Feeling like failures

Firstly, I am not writing this to receive lots of sympathy and lovely comments like ‘it’s not headteachers’ fault’ etc. I just want one person with the power to actually make decisions to think about it for one second. Now I know the second part is very unlikely but I’ve always been a trier!

I knew, we all knew, that education staff were putting their time with their family at risk by staying in school up until the 18th and we all tried to mitigate those risks as best we can, We all saw that local councils knew too and tried to do something about it only to be threatened with legal action.

We’ve seen this morning that the data had already been telling the government (struggling to say our government) the same message too but doubling down on poor decisions has been their way throughout this atrocious time. This was no different. They wanted to show how much more powerful they were than a Labour run local council and they did.

The question I am now struggling with, following positive test results amongst staff that will stop them seeing their families, is why wasn’t I brave enough to do what I knew was right? I am normally up for the fight but I didn’t have it in me. I sit here writing this feeling that I let the community down by not being strong enough.

I know that hindsight does this. I know that I’ve been involved in decisions that were rationally right at the time but proved to be wrong and needed to be changed later. We made those changes, apologised for getting it wrong in the first place and vowed to do better.

Humility, integrity and honesty have been at the core of school leadership since September and whilst none of us have got it 100% right we have managed to keep (almost) all colleagues and families with us. They’ve understood, offered opinions and worked together to find better solutions.

But this stings.

I’m gutted. I’m gutted that members of staff have put the care for other people’s families first and now can’t see their own. I feel responsible, whether that is accurate or not, it’s how I feel and I know it’s how so many of my comrades feel. It may be a politician behind a podium delivering the news but it is us looking people in the eye that look to US not THEM for leadership.

The government has repeatedly said it is not time to score political points to the opposition but seem happy to play politics with our well being. So Mr Williamson it is time to say you got it wrong. It is time to show humility, integrity and honesty back to those that have lived to those values for months and months.

It won’t make me feel any better. It won’t make me feel like I’ve let the staff down. It will make me think that you understand which would help

Sorry mum

“I know I’ve only seen you for a couple of days since March.

I know I’m looking after the adults and young people there and that means I can’t see you or my nieces/nephews.

No, they aren’t more important than you, but I have a job to do and it’s right that children are in school.

I know it makes you sad and feel lonely, especially since dad died.

I’m sorry mum”

I am sure lots of people working in education have had this end of a telephone call over the last few weeks. I am also sure that people working in medical and care facilities have had it too. It is really hard to hear anyone you love saying that you are putting your job/other people’s families above your own. 

So, what can/should be done?  Well, apart from the obvious need for a vaccine it does not take much to improve the situation.  Last weekend and in parliament this week the Prime Minister has repeatedly spoken about the need for schools to be open to children for numerous reasons including their mental health. I completely agree. I know that others do not and that is ok. However, the issues we have seen with the mental health of our community gives me the clearest indication possible that sending young people for another month long or more period of being educated at home would be disastrous.  The problem is in order to stay fully open we are asking staff to do things that others are being told not to do.  Before anyone goes scurrying to type anything about holidays or pay or teachers being lazy do not waste your time as I know first hand how amazing our staff have been in doing everything that has been asked of them.

I know the balance of health versus economy is a difficult one but in all of the statements made by the PM I have yet to see him genuinely talk to the staff in schools and say that he understands what is being asked of them and the sacrifices that will come with it.  That he knows that the conversation above is happening, but we are an integral part of the national response to dealing with the pandemic.  Instead we have seen last minute announcements, accusations of wanting to avoid our responsibilities and changes to the law to put headteachers in the firing line.

All I want is to see my mum at Christmas just like the 1000s of others worrying about isolated older family members. No matter how often she says “I don’t care as I’m old anyway so just come and see me” it won’t help as the thought of being the person that infects her is too much for me to consider doing that.

The same issue also effects the families of the students. Despite the quite ridiculous statement that children are just as safe in school as they are at home, from a Covid perspective, there are families that would want to be able to isolate as a whole so they can spend Christmas day with vulnerable relatives.

There are almost one million adults working in schools in England and most will be in until a few days before Christmas day therefore clearly leaving no time to isolate long enough to see elderly/vulnerable relatives.  As much as my mum wants to see me (well her grandchild if she was honest!) I also want to see her. I often say family comes in many forms, but she does not.  I have only got one mum.

I love this job still and having a purpose is a privilege at the moment but we need government ministers to stop hitting us with sticks constantly and finally show that they wish to work with us and recognise the amazing job that school staff have done since September in a meaningful way. There are simple solutions to lots of the issues that face us in education; we don’t need Ofsted but we do need costs met for keeping children and staff safe and we need to make sure young people are fed during the holidays. Of course, the exam situation in the summer is far from being sorted out but at least there is a time limit on them having to respond to that one!

Finally, I’d love all of us to be able to see our loved ones at Christmas and maybe a few days of well set learning from home in the build up to the big event will allow that to happen for everyone.

The haters are queuing up – to all the JHBs

So most results are now out (don’t get me started on the BTEC situation) and unsurprisingly results are quite a bit higher this year. I say unsurprisingly because I am lucky to have an insight in to the processes and why it was always going to happen.

There are a few loud online ‘experts’ saying that this shows how teachers cannot be trusted etc etc. Including some very senior MPs sadly. I’m afraid I’m yet to read an ‘expert’ negative opinion piece that has any clue about what was asked for and why it is right that this has happened.

Let me explain, before the pile on begins, what I mean and how we tried to ensure fairness…

Our school has always kept a certain amount of hard data centrally… be it from reports, formal assessments or mock grades. We have that data going back over several years; like many other schools have. This meant that we could work out the average progress students made from their last ‘mock’ to their final outcome over many years. This was a good piece of information to have as we would all expect our young people to improve their grades from a mock in January, for instance, to their exam in June or what on Earth are we teaching them?

With that information in mind we then carried out an exercise where all of the formal assessments each young person had done were put together for each subject and a final grade was then extrapolated. This was carried out by one person, to help consistency, for every child for every subject. To make sure the final grade wasn’t overly influenced by our knowledge of each individual (unconscious bias if you will) this was done blind. The only information that could be seen was the list of assessment grades. No names, no gender, no race or ethnicity. This gave us a control grade based purely on that data. The expectation was the grade given by the teacher would be the same but if it wasn’t it was investigated further to find what had changed from the last assessment grade recorded to make them think differently? This process took weeks and each grade was scrutinised and moderated on at least four occasions.

Still following? The obvious difficulty is that we know that not all young people perform in a final exam as we know they could. Some do no revision, some have a meltdown, some just have a bad day, some forget to turn the last page and some don’t turn up at all. That is why the results are always a cause for nervousness amongst school leaders and teachers and impossible to predict with 100% accuracy.

What could or should we do to replicate that ‘failure’ factor in our centre assessed grades (CAGs)? Should we have lowered the grades for the students whose brother didn’t bother turning up for his exams when he was at school? Should we have lowered the grades based on their surname? Should we have guessed which ones weren’t going to engage with the three months of revision classes, that they were about to receive, and downgraded them?

So this year’s results are based on the data we hold and the experience we have but they are a reflection of a positive view of engagement and revision. I am sure JHB would not be happy if we had downgraded a loved one of hers because they probably wouldn’t have done any revision anyway or that they an HB. We chose not to use a crystal ball to presume the worst of our young people. Why on earth would we?

We can all name young people that turned it around at the last minute and those that went off the rails equally quickly but what we can’t do is KNOW which ones it would have been this year. So for the media outlets running these stories of hatred towards our profession and our young people’s achievements it is time to educate yourselves and work out how we could have done it differently without just presuming the worst of our young people with no certainty we would be fair?

Turning down the noise

I really hope you are navigating the current world smoothly but I’d imagine many of you are finding it challenging just like me. When people ask how I am I, like many, will reply without thinking with ‘fine thanks, and you?’. However, at the moment, I find myself really thinking about my response. I think it’s important we all take the time to stop and reflect on the things adding to our anxiety and about our well being generally.

I’ve found the last few weeks particularly ‘noisy’. There is so much opinion, advice and general discussion around us, especially on social media, that I’ve felt overwhelmed at times. I know this is quite ironic because for some people I am part of their overwhelming background noise. You will probably be seeing the same names from our profession in your timelines and sometimes in the media too. I’d like to take this chance to clarify that I know nothing more than anyone else (for most of you that won’t be new news). I’m no more likely to be right (or wrong) than the next person. When someone has more than the average number of followers/friends online their voice gets amplified very quickly for that reason alone and not because they are right. Obviously I’m in that position due to being on the telly over 10 years ago and others are there for different reasons but due to having that amplification we can be mistaken that this person MUST be right and that adds pressure on us all to do what others do.

There is no shortage of amplified voices surrounding us as school leaders and that is the bit I have struggled to manage on occasion. It is quite natural for us to compare ourselves and the decisions we are making with others but I also think that this is a cause of stress for a great many of us.  Managing the noise that’s surrounding us in order to make clear and well informed decisions is vital. It’s vital for our own well being but also to enable us to consider the things that matter the most to our communities.

I think I have suffered from education leadership f.o.m.o. on many occasions during this strangest of times. I have found myself late at night searching through social media to see what other people are saying or doing ‘just in case’ I have missed something.

Don’t get me wrong; being outward facing and considering the range of options is a great thing to do at any time but having confidence that we are the experts in serving our own communities is vital too. It is almost definitely true that no one knows what to do for our school communities better than we do and what we’ve learned is that each one is truly unique. It could be the impact your building design has or how far your students have to travel but the smallest difference between us can change what can and needs to be done significantly. There really is no one size fits all answer for any of our challenges. We are seeing how much our government is struggling with that approach and I can imagine it is a struggle for a large trust of schools if the executive leaders want to make all the decisions from the centre. 

I’m not suggesting that we all make decisions in isolation as I gain real strength from working through ideas with other people on Twitter for example. However, I have also become quite adept at tuning out the noise too! I know I have been at the same school for a long time and this has it’s advantages but I know that there is no one better equipped to make the decisions needed than the team of leaders at our family of trust schools. Therefore, taking what I need from the challenge of other’s thinking but then stepping away and considering the stuff quietly, with those colleagues close to me, is proving to be much more efficient and far healthier for me; rather than constantly worrying that someone has come up with something I haven’t thought of.

So, if I’m part of the noise that’s getting in your way I am sorry and please remember I’m making it up as I go along just like everyone else so just mute me and have confidence that you’ll get it right because no one is better equipped to do so than you.

Being responsible

The kite flying has begun ahead of the much vaunted announcement from our Prime Minister on Sunday. ‘Leaks‘ are a useful tool if you want to remain popular rather than correct. So let’s get a couple of things clear amongst the noise.

We want schools to reopen and to have our young people back in so we can do what we are paid for and love doing as soon as it is right to do so.

Just checking those that seem to be lining up to take a pop can hear that?

Oh. You weren’t listening! We just want even longer holidays? Oh right…I didn’t know that!

MELTS

Best not worry about them as they are more interested in being noticed than listening or making sense.

Now that’s out of the way I can get off my chest why I am writing this blog…

For probably the first time in my life I am anxious about the responsibility I will have, along with 1000s of others, over the next few weeks. It is probably no surprise that I have never been shy when asked to offer an opinion or make a decision. I wouldn’t have pursued becoming a headteacher otherwise.

In the past I have written about managing (or not managing) my own anxiety over things like Ofsted but this is taking that to a whole new level. This tweet sums up the cause of much of it:

When the media talks about workplace guidance for keeping safe and in the next article talks about how much more quickly we need to open schools they seem to forget that schools are also workplaces. The staff that will be needed to be able to open schools are also parents, partners, sons/daughters etc and will have many other people to support and interact with.

The much deserved praise being given to our health professionals is quite right and long overdue. I have always been in awe of doctors that make life and death decisions as part of their everyday role and been delighted that, although important, mine are not at that level. Doctors receive years of training and use their extensive knowledge of decades of theory to help them. Despite of that they occasionally will still get a decision wrong.

Over the next few weeks we, as school leaders, will be asked to make decisions that are, for once, about life and death.

So if, urged on by the govt and, the potentially convenient, sudden change of mind about the need to socially distance, we make the decision to open up. Let’s play out some highly possible scenarios:

So within two weeks I have my first batch of staff off with CV. Only 3 or 4 but they’ve been clear all these weeks of lockdown and now they have it. Two weeks after that we have our first member of staff die.

Or

A member of staff has to support their 86 year old mum. After weeks of lockdown there has been no problems. Now mum is coughing and feeling unwell. She’s tested and has got CV. Our member of staff is tested too. It seems they haven’t got it now but they had it at some point before.

The next day mum dies.

Sadly, this is very very likely to happen. If we are lucky enough to avoid it, it will happen somewhere in the community. So what do the headteacher/trustees/governors think about their decision now? What do the families grieving think about it too?

I am not embarrassed to say that I am not able to make a decision about it at the moment and I’m becoming more and more anxious. I need the government to stop trotting out the ‘we’ll be guided by science’ line and actually share that science directly with us.

A government minister sitting in an office is not the only one that needs to be convinced they are making the right decision about reopening schools. We will not let anyone else make a decision over whether or not it is safe for our school community to come back together as no one else will need to live with the consequences first hand.

They are not going to be the one looking a member of staff in the eye and answering the question of ‘how safe am I really?’ and ‘how safe are my family?‘ In the same way they are not going to be the one standing dressed in black next to that person’s friends and family.

Although I haven’t discussed the children we serve in this blog everything I’ve said goes for them and their families too.

To get school leaders onside (not the first time I’ve written this point) they need to trust us with the science and the evidence. Not a select group of heads working for certain academy groups. Not our teacher associations. It has to be us, all of us. I wouldn’t want any other school leader to make a decision based on my opinion. I am, quite rightly, irrelevant to their communities and vice versa.

Trust is at the core of the next few weeks. I think my community trusts me to do what looks to be the best thing for them and that trust is so precious to me; it is not something I’d ever take for granted. I need to trust this government to be transparent with the information they have to help take the single biggest decision I will be involved in, in my professional life.

I hope we stand strong in our decisions and can support each other. There may we’ll be differences based on context and it would be a shame if that then became the cue to point at them on social media and say ‘they got it wrong’. It is vital that the sector doesn’t beat itself up (there are plenty of others doing that) because I think we are going to really need each other over the next few months.

The Problem is They Don’t Trust Us

It would be hard, for even the most partisan Conservative Party member, to deny that the government has been struggling with it’s education decisions. From the inside of the school system our anxieties have been exacerbated by decisions that have been taken far too late but still feel rushed! Before anyone throws the ‘they have a huge amount to cope with’ line at me; I understand that but that’s why they employ 1000s of incredibly talented and bright civil servants to help them formulate sensible, well thought through and timely decisions. Is the issue that these people are being stifled by all their work having to go through a very limited number of people? Maybe even one person?

Aside from that issue I think the biggest challenge for the government at this time of crisis, regarding education, is one of trust – in both directions

This may seem a strange thing to say about a government that has championed the academy system. A big argument for academisation has been that it releases the ties that hold back some schools from doing what they need to do to support their communities.

But does it?

On paper, academies have the freedom to not follow the national curriculum at key stage 3 but we have Ofsted seemingly wanting us all to do just that.

On paper academies have the freedom to choose the courses at key stage 4 that best meet individual future needs and dreams but a school performance measure that means that you cannot do that; if you want to stay free of the pressure of being called an inadequate school that is.

On paper, they trust us. In reality it certainly doesn’t feel like that.

The issues that we are having to face with the loss of exams for year 11 and 13 seem daunting but that is because we are worried what will be done with a ranking that may well consign those at the bottom of a grade band to getting one grade less. This is especially concerning if your school is striving hard to improve it’s P8 score from a previously negative position. We simply don’t trust what they are going to do with that information.

The challenges that we have been facing regarding FSM are the clearest example of the lack of trust. There is no point in looking back to why the issue was an after thought for this administration. There also seems no point in dwelling on a national voucher scheme for hunger vulnerable families that included M and S and Waitrose but not Aldi or Lidl (there may be reasons why those two weren’t included in time that we don’t know about of course).

However, the decision announced by Mr Gove regarding #FSM4Easter, despite being given far, far, far too late, could have been the one that released a huge amount of stress on headteachers. Instead of creating a situation where schools have to use it to get an extra £5 a week for families, therefore creating a huge bottleneck, it could have been simpler if they trusted us.

I would like to suggest a different script for Mr Gove:

“We understand the anxiety there is amongst people working in education about the young people that usually receive free school meals and it has taken us longer to get things in place than we would have wanted. However, we now have an agreement with some supermarkets to provide vouchers and we continue to work to get more signed up.

We are aware that some of you have been working incredibly hard to meet this challenge head on and thank you for doing that. We have decided that all of these families should now receive £15 per week instead of £11.50 to help them.

The national voucher system is now set up for you to use if needed. However, if you have created a system that is working I’d like to assure you that you will be reimbursed for £15 per young person and there will be a simple form sent to you tomorrow morning to show how you will be paid back.

Once again thank you for the amazing amount of thought and work you have put in to this vital support for our young people across the country.”

The reality is that the company asked to run the scheme have been inundated to the point of complete gridlock. We have families that have not now received what was promised. We have schools that think they are going to be out of pocket because we don’t trust the government regarding funding after years of media focussed and deliberate obfuscation about the issue.

Added to this is that the government has linked a school’s ability to reclaim the funding, to provide #FSM4Easter, to the state of it’s budget. This is such a ridiculous conflation of two separate issues as to be laughable (if it wasn’t so heartbreaking). We are told that some schools are carrying forward huge reserves but this is not the time or the way to handle that and it isn’t difficult to see that!

My final issue on this is that academies have been driven very hard by the ESFA this year to set surplus budgets. This has led to redundancies and huge restructuring processes. Therefore, by stating that schools with an in year surplus cannot claim the funding for Easter back, many will have been through a horrible, ethos damaging process to be financially worse off. It just leads to more anxiety and so many more questions:

Does a £1 surplus mean I cannot claim?

What if the surplus was created in order to meet a very specific need?

We have had to stop the restructuring process due to the current situation and therefore are not certain about whether we will have a surplus; can we claim the money back?

Trust is vital for any relationship or organisation to succeed. Our government can use this hideous situation to show that they trust us to do what is right for our communities by backing us without the need to impose hugely limiting caveats.

Welcome to the Staffroom – a very brief blog

Dear Supply Teacher – AKA Parents/Carers

I bet you have had a challenging day. I was a supply teacher for 3 weeks and it was really difficult. If you are feeling a bit out of your depth it is no surprise. However, you have a bit of an advantage over most supply teachers in that at least you know the names of the students in the class and you have a clue of what the rules are!

How was it teaching Spanish or physics today? If you didn’t feel a bit inadequate I’d be amazed. I remember trying to teach a French lesson as a supply teacher when my French was pretty much limited to Monsieur and Madame Marsaud who always seemed to be dans le jardin!

Schools have been really busy trying to set work that can be done independently of the need for you to have good subject knowledge so, if your young person got stuck today and asked you for help that you couldn’t give, please don’t feel bad. What has been asked of you is enormous and what we’ve tried to do when setting the work is definitely not going to be perfect.

So what do you do if they get stuck? If you have the confidence to go online or look it up in books the learning adventure you can have with your child will be great fun! If you don’t have the confidence please don’t feel bad. It’s important that the learning doesn’t become a cause of argument. You have a great deal of time to spend together and that won’t help!

Remember the amazing resource that you probably have in your front room. I have learned loads from Deadly 60 for instance and loved chatting about it with my son. Talking about any of the facts that are mentioned is learning. There are hours of fantastic learning conversations that can happen from one episode of Horrible Histories!

The bottom line is that you need to keep them thinking about new stuff. You are not expected to have all the answers as I can assure you the teachers don’t either!

I have had enough of going to funerals of young men

Today I went to the third funeral of a male member of our community that had taken his own life. It was unbelievably sad. 19 years old. Although I hadn’t seen him since he left school three years ago I know he was a lively, funny and well loved young man.

Like all people of a certain age I have been to an increasing number of funerals when compared to weddings and christenings recently. November and December are tough months for the anniversary’s of losing my dad and my brother and, like many of you, I have lost dear friends to a variety of different causes but the funerals of men that have taken their own lives have been far, far too common.

I know we have had campaigns from numerous people and organisations; notably the ‘find time to talk’ ones on TV recently which have been good to see. However, it is obvious, we need to do even more.

What is it about our culture and society that has made this such an acute and growing issue? I found these statistics on the Samaritans website:

The increase in young men killing themselves is frightening and it makes me reflect on the responsibility I have as a teacher and community leader to do something about it.

I used to think I was a good role model emotionally as I am not one that hides my feelings well. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m proud of someone. I cry when I’m sad. I cried at the two minutes silence that was impeccably observed by all our young people this week. However, I have come to realise that it tends to never be about how I feel or what I’m doing. In reality I’m a pretty closed shop on that front. I don’t talk about things worrying me, I talk about things that I see are worrying other people. I don’t do it because I am being a nice bloke. I do it because I feel comfortable talking about other people and very uncomfortable talking about what is worrying me.

I have tried to work out why. I have decided it’s because I am as arrogant and deluded as any man on the planet at thinking I should be able to solve everyone’s problems and I shouldn’t burden anyone else with mine.

I think this is at the root of many of the tragic events we hear about and it is utter nonsense.

I know how genuinely angry I get when I hear of a family member, friend or colleague that is having a tough time and they haven’t spoken about it. I must stress that it REALLY upsets me that they’ve not come to me; like I am some sort of wizard that can fix anything! The reason I get upset is I know how much it helps to talk – to unburden yourself – but when it comes to talking about what is worrying me I then struggle to accept that I need to have the same outlet.

So, whether it’s because of arrogance, some sort of ingrained feeling about ‘being a man’ or something else, we men must get better at talking about our own anxieties. We are not superhuman or even the stronger sex! So after a long and really sad day I promise on the memories of the men we’ve lost recently – Marcel, Paul and Tyler – to be better in this regard. I hope all the other men that read this make the same promise as your family, friends and colleagues do not want to go to your funeral.

Vic

Life is short – a realisation

Last year I allowed my anxiety to get the better of me. I sat hour after hour at the kitchen table, after my family had gone to bed, trying to second guess what was in the mind of the Ofsted inspector I’d never met or even knew the name of. We were awaiting the call and I was at the very end of my “Ofsted Cycle of Courageousness” (some of you may recognise this from a presentation you’ve heard me give).

I made myself ill because I wanted to make sure that the staff that work so very hard were rewarded and not punished for choosing to work in our context. They deserve recognition and not to be made to feel inadequate and I didn’t want to be the thing that let them down.

I didn’t know I’d made myself unwell. I haven’t spoken to a professional about it… yet. I hadn’t realised going to bed feeling nauseous and waking up after a few hours of disturbed sleep feeling the same way was an issue. It obviously got a bit better after our inspection which was led by an empathetic human and a team that happily followed his lead. However, it took until after Christmas this year to really start to take a hold of my anxiety and the lifestyle I was drifting in to.

A few things happened to help me come to that realisation.

A routine blood test this summer returned abnormal results and further tests over the next few months. The end result was not the news that everyone dreads but it was a shock to my own indestructible view of myself.

A very dear friend, Darren, was told that the cancer he thought he’d beaten had come back and he had months not years to live. Our children went to school together. We worked together in two different schools. He has just been admitted to an hospice today and it’s what has triggered me to write this. A wonderful teacher and person who deserves so much more from life. I will write more about him when I feel able to.

In January a colleague at work came and spoke to me about how worried she was about me. She told me I looked unhealthy. I looked puffy. She was worried for me because I’d put on so much weight. She was right. It had been happening over a few years but really accelerated recently because I’d taken to eating crisps and chocolate, and all the other tasty but not great for you food, in order to stay awake longer to try and get even more prepared for the visitors we were expecting. I am so pleased she felt able to tell me what she was thinking and I’ve thanked her since.

At about the same time my good friend Stephen Tierney (@leadinglearner) released the news that he was retiring. If you hear Stephen talk about it he mentions a comment his wife said to him about his passion for education. Stephen recounts “She said I wish I’d been your passion.” That is like a dagger through the heart for anyone that’s dedicated their professional life to helping others. It really made me think about my own priorities.

The last piece of the jigsaw of change came from an unexpected source – Stuart Lock (@stuartlock). I have known Stuart for a number of years through a mutual connection. We shared some rounds of golf a few years ago. I know how hard Stuart worked to become a Headteacher and when he blogged about losing weight and looking after himself better it hit home because it was hard not to notice how he’d grown in to the job shall I say! He made me want to take control too. Thanks Stuart

So why on Earth am I writing all this? Well it may not need saying but being a Headteacher right now is quite tough. We have a funding crisis being rubbed in to our faces by different government officials. An accountability system that has far too often not recognised that the choice to work in disadvantaged areas is one that should be supported; by understanding that it takes longer to get to where we want to be with our students sometimes. Teacher recruitment at an all time low and a Department for Education that has been only too happy to try and make it all about retention and therefore nothing to do with them.

What I’ve learned over the last few months is that if we, as heads, don’t look after ourselves we are generally rubbish at allowing others to do so. In order to do my job well I need to be healthy. To serve my community to the best of my ability I need to have the energy to do so.

I also know that I want to see my son become the extraordinary man I know he’ll be. I want to make it to retirement with enough energy to go to a Boxing Day test in Australia and to follow the British and Irish Lions on tour (don’t get me started on this wish list as it would take a while) with the people I love.

So I have vowed to get healthier. To make the choice of looking after myself. Thanks to Stuart’s inspiration I have lost a couple of stone since January (still plenty to go though) and feel better for it already. I know it is easy for me to say, now I’m back at the start of my OC of C, but I vow to not let myself become that ill in a couple of years time when it comes round again.

So to my comrade heads and teachers please make sure you have your outlets and support. If you don’t look after yourselves you can’t look after those around you. Find the time to do the things that give you balance.

I am now going to take a break from Twitter and other similar stuff whilst I say goodbye to my friend Darren. Don’t feel you need to comment or say nice things. It’s all good, I just needed to get this out of my system.

Permanent Exclusion – is it becoming the only way to support vulnerable young people?

This may well be the first of a few on this topic so don’t feel that you need to read on!

I know that I bang on about inclusion and why I think it is important. I don’t apologise for that in anyway; it should be the norm and schools must be incentivised to be so and not rewarded if they aren’t. Now that’s over with I’ll get to the point.

As a school that’s had significantly over 50 EHCPs for most of my headship the challenge of continuing to find £6000 of ‘notional’ (non-existent) funding is increasingly impossible and damaging to the whole school. However, that is not the biggest issue I have at the moment.

The consistent lack of funding for SEND has reached an unsustainable level. Of course it is not unsustainable for those making decisions about what funding we need. I doubt if any of the current DfE leading lights are fighting to get their child the provision they need but 1000s of parents/carers are.

I am becoming more and more convinced that the only way to get the support some of our most vulnerable young people need is to permanently exclude them. I know this sounds hideous and it is but stick with me so I can exemplify why.

Imagine this:

A young person starts secondary school. The school only receives £2000 to pay for the £8000 support package that has been deemed necessary on the EHCP. The school works with the family and does everything they can to meet their needs. However despite their joint efforts it is recognised by the family and the school that the young person needs special school provision.

After much form filling, emails and several weeks of the child continuing to struggle at school (impacting negatively on them, other children and the adults trying to support them at home and school) a special school place is agreed. Not bad as it’s only December and in SEND world that’s quick; disgraceful as that is!

You ready for the but?

BUT there is no start date and the school is told to cope until it is available!

So the school and the parents/carers talk it through and think that they can get the young person through the time but obviously they’ll need to put extra support in place to avoid further damage being done to anyone. They approach the LA together and ask, as it is now officially recognised that the child needs specialist provision, could they apply for the funding they need to get them through it?

No brainer, right?

Surely there is a moral and legal imperative to fund the support. It is considerably less money than a special school place costs so, as I said, no brainer!

I’m sure you’ve guessed no funding is agreed and the school is expected to keep that vulnerable child in school whilst ensuring their classmates and the staff supporting them are able to continue to be successful. So now the inclusive school, that is trying to do the right thing, is even more out of pocket and the child is not in the right setting.

I’ll reiterate – for months the child and the school are expected to cope. It is disgraceful but is happening. It would be easy to heap the blame on the LA but the simple fact is that there are not enough special school places and they have less and less money to give to support children in mainstream.

Before anyone mentions the money recently announced by the Damian Hinds let’s wait and see how much of that money actually makes it in to schools, to support children, and let’s see if the capital spending is actually directed to where it is needed rather than where the parents are most organised to make free school applications. After all just ask the Office for National Statistics about the governments rather loose use of numbers when making funding pronouncements.

I have another example… imagine this:

A young person has increasingly complex and severe mental heath challenges. The frequency of their outbursts and meltdowns is increasing. They are becoming violent towards other people and damaging themselves. It reaches the point that the young person would normally be permanently excluded due to violence. The school knows that if they do that they would end up in a setting that would do nothing to help and, in fact, would make the young person even more vulnerable to physical and emotional/mental harm.

When contacted the LA drags its feet putting the onus back on the school to make a decision on how to keep the child safe and to educate them. The school muddles through but not in the best way for anyone. The LA agrees a special school place. The child’s mental health continues to deteriorate. They stop accessing school at all. The child is out of school completely for 6 months (and counting) whilst awaiting a special school place. They are on final assessment for a school for 2 months (and counting).

In both these examples if the school had permanently excluded the young people they would have very quickly been given a school place by the LA – not in a special school of course. What would have happened next would have been very traumatic for the children involved and the staff in the school that will be expected to teach/support them. The young person will have to carry the PEx label and the feeling of rejection. The melt downs get worse and home life deteriorates too very, very quickly. However, the rapid failure of that placement would force the hand of the LA to find an appropriate school place and probably in a matter of weeks not months.

So what do we do for the best interests of the children we serve? There is no ‘good’ decision to be made but if the only way to get the provision they need is to permanently exclude then that’s what heads, that want to help these young people to succeed long term, will feel they have to do but it’ll break my, and their, heart.

LAs and central government must act now to stop this all becoming the only option