I have really struggled to write this as it feels really self indulgent but I have persevered and got something (not too cringeworthy) down.
I have had a quite ridiculous couple of years since (dare I mention it) Educating Essex. The opportunities that I have been offered have been quite mind numbing. I don’t think I have changed since my first day as a NQT. I came into teaching because I was given the chance to be the best of myself by teachers and my family whilst growing up. I will be forever indebted to various teachers (many of them PE) from Clive Streets at primary school and Frank Jennings, John Rothwell, John Hale, Geoff Bevan, Mike Conboy, Richard Masters and Steve Telfer at secondary school. Even though this was in the dark days of the teachers strikes in the 80s they committed themselves to my future and development and have instilled in me a sense of owing something back which still drives me today. My family have also supported my every crazy adventure with unconditional love and thank goodness it us unconditional as I am quite hard work I’m sure!
I am a very ‘normal’ person (whatever that means). I get overawed by the intellect of many people around me like John Tomsett and Tom Sherrington (@johntomsett and @headguruteacher) to name a couple. I find the clarity of thought of the likes of Ros McMullen and Dave Whitaker (@rosmcm and @davewhitaker246) a little daunting too. Finally the passion of people like Lynne Moore and Nigel Utton (@moorelynne1 and @nigelutton). These are now the people that I interact with and it’s a little scary if I’m honest!
I have tried to think of 13 things that I am proud of being a small part of this year:
1 – Headteachers’ Round Table (@headsroundtable) – although in real terms we have achieved very little. It has enabled some like minded, and in my opinion reasonably sane, headteachers to put into words our shared view on the current shenanigans going on in our now ridiculously politicised education world. This has helped me to feel that I am doing the majority of things for the right reason and that the answer to what education needs should come from within the profession (not necessarily from this particular group of people I hasten to add). We have had an audience with Mr Gove and bought together some brilliant people around the topic of doing what is right for all young people not just an educational elite.
2 – Not mentioning Ofsted. I knew that Ofsted would visit in this last term. I 100% knew it. Our results took a dip for a variety of reasons and it was always going to be the case that they turn up after that! However in the summer I took the deliberate decision to not mention the O word to staff at all. So between the start of September and receiving the call the day after my birthday in the middle of October I didn’t use that word. I have no idea if staff noticed or not! I work with amazing staff that strive everyday to help our young people. They can’t work any harder (well most can’t!) or any more passionately for our community so I focussed on working with everyone to be the best teachers/administrators/MDAs/Co-educators possible and if this wasn’t good enough for Ofsted then so be it!
3 – Not crying – as some of you have noticed I am larger than the average bear! A rugby playing, council estate raised, 6 foot 4 inch, big girls blouse! I think this comes from my dad who was a real mans man and didn’t show that much emotion – a man of his generation. When getting the final feedback from Ofsted, which was understandable and overall fair but hard to hear, I kept myself together whilst my colleagues around me struggled to contain themselves. Please don’t take this as a criticism of them. I am very proud of their reaction and adore them for it. However I knew I needed to try and show all the staff that no matter what the inspectors said we were doing the right thing and should be proud of that. I almost went when the lead inspector told us that if he lived in Harlow that he would want his child at Passmores but managed not to.
4 – Finally getting the most from my SLT – I am lucky that the senior team I work with are just brilliant. There was a time last year when I thought I was surplus to requirements, however I have talked myself into thinking that I do bring some value now! Even though we have now worked together for many years I didn’t feel I was getting the best from all of them until this term. We have lots of complimentary skills but trying to find the ‘thing’ for each of us to get our teeth into has been difficult – not that they moaned at me! However, at last this year I think I have the square pegs in the square holes and so on with some very distinct priorities for each of us.
5 – Using the current government strategies for the best interests of our community. I, on the surface, am a big supporter of the current government strategic direction. I took Passmores (along with my great governors of course) along the path to becoming an academy, I was part of a successful bid to get permission to open a free school in Harlow, Passmores has become an academy sponsor and we have led two of our local primaries into becoming academies as part of our new chain and engaged on different levels with the Secretary of State. However, this is where some people are going to completely disagree, all of these things were 100% right for our town and the young people we serve. I call it pragmatic idealism, others may call it something less pleasant but I stand by what we have done.
6 – Working with trainee teachers. I have been really lucky to be asked to talk to colleagues about to start their teaching journey at Keele and Newcastle universities. This has been such an amazing privilege and I am really proud that I have been asked back again. To be able to remind people just how important our job is and how we should accept that responsibility for all that it means – teaching is a lifestyle choice not just a career choice!
7 – Christmas in a box – I visited a parent in the last week of term before Christmas last year. On entering the darkened house (the electricity key had run out and they had no money to put on it) there was no Christmas to be seen anywhere – not a card or a piece of tinsel let alone any presents. It made me so sad. I returned to school and the next morning told the Passmores staff about my visit and asked them to help me create ‘Christmas in a box’ for some of our families. Their response blew me away; the generosity was simply stunning. We managed to deliver to many of our families and hopefully make a bit of a difference; something we have continued this year with support from our local Foodbank.
8 – No Child Without – on the back of the ‘Christmas in a box’ experience one of my wonderful staff -Dave Archer – approached me to gauge my opinion on whether we could formalise what we do to support not only our young people but offer support to others. He suggested forming a charity but said he had no idea what we should call it- ‘I just want there to be no child without just because of the circumstances they were born into’ and that was it we have formed the No Child Without charity (www.nochildwithout.co.uk). We have gained amazing support to raise well over 10k in less than 12 months and supported numerous young people across Harlow to have opportunities.
By the way if your school wants to be part of the charity and be able to gain support for a young person and hopefully contribute to funds too just get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
9 – Attempting to be a voice for young people in our community and wider. I have been really humbled to get to work with numerous brilliant people and organisations both locally and nationally. On a national level people/organisations such as the National Children’s Bureau, The Anti-Bullying Alliance, Alex Holmes (@abcholmes and @antibullyingpro) and Dr Maggie Atkinson (the Children’s Commissioner). In fact the only job that would tempt me away from Passmores would be Maggie’s because, however uncomfortable what she reports is, she really does shine a light on the inequalities that face our young people, the problem is I am definitely not clever enough to do it!
This alongside being able to talk to the business people of Harlow about the wonderful young people in the town whilst hosting the quite brilliant Harlow Business Excellence Awards – won by a great local company, Officescape, that has given such support to our school drive to help as many young people as possible in the town. It is impossible not to mention our local MP, Robert Halfon, as he has always been there to offer support and to turn up to events and Ian Beckett, our local councillor, who is quite simply fantastic at balancing the sometimes negative views that are held about young people whilst also having high expectations of all of us to improve what we do to support the community. Basically I think we have shown that local community partnerships do make a difference.
10 – Watching Passmores staff flourish. It has been a really good year for seeing staff at Passmores be willing to stand up and be counted. The introduction of Leaders of Pedagogy, assistant Heads of House, our fantastic kitchen staff working with our new partner schools, the 3Ts behaviour mentors, our new data manager Tina and the list could go on for a long time. The way that all of them have stepped up to cover my own inadequacies has been great.
11 – Finally finishing my book – it has been something of a challenge to balance. It is not going to sell many but I am proud that I have been able to be honest and truthful in it and hopefully one young teacher, or someone that thought being a head isn’t for them, decides if this lunatic can do it then I can after reading it!
12 – Helping other colleagues and schools – we have had literally 100s of visitors to Passmores this year and hopefully all of them left with something that will help them/others to make a difference to one young person. I know that they all left something behind that has helped us to improve.
13 – My son – my son is a lovely young man with a genuinely caring heart and I think I have helped him on the way (probably not as much as his mum) and that is my/our biggest success.
Well there it is – the ramblings of a lunatic. I will now set my mind to my 14 things I need to prioritise which should be a great deal easier! Hope this was illuminating in some way.