I believe that school leaders are facing a crisis like no other. It is multi-faceted and complex. They are face to face with problems that have risen from the policies of austerity and slowly chocked and clogged the souls of our schools. Worse still I feel that they have fragmented mind-sets within the profession and we are now more divided on solutions to our problems than ever before.
You see, school leaders are good folk at their core – well most of them. But, they are protective of their schools and communities. They want what is best for them and if in competition – moral purpose gets blurred and ‘at-odds’ procedures get justified because it’s about the local rather than the bigger picture. There is NO bigger picture in education 2019. These –good folk leaders – are easy targets as well – often let down by the minority of leaders who have damaged so many… I’ve read the recent blogs about worst work scrutiny feedback ever. There is a certain section within our profession who seem to believe life in schools would be better without leaders (and I can understand that because I have worked alongside leaders who have made things worse)– though I don’t see credible alternatives being offered; just as it would without consultants or pseudo-teachers. It would seem the battleground really is the classroom and we have already lost. Imagine a school leader blogging about ‘Worst things a teacher has said to a child…’ I don’t believe in school shaming… in fact any shaming. But for some it is ok to shame consultants as money grabbing charlatans or show up travelling teachers for the snake oil fools they are… but, observe my lesson, look at my books, question my rational… Burn in hell you mother!
One such issue impacted upon is Inclusion and attitudes to it within our schools. In Andrew Olds latest blog he wrote:
‘In recent years, progressives have used SEN as a trojan horse for dumbed down education and tolerance of poor behaviour in schools. The argument is that academic and behaviour standards should be low, in case students with SEN are discriminated against by the demands of having to learn and behave.’
Firstly, I like to know, who are these progressives? Are we talking about DFE progressives? Head teacher progressives? Teacher progressives? I thought standards were going up in schools? I certainly see a tougher Y6 SATs test and I certainly see higher standards in primary schools. Is this dumbing down national? What I would say to Andrew here is ANY school leader who wants to survive in this climate is desperate to get behaviour right because it takes about 20 seconds sitting in that swivel chair to work out your career is gambled upon it.
‘It can be amazingly difficult to get progressives to answer questions such as “what percentage of students do you think cannot access an academic curriculum?” or “what percentage of students do you think cannot cope in a school where rules are enforced?”’
I am not surprised. It’s a good point though. When is mainstream schooling not the right place for a student? When they are beyond the reasonable control of it? Inclusion is often not about academic issues though. I run a special school and many can access an academic curriculum. The issues are far more complex than that of course. There are usually three or four other factors all cashing in and making a mainstream experience very difficult. But, we manage it at my school. I have 36 children who could be in a standalone special school and they are fully integrated in to the daily systems of a 600+ mainstream school. So to answer Andrew… all students can access an academic curriculum. Even those using eye gaze technology.
The second question is harder. I think a tiny minority cannot cope in a school where rules are enforced BUT the reasons for this are a challenge back.
Some of the behaviours in my special school and the many PRUs and other special schools I visit are extreme. BUT children cope in these settings and rules are enforced in different ways. I would happily show anyone around my school with this one question:
Are expectations lowered because of the higher number of children with SEND at the school?
I am 100% confident the answer will be no. In fact it was one of the strengths highlighted in this week’s Challenge Partner review. Also, this week we got our No More Marking Year 2 report back and seem to have got the highest Greater Depth in the dataset (out of over 500 schools) – over 47%. So having high numbers of SEND at my school does not dumb down standards. It raises expectations of what can be achieved. More importantly those working in these environments have skills and knowledge to deal with this behaviour. They build relationships (and don’t let the behaviours side-track these relationships as much as others might) and have attitudes that embrace the challenges of behaviour rather than demonise the children for it. In a mainstream setting this is far harder to achieve.
The reality is though, that with a positive mind-set, well trained teachers who have skills and knowledge around behaviour… you are still going to get exclusions based on children who put themselves beyond the reasonable control of the school. I am hearing, more and more, of a zero exclusions policy and cannot understand where the rational for this comes from. Head teachers are under massive pressure (as are class teachers)… there has to be clarity around exclusion points and trust that ALL schools have done everything they possibly could to get a child back on track.
Exclusions have risen nationally, permanent and fixed term. Is this because there are now more Trad teachers and school leaders? Is this because behaviour in schools is getting worse? Or is this due to the nature of the accountability system schools find themselves under? I think it is the latter but with some caveats. The accountability system has made it harder for schools to work with individuals to change behaviours and this has been exasperated by the funding crisis in our schools. We have less support in schools, there are huge pressures to deliver academic results and there are fewer services with capacity to support. We have created a preference for measurable academic outcomes over longer term care in our schools and you can see how this has polarised views and practice. This has been a choice and the fallout can feel pretty destructive as a system. The answers to the inclusion crisis in schools can only be answered by schools themselves through carefully supported structures and a build-up of trust within the wider system. If our tolerance of behaviour is set too high then exclusions rise – too low and teacher moral will drop and standards will suffer. The answer to the inclusion problem is to work together through finding our common ground and understanding our differences.