that the issue was there. How many schools can look down through the years and say we better keep an eye on X in Reception? If you can then that issue is a problem in waiting and doing a PEx is too late.That was what I meant in my last blog about ‘having a problem and feeling empowered to deal with it’.
I also think that the reason I believe in trying to solve the problem rather than push it away is because I now run a Special School and see the problems children face in school in a far more complex way than I once did when I only ran a mainstream school. The depth of issues some children can bring that can cause disruption is far more evolved than I ever imagined.
I think I may have stumbled upon a possible solution through THRIVE (which I first heard about during an SEND meeting). I have two members of staff on this and whole school training taking place next year. How WE develop this will offer support across the school and early identification will be key to tackling issues that develop. It is about stopping US saying, “Opps! Too late!”
I also wrote the following in my last blog:
‘I look at so many SLT’s and I do despair. They have grown up in an era in which the business of schools is tough, no compromises, no failure, no weakness, hard and fast… they are fed this by people who rarely have to sit with broken and wrecked lives. I feel for these SLT’s because one day their decisions will change lives and if only they could come at the problem with love and understanding. Still might be tough but at least they can walk away knowing that they have added to the world rather than done what is perceived as ‘best’ in a moment, fad or under perceived pressures out of their control. It is our capacity to be human that I am interested in and I believe it is utterly central to leadership.’
I am still very uncomfortable using the love and understanding words in the context of my work. It does sound rather hippy and a little fluffy around the edges. But I know there is something in this approach and I will not give up on it, just yet. I meant it in the context of everyone – teachers included.
So, no massive U-turn here but even if I do come across as slightly ‘unhinged’ and worth crossing over the road to avoid please remember I will never leave teachers unsupported in the classroom (for good leadership and moral reasons) and will always be there to meet with parents and back up teachers when needed. But, I will also never give up trying to find solutions to the problems faced by so many children in our schools.
April 4, 2015 at 9:40 am
We know too little about the background and history of so many of these children. If early intervention is so crucial, primary schools need the resourcing and support to do this earlier. As a governor, I have seen first hand the havoc a child can cause in a classroom even at the age of 5 and the negative impact on the teaching staff and the school when Pex is the end result.
April 4, 2015 at 2:24 pm
I think your early intervention is actually really vital – how often have children presented with difficult behaviours in Nursery or even Reception and the solution has been to wait or see if they grow out of it. Only to find that the behaviours have become ingrained both at home and at school.
However, for all concerned there needs to be a line that once its crossed there is permanent exclusion and as a head this needs to be stuck to. I have seen behaviour in schools deteriorate seriously because actually SLT did not mean they would exclude after three violent incidences, etc. If you don’t want to do it then be clear and be clear when people are joining too so they have a real choice.
April 4, 2015 at 2:36 pm
Totally agree with clarity issue.. But the number of times I thought it was easy only to have the rug pulled from beneath my feet (support I thought was in place gone, complaints, LA intervention, lawyer intervention etc)… I think the reason I am so obsessed with trying to get it right is I hate going through the getting it wrong phase.