We left it all out on the field.

… and no, this is not a review of Sports Day!

So how was your year? Tough? I’m pretty confident that our year was tougher. It’s the eve of the end of 2016-17 for us and I pray I never have a year like this again.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t teach in the only Special Measures school in the world, I know there are hundreds of colleagues across the country who experienced that same exquisite scrutiny this year. I know we’re not the only ones who went through a long and drawn out re-brokerage to a new sponsor. I know we’re not the only one who got through not one, not two but three Ofsted visits. Not the only ones who’ve gotten through three Principals and six Senior Leaders. I’m fairly confident there aren’t many schools who’ve gone through all of that and so, so much more. We’ve had incredible support from some unexpected places. We’ve been spectacularly let down by others. Colleagues have united in shows of strength and support, they’ve also struggled and broken under the strain at times. At the end of a 13 month academic year (don’t ask, it doesn’t even come close to the daftest thing going on here) we had staff today singing and dancing with the kids at Sports Day. Personally, I’ve never worked harder – and I thought I was pretty hard working before!

I’ve spent some time this evening following a thread about the measure by which a leader can be judged as “good”, note the lower case “g” we aren’t talking Ofsted here. In my opinion it misses the mark. I know that when it all comes down to it we are each judged on outcomes. What I also know is that education is filled with incredibly inspiring leaders who are doing great and brave things in their schools and still not getting results which would deem them “good”. There isn’t a convenient statistic to measure the impact of a Headteacher who acts with passion and (importantly) compassion as they drive forward change. There is no metric for trust in leaders. There is no objective, quanitifiable scale for how united and committed to the common cause a team can become under a great leader. I don’t care what results you can publish under your name, leadership is so much more than the score on the door.

Leave the leaders out of this for a second – what about teachers? What about non-teaching colleagues? This year I have worked with some phenomenal staff, or am I not allowed to say that until I have seen their exam outcomes? Can I not acknowledge the work of colleagues outside the classroom if their work doesn’t get ratified by a terminal exam? So the staff who worked tirelessly to win over families, to support and counsel students back into the classroom won’t be “good” unless those students score above the P8 threshold? Nonsense.

I’ve spent the last year trying to upick the damage done by a regime which prized academic results above all else. I’m thankful that before this year  I was mentored by a great leader who believed that results come second to the needs of the whole child. I’m proud of the incredible team I’ve served with this year – I’ve got colleagues who would wipe the floor with their counterparts in an Outstanding school.  I don’t need results day to tell me what our problems are, we know them well. I won’t ever need a results day to tell me what our strengths are either.

Don’t get me wrong, we are far from perfect. So much has to change it would be easier to write a list of what should stay the same. Right now my standard for greatness is knowing we couldn’t possibly have done more. Next year we’ll do better but for this year I’m proud of my school and proud of the job we did. Was it good enough? Not even close but we left everything out on the field.


Are all leaders scumbags?

So I’ve noticed a pattern on Twitter. All leaders appear to either be heroes or total scumbags. They are either bravely championing the cause of education, their non-specific coloured pen in hand like a lance of truth or revelling in the despotic delight of crushing career teachers below their highly paid heels.

There is no inbetween.

Many in the twittersphere seem to attribute every woe of their lives to evil leaders who must patrol the corridors of their institution sniffing out optimism like a Dementor at the gates of Hogwarts. Dolores Umbridge lives and breaths!

I’m relatively new to SLT and I’m sure that I’ve made my own fair share of blunders and I’ll continue to do so because I’m human. This is normal. The theory is (I suppose) that as I gain experience I will make fewer mistakes and perfect the “Art of Leadership”. What is more likely is that I will learn from the mistakes I make now, avoid them in the future and make exciting new ones. Just like the ones your SLT are making. This is not unique to teaching and is, importantly, a fact of life.

The problem is that being a leader is pretty rubbish. Yes, you get paid more, have fewer contact hours (read for that far less planning, marking, data entry and reporting) and (in everywhere other than my school) get to jump to the front of the queue at lunchtime. I’m not going to moan about the other bits because I knew what I was getting when I signed up, I’ve consented to those bits. Let’s just clarify though –  they are rubbish and the pay rarely compensates for it. I can step down though can’t I? If I really hate it I mean? But I’m not going to do that, probably for exactly the same reasons that you aren’t going to leave teaching. This is the best job in the world, every single day you work in education you make a positive difference to someone. You might never see it but the difference will be made none the less. For both of us there are significantly easier ways for us to earn our daily bread, few of them are as rewarding. I made a choice to be a teacher, then I made a choice to be a leader. That choice wasn’t motivated by the question “Oooh, I wonder how I can make lives of colleagues as insufferable as possible?”

The hardest bit about being a leader, though, is that you will be constantly levelled with criticism for making life harder for teachers. Yes, some leaders do bring in initiatives that make lives difficult for teachers. Some SLTeams do seem to act without consideration for workload and with an eye only on improvement. If you find yourself subject to one of these people** then book an appointment and have a constructive, professional conversation with them. Share your concerns and support positive change with some viable alternatives. Only the most megalomaniacal person will not welcome the opportunity to share their rationale and address your concerns. They might share something with you which explains why what is happening has to go ahead. They will probably be grateful for the caring and professional feedback and make some changes because their ultimate goal is an effective school with a happy workforce.

Most commonly SLTeams are criticised for the initiatives they bring in to please Ofsted and demonstrate progress and school improvement. Very few Headteachers are in a position to stand up against the system. None of those in challenging circumstances can do so without significant risk to their own careers and job security. I believe that unless you sit in, or very close to, that chair you cannot possibly comprehend the true nature of that pressure. As such it is easy for us to condemn Heads for not standing up to this external pressure. Realistically they can’t, that’s the real problem with the system. Heads don’t actually have that much autonomy and therefore they often have to act in ways they would rather not or at a pace they would rather not, or with resources far more thinly stretched than they would choose to ever deploy.

Leaders do have a moral obligation to do their best to strike a balance between the demands upon an institution from the outside and what can be reasonably sustained by those on the inside. Where you feel they have missed an opportunity to do this, point it out with the professionalism and positivity you would like them to show.

Rather than deciding that all leaders were scumbags, why not help them?

**If you don’t feel you can do this with the individual leader, approach someone else and do the same thing. If you work somewhere with an entire team who aren’t approachable then make contact with a governor. Also, add the fact you can’t approach any of your leaders to your discussion because this isn’t healthy. You can also involve your Union if you feel you need to.

Self & Wellness – Balance & Imbalance

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this summer reflecting, reading and talking to those around me about the theme of work and wellbeing. Our profession is suffering from both a recruitment and retention crisis. Workload and the resultant stress is cited as one of the major contributing factors to why teachers are leaving the profession.Mental and emotional wellness is as crucial as physical wellbeing but very little emphasis has been put on mental wellness in the past. I really enjoyed this TEDTalk about “Emotional First Aid” on the subject of mental wellness.

How would you define the following words?

  • Tired
  • Exhausted
  • Satisfied
  • Equilibrium
  • Stressed

Self awareness is absolutely key to keeping your body and mind healthy and without this it doesn’t matter how good you are at differentiating. If you are frazzled you are not helping anyone. If you are on the edge, you’re not going to be able to help a kid who is on the edge themselves. If you are drained, your work gets done with the dregs of what is left and that is not why you entered education. I’m hoping.

Balance and Equilibrium

When was the last time you felt a moment of equilibrium? For me this is when all is well with the world, or what isn’t well is at least under control. My energy levels are roughly equal to the length of the To Do List and there isn’t anything nagging at the back of my mind. I’m feeling contented, not happy, simply  content.  This is almost always a cup of tea involved in a moment like this.

Now think about the last time you experienced Joy? What about stress? When I’m measuring my wellness I measure against these moments. and use them to create a baseline to reflect upon.

Signs and Signals

Do you know what stress looks like for you? What do you look like when you are exhausted vs just being tired? Can you identify the difference between being genuinely run down and just needing it to be Friday already? Do you know how to address these things?

If I snooze the alarm once, it’s probably just Tuesday. If I snooze the alarm 3 or 4 times, and I’ve done it everyday that week I’m probably getting run down. I need to clear my weekend of as much work as possible and do some real R&R or next week I’m going to crash. If I lay awake before the alarm goes off and feel myself spiralling into an anxiety of Time vs To Do List then I need to do something more serious, in fact I’ve probably already crashed. Knowing the signs is incredibly important, knowing what to do about it is even more so.

Many years ago I was told about a self awareness technique called “Check Point”. This is the habit of having a fixed point which happens every single day, roughly about the same time, where you pause and take stock of how you are feeling. You have to be able to completely stop, and I mean completely stop. Do nothing. The friend who taught me this technique does this after he has arrived home at the end of the day and and before he pulls the keys from the ignition. Take a few breaths and then check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Are you tired? Hungry? Anxious? Satisfied? Take stock of your day and how you have reacted to it. Highs and Lows? How far are you away from being balanced? What needs to be done to get you all the way there?

By completing this exercise you learn the signs and signals which are crucial to maintaining your equilibrium. You can also speak to those who know and love you, but that shouldn’t replace the responsibility you owe yourself and your self awareness.

Managing Stress

Understanding the difference between being Busy and being Stressed is absolutely critical if you work in education. If you are just starting out then accept this simple truth: you are going to be busy, often too busy, from now until the day you leave education. Your work will never be done, your To Do List will always be growing. Make peace with this, acquire the habit of being satisfied by it. Being busy is a fact of life, being stressed doesn’t have to be.

NHS.uk defines stress as the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure, and pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope.” 

Do you know the signs and signals of when pressure has converted to stress in your life? This may be sleeplessness for you or it may be profound sleepiness. You might find you feel unmotivated to exercise or you obsess about it. I’d love to say I comfort eat when I am stressed but that would be a lie, I scoff down trash food when I am stressed and just over eat healthy food the rest of the time. For me, stress presents as an inability to get started. I become paralysed by indecision as to what should be the first thing to get done. As someone who is normally decisive, proactive and goes 0-60 in about 4 seconds this inability to act only feeds my feelings of being unable to cope.

 The NHS also says that “A bit of stress is normal and can help push you to do something new or difficult, but too much stress can take its toll.”

Are you someone who actually feeds off short term stress? I am. My brand is Crisis. My mentor has often told me I’m the most resilient person to stress she has ever worked with and oddly that’s one of the most meaningful professional compliments I have ever been given. Workload and timescale pressure rarely phase me and never for very long. However, I’m not a robot and learning when stress is working for me and when it is working against me was quite a hard lesson to learn.

Many people use meditation or exercise or time dedicated to a hobby or interest to combat stress. Other people simply enjoy down time or entertainment. Whatever you do make sure it is genuinely relaxing and distressing for you. There is no benefit in attending a twice weekly yoga class to relax if you actually despite yoga!

Embracing Imbalance

Standing in the kitchen at work back in May a colleague looked up, burst out laughing and gesticulated wildly to our mutual hair styles, “We’ve got Controlled Assessment hair!” she shrieked, gasping for breath. It was a moment of mutual understanding, any pretence at having the time or energy to style (or if I’m honest, even wash) our hair had been abandoned days ago in the face of collating, entering and shipping off Controlled Assessments. For anyone involved in a subject with CAs and especially anyone with responsibility for submitting them – I applaud you if you manage to get through while maintain high grooming standards.

Sometimes you are going to be in a state of imbalance. If it is temporary, just embrace it. No one is always perfect and life isn’t always under control. If you can, learn to celebrate those times when actually the wheels are looking like they might be about to come off. If you can recognise those moments and still find humour in them, you are already in control of them again.





Intervention: Getting Started

In a nutshell:

Intervention needs to target the cause as well as the symptom.

Academic Underachievement is a symptom, poor attendance is a symptom, frequent high tariff misconduct and exclusion is a symptom. Solving these issues in the long term means looking at the root cause. If the root cause is not addressed (or at least acknowledged) you will simply be retreating the same symptom again, and probably in the near future.

Before we begin can I please recommend you read these papers.

Ethnicity, gender, social class and achievement gaps at age 16: intersectionality and “getting it” for the white working class.


Ethnic Minority Resilience to the effects of economic deprivation on Attainment.

Before you begin you need to look closely at your data. Depending on your role you will be intervening for different purposes and so looking at different data sets. Sometimes you’ll know what your intervention is going to be and you’ll be seeking out the cohort who will benefit the most. At other times you’ll be identifying a gap from the data and then formulating a plan to address it. In order to ensure you are targeting the right cohorts for the right reasons you need to have access to the full wealth and range of data available to you in a school. Make sure you are able to easily access the following:

  • Academic Data – both current, projected and historical.
  • Attendance Data – both current and historical
  • Sanctions Records, exclusions, time in isolation or other records kept regarding conduct and engagement.
  • Statistics around rewards and celebration.
  • SEN, LAC and (if appropriate to your role) CP information.
  • PASS data

You will also be significantly more effective in your work if you are familiar with the students you are targeting. It may not be possible to know every child in your school in a meaningful way so make use of those colleagues who do know them. I would strongly advise against creating a Big Ticket intervention with a cohort which is entirely unknown to you. If the students are going to be working collaboratively or even just working together at the same time in the same place you need to be sure that this is even possible. This is absolutely critical in an intervention which is designed to address social, emotional or behavioural issues.

Building Towers or Filling Wells

Depending on your school’s particular needs Intervention may be entirely about Tower building or all about Well Filling. If you find yourself always Filling Wells then consider having a conversation with your Head Teacher about the Curriculum or school policy on Teaching & Learning because having to fix the same problem, every year using the same strategy means that work needs to be done elsewhere in school. The resources available to drive intervention are finite and should not be deployed on issues which can be addressed using other means.

Building Towers = accelerating the progress of students who are on “expected” trajectory and have the capacity/aptitude for making more rapid progress. NB: not all “on track” students have this capacity and that has nothing to do with ability!

Filling Wells = accelerating the progress of underachieving students who have either content or skill gaps brought about or accentuated by a “risk factor” or who have a lack of exposure to “resilience” factors.

Risk Factors:

  • Poor attendance (short or long term)
  • Disassociation with school (child or parent)
  • Socio-Economic Deprivation
  • SEND
  • LAC
  • Child Protection or wider involvement of “Authorities” in a child’s home life
  • EAL (varies according to school)
  • Low aspirations (self and home)
  • Exposure to criminal enterprise

Resilience Factors:

  • Strong Attendance
  • High Aspirations
  • Socio-Economic security
  • Educationally favourable community base
  • Families with positive education experiences



You must be aware of the influence which Risk and Resilience factors can have on achievement and progress in order to intervene with the highest degree of sensitivity and effectiveness. You should also consider the nature of the intervention and the way in which risk factors will impact upon it.

Knowing the Whole Child. 

Take the following description of a student.

Dave is underachieving in Maths. Analysis by his teacher shows that he is doing well in topics covered recently in class but the Mock exams shows that topics covered more that 3 months ago are weaker or not attempted. He is in Year 11, he’s a fairly well engaged kid who has about average Sanction/Reward profile for the school. He works reasonably well in class but isn’t completing homework as well or as regularly as his teacher needs him to in order to consolidate learning ready for exams. He lives at home with Mum and two younger siblings, Mum works from noon to 8pm which means he has to be at home fairly quickly from school to supervise his siblings and give them their evening meal. Mum supports school so makes sure he does his homework when she gets home from work and gets him to school in the morning organised and equipped.  His attendance is respectable (say 96%) and he’s got a positive attitude to school and his future in education or training.

Designing a intervention which extends his school day into the evening isn’t going to work – he needs to be at home to care for siblings and interfering with this could alienate both him and his family. All the signs are that he hasn’t got any issues with school and that it’s simply about having the time to study and revise when he isn’t tired and has the opportunity to do so undisturbed.

Consider this … instead of taking his lunchtime away from him to complete study club or setting him more work for the evenings, how about meeting with mum and arranging that 2-3 mornings a week she gets him to school an hour early and plans an evening meal she can prepare in advance and leave for them. This is the school working with home so that everyone’s needs are met. You wouldn’t be able to do this with only academic data.

Checklist For Curriculum Leaders 2016

It’s been a while since this was updated. You may agree or disagree with how much you need to do each of the following things and this will largely be determined by the Senior Leaders and their priorities. You must adjust and edit this list as suits your school, your priorities, your team, your context and your workload.

Some of these lists are long, please keep in mind that each action bullet point could vary between being a 5 minute job or a lengthy project, the records might be as simple as a post it note or a lengthy evaluation document. Take what you need and discard the rest.

Half Termly Actions (every 6-8 Weeks)

Leadership & Management 

  • New Staff have been inducted.
  • Staff Training has been disseminated. You’ve kept a copy.
  • Performance Management/Appraisal/Teaching Standards – any actions related to these have happened and any actions arising from them have been explicitly shared with staff. You’ve kept records.
  • Where improvements are evident you have fed this back (individuals, teams, whole staff). Where they haven’t been seen you have consulted your line manager. You’ve kept records.
  • Roles & Responsibilities within the team are workable. You’ve reviewed them if circumstances have changed.
  • You’ve updated your action plan with the impacts and outcomes of your strategic Actions. Your team know what the next steps are in the strategic action plan and what they need to do. You’ve updated your copy and sent it to your line manager.
  • Your Quality Assurance and Self Evaluation is up to date and accurate. You’ve kept records. Any areas for development are included in your Action Plan.
  • You are confident you could accurately predict what would be seen were an outsider to walk into any classroom or open any book within your department area – good or bad. You’ve praised the staff who would contribute to positive judgements, you are supporting the staff who need help to get there.
  • You passed on concerns, requests for support, updates on key initiatives and actions deserving of praise and recognition for your team to your line manager. You’ve kept records.
  • You have performed a Risk Assessment for any areas of concern within your responsibility area.

Teaching & Learning

  • You have provided the T&L Leadership within your school with any information or feedback you have access to which would improve the overall provision for T&L within you school.
  • Your schemes of work meet the requirements for the new GCSE specifications and are robust and consistent. They meet the school expectations.
  • You’ve completed (or had the feedback passed back to you) from a Work Scrutiny which checks that the school policy is adhered to and that your team have their training needs met. You’ve kept copies.
  • You’ve completed (or had the feedback passed back to you) of learning walks or lesson observations so you know the strengths and weaknesses for your team. You’ve kept copies.
  • Where practice needs development (marking or delivery) you have provided this support, enabled staff to embed the improved practice and have then reassessed the situation. You’ve kept records of this.

Personal Development, Behaviour & Welfare

  • You’ve analysed the behaviour data available – attendance, lates, sanctions, praise and rewards. You’ve identified paterns of strengths and fed these back to the team.
  • You’ve identified areas for development, generated a strategy/action to improve this and have implemented it with the agreement of your team. You’ll bee measuring the impact in 4 weeks. You’ve kept records.
  • You’ve had a dedicated discussion with each Year Leader to feedback praise or concerns for that year group. You’ve kept records.
  • You’ve consulted Student Voice based on the effectiveness of your team and provision. You’ve identified one thing that can change based on this feedback and the agreement of your team. You’ve let the students know about this and will review it in 8 weeks.

Outcomes for Students

  • You have robust and meaningful reflection on the most recent external results and have an action plan linked with this for continuing to raise standards.
  • You are fluent in the data headlines for each year group and for the two most significant cohorts within your school. You know where gains are being made and can explain how your actions and the actions of your team have resulted in improving standards
  • You have a clear record of how the data was generated, including how is was standardised and checked. You’ve kept records.
  • You have planned actions which will narrow the gap between your current data and your year end targets.
  • You will have shared next steps with both your team and your line manager.


Summer Reflection

This August I’ll be taking on a new role in a new school. This is both exciting and terrifying. My brother heart-warmingly characterised my new role as “chillingly quantifiable”,  a phrase which I haven’t been able to stop hearing over and over in my head whenever I sit down to work. Though I have moved about a lot, this one somehow feels the most daunting. Perhaps it’s because, for the first time, I’ll be working somewhere without a single familiar face, perhaps because the school faces such a huge challenge. I’m not sure. What I do know is that when I visualise my first day in my new job I am filled with trepidation and excitement in equal measures.

This summer I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my own working habits, my leadership style, my communication and delegation skills, my successes and my failures. There have been uncomfortable things to admit and acknowledge, things where I had to have to be brutally honest with myself and not really liked the conclusions I have come to. Worthwhile process though, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

It would be churlish to pretend I wasn’t proud of what I have accomplished in the last 10 years. I’ve exceeded my expectations. I’m also disappointed that I allow some history to repeat itself, that some bad habits stay with me despite the fact I’ve been aware for years of how much damage they do to me and those around me.

So here’s to new beginnings …

The Intervention Form Group

I’ve mentioned this initiative in blogs several times and have been asked to look at it in more detail.

In Summer 2013 we knew we were about to get some more positive results than Summer 2012 (not difficult really) but that specific groups would still be at risk of underachievement. White British students, and especially the Disadvantaged, were not reaping the benefits of the changes we were making to the way that teaching was delivered or achievement was supported. In short, there was a gap that wasn’t closing.

In about June of that year we started to look at the Yr10 cohort using the following Criteria:

  • Not on track for 5A*-CEM
  • White British
  • KS2 Middle Attainers
  • Disadvantaged
  • Male
  • <88% attendance
  • <10 days of IE (Internal Exclusion) or Fixed Term Exclusion

I’ve discussed before the “Risk Factors” for underachievement and the criteria above link to almost all of them.

We then applied some soft criteria:

  • At risk of being NEET.
  • Pupil Attitude to Self and School – we called it something else then but now it’s as easy to use the widely known PASS survey.
  • Feedback from their teachers
  • Where possible – contact with home.

This created a group of 10 students who were promptly formed into a new, smaller Form. The plan was that these boys would have a Senior Leader as their Form Tutor who would be able to Sanction and Reward much more swiftly, manage conflicts with staff more directly and  monitor much more closely than a classroom teacher level form tutor. Effectively, the boys were stalked through every moment of every day. As you can imagine, staff would take great glee in telling a Senior Leader that they had forgotten to check the boys were fully equipped, the boys had been late, had forgotten their homework etc etc. I’d made the project sound so compelling that I’d talked myself into a job. Silly me. With that 11AML was born. It was a success. 6 of the starting 10 gained 5A*CEM, of those who did not one got a sporting scholarship and is now a professional athlete, two are almost finished on apprenticeship courses and the last is in work. No NEET. Most importantly for their exhausted and very proud Form Tutor – they all managed to meet the criteria for attending the Prom and a photo of them all suited and booted now has pride of place in my office.

We’re now in our 3rd year of 11AML – the criteria shift slightly each year to take into account the needs of the year group and our changing achievement profile. We have intervention Form Groups in every year group working on anything from accelerating Maths to re-engaging poor attendance.

The key factor of the Intervention Form is that it is a still a normal form group in every other way. The reduced numbers allow for a tutor  to spend a meaningful amount of time with each member of the group to work through whatever issues may be preventing the student from fully benefiting from their educational experience.

I would thoroughly recommend trialling something of this sort within your school in order to work with students where underachievement is the symptom caused by a range of other issues. If you have a cohort of students who are impacted upon by multiple Risk Factors then you need to put holistic intervention in place.


Intervene with the whole child, not just its academic data!