What to do next?
What happens when you take the red pill?
After I accepted that I was in charge but not in control (with the thought applied to teaching) I certainly found it much more difficult to accept a lesson summed up by a numerical grade unpalatable. That a handful of lesson grades, accounting for a substantial part (any part) of a teachers pay review, questionable. I found it more difficult to accept a department described as any one-word criterion; requires improvement, good and outstanding. What does that actually mean? I found validating schools by a Progress 8 score (which I have done)
Attainment at Key Stage 2 has improved, remains well above national average and above the Trust average. Attainment and progress at Key Stage 4 has improved (Progress 8 score 0.48), is above national average and Trust average (Progress 8 score 0.25). Key Stage 5 remains at the national and Trust average.Extract from my personal statement.
…or an Inspection grades (which I have done), even less palatable. The tipping point was when I caught myself referencing my own leadership qualities by our inspection report grade.
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.H.L. Mencken
What does this all mean for education? What does that mean for schools? What did that mean for me professionally?
Over the last five years, I have watched and contributed to a faltering education system. Persistent education policy reform and funding issues has not helped, however for me personally, it has been the advancing accountability and performativity culture that concerns me most. Most, because it could be reviewed, removed even. In my view, it has given rise to a perverse set of incentives that have pushed teachers and school leaders to the edge, it has impacted the education of young people unevenly (I think D+ students) and at the extremes provided much fodder for interested journalists. Teaching to the test, accusations of off-rolling and children abandoned by exclusions just a few of the many recent media reports. The neoliberalism that was supposed to have allowed autonomy and creativity to flourish, instead, has brought about a semi-privatised authoritarianism.
Where does that leave schools?
The unnecessary bureaucracy and pressures, so observable in the BBC2 documentary School, weaking retention and persistently failing recruitment targets, the DfE’s own data showing Headteachers are leaving the profession in droves is damning.
What did that mean for me professionally?
Distinctly unpredictable yet generally ordered and organised, student outcomes improved improved and this years forecasts were even stronger. Yes, I use internal data to direct decisions even if inspectors do not wish to see it. Student, staff and stakeholders reported greater satisfaction with the school. And contrary to my systems and processing bias and beliefs, it was from disorder, the school went from strength to strength. Even a strong inspection report, was not enough to change the way I was feeling about education in the UK. In a profession built upon relationships, teachers-students, and between staff, something was missing.
I ploughed my efforts into challenging some of the perverse incentives I highlighted above. I openly challenge inspection frameworks, with some success, I challenged the use of graded lesson observations and Performance Related Pay most vehemently. I development and professional interest in organisational design and change management an learnt that there different ways to approach staffing and organisational structures. I advocated for the Education Support Partnership and promoted staff well being, and together with David Rogers, we organised Southern Rocks – a teacher for teachers event, where teachers get to tell their professional stories. But I found myself back at Dee Hock’s first and paramount responsibility of those who manage – as presented by Keven Bartle back in 2016.
The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage, is to manage self; one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts.I will leave that for others to comment.
I committed to developing my own leadership and invested time and money on the ILM Level 5 Coaching and Mentoring (it has also led to a really interesting diversion around team coaching.) Coaching teachers and school leaders only further illuminated the pressures teachers were facing. It also got me thinking about Old Monkey Mind, Hock’s alter ego, had said.
Understanding requires mastery of four ways of looking at things – as they were, as they are, as they might become, and as they ought to be.
I looked back. I assessed the lay of the land and decided to go in search of what might be.