Dear Fake Headteacher,
Our school was a happy school.
The staff were brilliant.
The previous head was inspiring.
I loved teaching there.
The curriculum was at the heart of the school. The curriculum was fabulous and pupils, who had a lot of emotional and social challenges, loved the school.
However, the head didn’t agree with SATs so she didn’t invite children to attend after school booster groups or spend most of year 6 revising and preparing the pupils to pass a test. Call it naivety? Call it strong leadership?
After several years of low SATs scores, an academy eventually took over and everything changed.
Within 6 months, the head resigned.
Within 8 months, the deputy resigned.
Within 18 months, 10 members of staff resigned, either through ill health or found other jobs. Including me.
Then you were appointed (after 3 interim academy heads in the space of 3 months – they all mysteriously disappeared – the academy way?)
The problem was, you assumed the teaching and learning was terrible because of the low SATs scores. However, the issue was a philosophy. A philosophy that concentrated on the curriculum and not tests. A few tweaks here and there, to satisfy the need to produce good SATs scores would have been welcomed. But you didn’t. If only you had taken the time to find out.
Instead, you told us…
to scrap most of our foundation subject teaching
to ensure we had 4 ability groups for every lesson
not to deliver whole class inputs – target groups only
to write A4 plans the night before (with written annotations as proof of AfL)
to photocopy these plans and hand them in on a Friday
to hand in a timetable every week so you knew what we were teaching
to have 4 different learning objectives for every lesson
to use random named lolly sticks to ask pupils questions
that teaching assistants must not sit with one group for more than 10 minutes
that written praise was banned in books (focus more on next steps)
that all work must be signed by the teacher and the learning objective must be highlighted green or orange to show whether the pupil understood the work
that the use of green and pink highlighters must be used every day for marking
that pupils must use purple pens at least 3 times a week in response to teacher feedback
we must attend a morning meeting at 8:30am twice a week to ‘touch base’ with each other
we had to attend pupil progress meetings every 6 weeks
we must print off learning objectives slips that were often longer than what the pupils wrote in the lesson (description of the task, self evaluation, success criteria etc)
to write verbal feedback in books whenever we gave advice to a pupil and then to write down exactly we said – and what they said back!
that ofsted would crucify us if we didn’t do all of the things you told us to do because ‘that’s what they’re looking for’
our power points had to have the school logo on and use the agreed font style
that you would do unannounced learning walks every week and use a 15 point checklist we had to be seen to be doing every time
we would be put on an action plan if we didn’t fulfill the 15 point checklist
that had to prove any practical lesson we taught by taking photos – and stick them in books with annotations
to tell parents that their child was below standard for their age before the end of September and invite the child to attend after school booster groups every Wednesday and Friday (run by staff)
there would be book scrutinies every 6 weeks with written feedback on what was wrong (mostly!)
that lunchtime was being shortened from 1 hour to 45 minutes to give more time for learning
we had to write small ladder shapes and two stars and a wish in their books at least 3 times a week to make it clear to ofsted the teachers knew how to move the learning forward
we had to travel 2 hours to another school in the academy to observe other teachers
we had to improve the behaviour of the pupils (that had unsurprisingly worsened since your arrival) using a complicated A3 flowchart of what actions to follow and when to follow them. It was so complicated, no-one bothered.
we had to write reports on pupils who were misbehaving – to build up evidence for future exclusions (5 exclusions were made in your first 12 months)
we weren’t allowed to display pupils’ work because it didn’t help children learn
that we had to have working walls that had to be done the same way in every class
we had no time to discuss workload because ‘it is what it is’ at the moment and anyone should leave they can’t handle the pressure
we should ensure we were ‘happy’ with the data we handed in otherwise there would be extra ‘support’ given to staff – massage data if needed?
repeatedly in staff meetings, ‘it’s not a good picture’
Your stubborn and naive philosophy on how to improve the school meant you were completely blinkered to the good things that were already happening. There was nothing wrong with the children. There was nothing wrong with the staff. You had to prove your impact. The academy had to prove their impact. It was a hideous mess.
Using the ofsted’s new focus on the curriculum, I am convinced the school would have been graded good or outstanding before your arrival. But sadly, for us, and perhaps for many other schools, that focus has arrived too late. The damage has been done.
Your obsession and appetite to raise SATs scores at any cost, has been at the expense of your teachers’ well-being and pupils mental health. Yes, the slightly improved SATs scores made you look good. It made the academy look good. But your curriculum sucked. Your ego was running the school. You seemed completely unaware of the damage your policies were causing.
I am very proud that I found the mental strength to leave your school. I am furious that so many teachers left due to stress and have never returned to the classroom. I have heard on the grapevine that you are now holding regular meetings in order to tackle the curriculum before ofsted arrive. Good luck.
I thought I was the only one who had experienced this style of leadership. But apparently, it has become quite common in some schools. I wouldn’t hesitate to resign again if my current school went down the same avenue. Luckily, they aren’t.
A much happier teacher, working in a happier school, managed by people who take well-being and workload seriously and have always prioritised the curriculum.