“I pity the fool who stands in the way of a parent and their child’s happiness…”
If Mr T was Education Minister he may have said this, gold chains dangling in the setting sun casting light across his angry sneer. Tough talk scares me. I find headship a tactical balancing act at the best of times. The thought that unhappy parents could now signal my ‘sacking’ is another weight around my fragile neck.
Firstly, parents are the vital ingredient in a successful school. You cannot do it without them. Get that link wrong and it is a hard and slippery road to trust. Every teacher, governor and senior leader knows this. My advice to NQTs is parents want to know two simple things… you like their child and you have their best interests at heart. Get this right and in 98% of cases this will stand you in good stead, even when you disagree. Building that relationship can be the difference between great progress and stagnation (or worse in some cases).
So why am I against parents being given the power to get a head removed from a school?
A number of reasons:
Ofsted have spent years developing the school accountability system. They know how multi-faceted and complex it is. They now also understand that it is not always accurate and can be unfair if applied unethically. I really commend the work that is happening around this area and have more faith in Ofsted than at any other time. I genuinely believe it is at a pivotal point in educational reform. I recently had questions about their judgements and the response was excellent – professional and rooted in getting the facts straight. There was no personal agenda – just a desire for the education of ALL children to be at a high standard. I never doubted that. I had a little moan but I moved on because I trust that, at its heart Ofsted is the best system we have. Can parents be trusted to do that? I am a parent and I have always found it almost impossible to respect school decisions and the impact on my children. It is only through understanding and trusting the schools strategic direction (Because I have personal experience in this area) that I have stopped being the kind of parent who fires off a letter a week about changes because my child is giving me grief about it on a Wednesday night. As parents we are intuitive and as Daniel Kahneman says in Thinking, Fast and Slow on how people think regarding things that seem simple but are in fact more complex:
This experiment has discouraging implications for reasoning in everyday life. It suggests that when people believe a conclusion is true, they are also very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when arguments are unsound. P45
I am accountable to Ofsted. They have the skills to make judgements about the quality of standards and leadership. By potentially creating a new inspection system led by parents we are open to the job becoming almost impossible. Here are my fears.
I have spent years working with parents. On occasions this has been difficult. One of my earliest memories as a head was sitting in my office with the door open and a very angry parent storming in to the office area outside and demanding to see me (About parking in the street). The office said, “He’s just finishing his lunch.”
I hope he F&%$ing chokes!” was the instant reply.
So often I have worked well with my parent community but some parents have massive community influence and some parents really do not like you. A parent once threatened to punch me if we were in the same room because I had unauthorised a holiday. They were a KEY member of the community I worked in. Everyone knew them and everyone liked them. I feel that there could be a real danger of playing to the parental movers and shakers. The parents who are not afraid to call a meeting about bullying, parking, school uniform or another issue they are ‘personally’ unhappy about. If they held your job in their hand (Or were a deciding factor) the desire to do what they want when they want it over the desires of the strategic direction of the school and the professional knowledge of the school SLT would seem a wiser move than sticking to what you believe is right. That cannot be right? Surely no senior leader in the country wants a worse school? Confused policy, knee-jerk decisions and fuzzy direction will make for a weaker school.
If Ofsted conclude that a school is failing children and the head has been given time and support to turn this around and there is not a quick enough turn around I believe that the power to remove that head should be given to the Regional Schools Commissars office. There used to be a saying in an old area I worked in that when heads were about to be sacked they were, “Invited to lunch with NB.” I would respect the RSC coming out to my school and saying, “OPH, we supported you with this but the school has not turned fast enough… We are now bringing in new leadership.” It would be the worst day of my life. It would destroy me… But better that than a lynch mob at my doors because I am being judged on personal agenda’s rather than the facts around school failure. I can defend standards (Or not), I can defend my strategic plans… I cannot defend against people who have a personal reason for me to go. This is not to say all parents will have that but you can guarantee some will.
I have sat with many heads who have been in this position. There is one VERY successful head in an area I used to work in whose school has been outstanding time and time again… On Parent View only 60% agreed that leadership was good? Ofsted recognised the excellence.
When I started in my last school in the second year standards dropped. They were no better in the third. I was looking longer term. Within 5 years standards were consistently outstanding and systems were in place to sustain this improvement. In year 2 I came under pressure from parents. Under this new rule that pressure would have been terrifying and I may not have lasted. HMI, Ofsted and the LA School Improvement Partner all recognised the reasons behind my leadership and were able to put the pressure on but also validate that my strategic plan made sense. Should parents be able to do that? I wouldn’t go in to a parent’s house and say that their child’s diet is unhealthy, or bed time is too late or their child is having too much technology time. I am not qualified to do that. Are parents qualified to say a school is failing? More than Ofsted, the governors or the RSC can?
I am not attacking parents here. I absolutely believe that parents should be heard loud and clear but the educational agenda of a school cannot be run through the fear of losing your job based on keeping the parents happy. It must do the tough and difficult things for ALL children based on professional skills and knowledge. I think that this policy is a way of scapegoating parents to do what Government should do. Take responsibility for school improvement. It would be easy to say, “Oh, we’re sorry… it’s just the parents don’t want you!” A hard message to hear but surely a strong system should say, “The evidence is clear… You are failing the children of this school and based on this evidence we are removing you from this school.”
Ofsted is the answer. Despite its flaws and despite the concerns. Ofsted has changed and adapted and at its heart is run by people who know school success and failure. They see it up and down the country every day. Parents are vital cogs in making schools a special place. They should be a school friend and go in to it like an NQT on parents evening, wanting the best and trusting the system is trying for the best. If Ofsted or other appropriate bodies deem, based on the evidence, that a school is failing too many children and the leadership does not have the capacity to improve it. Parents then have the absolute right to demand reform including a change of leadership – but not before.