“Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance.” James Bryant Conant

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”  Groucho Marx

I tweeted in anger last week. Never a good idea and something my wife continually advises me against… so I felt it was important to put my concerns in to a more cohesive argument…

Dear National College,

I have 1000 words you say this. 1000 words to give you confidence that I am still worthy (in the eyes of this anonymous panel) to be a National Leader of Education (NLE).

An NLE is a lofty title and one I am afraid to say I have been very proud to have. I feel I have done the role great service and justice over the years. I have been working alongside leaders since 2008 and I have lost count of the schools I have been commissioned to work in. From taking on the challenges of Special Measures (full time whilst still running my own school), sudden illnesses (mental and physical), cries for assistance and immediate requests for support I have not had a term where I was not working with others. It is taxing but very rewarding work. I have gained the trust and respect of so many colleagues over this time and I have loved every second of it (even when I have felt utterly out of my depth) – so it it with a heavy heart I write this.

Your concerns are simple and I quote:

Following this data analysis, we have identified that your school’s performance data may no longer meet the published eligibility criteria associated with its designation.  There were specific concerns regarding the 2016 attainment and 2016 pupil progress for reading, writing and maths being below the national and local authority averages. Therefore, we will need to review your NLE designation…

Ok, this isn’t so bad. There are no complaints from head teachers, governors, LA’s or even you about my practice… it is just the quality of 2016 data. It is this that makes me unsuitable. This is the same 2016 data that the profession has discredited (including Ofsted and the DFE) as being unreliable. I would go even further and say that the assessment system in our primary schools is now so broken as to be utterly flawed and useless as an effective indicator to school performance. So I look to see how I can better represent what I do… Nothing. No phone call, school visit, chance to speak to the panel and no one wants to speak to the people who commission me… Despite getting incredible support and some national coverage, not even a phone call… Just 1000 words.

There’s also the small matter that my incredible school runs  a 30 place Specialist Provision on site (of which 3 children in the data you have looked at were in Y6 last year). I know that it might seem a small issue…  (This link shows you the difference it makes) but we have no children in our Specialist Provision who will sit SATs. Children with the most complex and severe needs across Somerset are bused in to our provision daily and provided a bespoke education. It may seem like an excuse but 4% of last year’s cohort were in this provision. Our inclusive nature also means that we take on children with the greatest SEND needs, permanently excluded or at risk of permanent exclusion – evidence shows me that these children sadly never quite get the expected SATs scores that we would like. I have 7 Specialist Provision children in Year 6 next year… This is 11% of the cohort. Raise is going to look like a car crash! You may be better rid of me before the scandal. I have not been lazy about this. I have had numerous conversations with people such as Sean Harford, David Carter and I even got a letter from Nick Gibb. Everyone is sympathetic but your initial attitude will likely be no different to Ofsteds… But at least with Ofsted they have to visit my school.

In truth I am just making excuses. Those results just weren’t as good as we wanted. I am not afraid to admit I have felt a failure… I have questioned every aspect of my leadership. We have worked hard at improving this year but the system is tangled, bloated, unhelpful and full of opportunities to cheat, game or hot house. We will never do that. We believe that education is about longevity and I know (from following our children through secondary school) that they do VERY well because they get the best possible grounding at our school. This will continue despite narrow accountability measures.

I have a question for you… What is the purpose of a National Leader?

I thought it was to use experience to effectively support schools in challenging circumstances?

I don’t blame you… we have become so convinced that SATs scores ‘maketh the leader…’ Even one years worth. You are just reflecting what school leadership has now become.

I know that to do the role you need to be respected. When I first walk in to a school in crisis I have never flashed my SATs scores at them, (Even when they have been some of the highest in the country). Never! In fact they rarely come in to the equation. Experience has taught me that the school usually has the LA, HMI, Interim Executive Board (IEB) and School Improvement services sign posting these for them. My job is often trying to help the leadership prioritise and focus. Make it through the days and weeks to come by offering empathy, challenge and support in equal measure.  It is my experience, humility and dare I say it, care that matters at this point. The number of times I have gone in to hostile situations where I have had to earn the respect of the school community is – every time. You may disagree but I never did this waving my results around.

So it is with great sadness I say this, not because you are some club I am proud of being part of. I remember the days of Steve Munby who I believe was cut from the mould of the likes of Sir Tim Brighouse. People who got to know you (even during fleeting encounters), shook your hand and challenged your thinking without ever patronising or demeaning you. I am sure they would have found the time to decommission me by meeting me and telling me why it needed to be done (to my face at my school) and I would have happily accepted this. I would have respected them for it.

What I do know though, is they would have been rightly ashamed if the reason was one set of results, 2016 results in fact, sent via an anonymous email.

Damn, I’m over the 1000 word limit…

It is therefore with great sadness and a heavy heart I resign my position as a National Leader of Education. I am sure I can continue to be of great support to colleagues without this title. I will continue to make it my first priority after my school and its community. I am sure I will do everything I can to be the best possible head teacher in challenging times.  I thank you for the opportunity it has been an honour.

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