This is a selfish letter in many ways. I have no idea if you will read it. But after reading @vicgoddard’s letter to you I felt that you needed to hear from head teachers and teachers directly. Too often I read the official party lines and they name drop or reference success and I feel that this is wrapping up the profession I see daily in a neat little package. I would love to hear a party in power acknowledge more than the party line for once. My experiences tell me that you have inherited a far more damaged profession from your predecessor than you have ever publically acknowledged. Please understand that though I am a life-long Labour supporter and a teacher that does not make me an enemy of your government. In fact when Michael Gove made his first appearance at the National College conference I clapped him heartedly (I also clapped the second time but this was more out of respect for a political master-class). I will do the same for you. I want to trust that you do understand what needs to be done. I am far from convinced right now. Let me tell you why.
I have been a head teacher for ten years, in four different schools in London, Bristol and Somerset. Throughout my career I have worked in challenging circumstances. These challenges were always embraced. I am a national leader of education and I have taken a school from RI to outstanding (This took 8 years); I was ‘parachuted’ in to a specially measured school and have supported countless colleagues from newly qualified head teachers to newly qualified teachers. So, why am I so scared for my future? Why am I discussing with other colleagues what my exit plan will be? Now, by my twitter handle you may think @Oldprimaryhead1 is due for retirement and you’ll soon get rid of him. Sorry, I have at least 20 years more before I can even think about retirement. Listening to your government’s rhetoric right now I feel that the probability that I will be sacked, removed, dumped, shunned, side-lined, demoted, have a heart attack or be replaced is far more likely than a retirement party.
I currently run a very large primary school. It is an academy you will be pleased to hear. We educate from 7 Months to 11 (Over 600 children), we also run a large Specialist Provision which means that we are a deeply inclusive school. This is quite unique but also creates massive challenges around our dashboard and data. The school is only closed for 1 week throughout the whole year (Christmas to New Year). The school was outstanding but was downgraded in its last Ofsted. I would love you to visit it so this letter will be in context. Context is important. It is now a ‘good’ school and in truth this is a terrifying place to be. One more step backwards and everything I have worked an average of 55hrs per week for, believed in, danced over and cried over will suddenly mean nothing but a statistical error on your data sheets. I will be nothing. A little bit melodramatic? As an LLE and NLE I have seen more heads crash, burn and fall than I have fingers. All of them had to weather storms I have no idea how they got through. I dread that prospect. What I have learnt in my many years as a head teacher is this: There are a hundred ways you can be forced to leave this job. From parental pressures, governance, policy, H&S, Child Protection, Staffing and a host of other tripwires. All are important and cannot be ignored. I am certain that the school I lead is a great school but what if someone else thinks differently? (Someone else ALWAYS thinks differently) Your policy has now set up any head that falls foul to SATs or Inspection to be fighting for their careers. I do have a mortgage and a family. I know this is selfish but that fear keeps me awake and it never used to. How can I be outstanding one year and failing the next? The stress and strain is like at no other time.
Rhetoric is so important. Why is it that whenever I hear your party speak about education I feel like we are at war? It is always about being tough -that we fail children too often (I imagine I’ll be lambasted for this letter in some way because I am advocating failure or something – like I said I have only led very successful schools. None more so than my ‘good’ school at the moment – which is the strongest I have ever worked in). I can only think of two children I feel I have really failed in my career. I know why and it hurts to the gut when I dwell on it. But right now I can be held to account as a failure on the tightest of margins and education philosophy that is based on narrow factors. I want a government that understands what education is beyond climbing international league tables.
Again, I know about failure. I left school with NO GCSE’s and I have NO A’ Levels. I understand the desire to achieve and be the best I can be. Right now I have no confidence or trust that I am safe to do the best I can do. This is from someone who is practicing his craft and art each and every day. I will just play safe and get you those results that we all so desire. I think I can do that for another term of your office. But a revolution in education it will not be. By then I may have sussed out what my next steps will be. But, arrogant as this may sound, you need people like me to pass on successes and mistakes to the next generation of school leaders. You need me in a school, in the same way as you need so many of the teachers I hear saying they are leaving the profession. You now have a long second term. Please listen to ALL the voices – not just the selection that tell you things are going well.