Monday, 5 October 2015


When I came out of assembly on Friday at quarter past three our secretary came to find me looking worried.  She said my daughter had phoned saying she wasn't feeling well and had sounded tearful. My eldest just started secondary school. I only got to drop her off the first day, even then not near the school but at a friend from gymnastics house. She is loving getting the bus and being independent but was ill and wanted me. I had a really important meeting booked after school so I panicked a bit but our team are so sound. Tea would be made, chat would be had. 

Sandwich was an utter nightmare! For those not local it's the town made famous by Linekar & the crisp sandwich ads! A bus had crashed into the train bridge & some roads were closed. When I got to Imogen she was with an ex pupil of ours who couldn't get a bus so I took her home too. 

When I got back to school my appointment had been waiting but had been having a cup of tea with a fab member of staff.  It was a meeting where one of the life blood members of teaching assistant staff was giving me her retirement letter because of poor health.  This amazing person decided that it is unfair on our children that they lack due provision because of budgeting for sick pay.  So didn't take the sick pay, the full pay she could take for several months.  Has resigned after four weeks because she knows our budget as a small school cannot afford anything else. 


There were tears. Hers, the class teacher's mine. We told her just how much she meant to us and our school family. I walked past her Spurs pencil case last week when I taught in that class & it made me feel so sad. We've had some great football banter over the years. 


Then I came home & caught up on Internet things and noticed what was going on with Andrew. 

I, as I'm sure many did, first conversed with Andrew Old with respect for his anonymity.  There was some profligate disrespect for his chosen anonymity which I always felt reflected poorly on those that engaged in it. 

I have disagreed with Andrew at times. He has strong views. But I have always found him fair when engaged in a fair debate. We might not always have come out agreeing over the years but I've never engaged other forum users in disagreeing with him. I've always thought that's a bit sad. 

In any argument there is a sting.  An essence you don't like. But a grain of truth that is essential to consider. Some people are great at articulating the sting! I'm married to one of those people. You either think about that grain, once you get over the pain of the sting, and apply that to practice. Or you don't. You complain about the sting. 

Complaining about the sting is easy. Changing things in response is hard. But important. We're not in education for us. 


Andrew has literally put his money where his mouth is and resigned his job.  Because it compromised his integrity. 


Who of you genuinely keep the line? Who, if they are honest, moves the line of integrity back and forward to suit? Sometimes themselves but often necessity. 

I have a lot of admiration for Andrew and am lucky enough to have met him and know what kind of person he is. 


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Fraud police-special ops

I have been reflecting on the blog post I wrote yesterday and I just want to add a little more. 

I thought quite hard first thing this morning, in the space between sleep and starting the day, about why I felt so stressed before my IA visit. I know the reason. It's not just the ever present fraud police but an extra special unit of fraud police that is specially deployed by our minds when we have been having a tough time in our lives and perceive ourselves, often rightly and understandably so, to be 'not up to speed.'

From Easter 2013 to February 2015 I was 'not up to speed.'  I was mostly physically present at school.  I was signed off for a week following a period of time nursing my husband around the clock between chemotherapy cycles, looking after two young children and running our school. A dear colleague persuaded me to go to the doctor and my doctor were fairly forceful about the fact I needed to rest.  Later on I was signed off for a week once he was well enough to go back to work and my body gave up and caught shingles. I then had to have an operation about six months later, nothing to with any of that but had to be signed off for a two week recovery period. 

4 weeks off in two years isn't usual but under the circumstances was quite minimal.  But that was only my physical time off. There were many days where I sat at my desk and felt I didn't know where to start or what to do. There were occasions where I needed to immediately challenge people and didn't, couldn't.   It is so fortunate that a year ago I got a 'you're so good' letter based on small cohort data rather than a 'you're so RI' letter. 

So now I feel worried about my 'you're so RI' letter because I feel guilty and am over reflecting that perhaps I let things slide. But nothing physically slid in terms of school improvement. We have lots of evidence of that.  As we do of how fabulous the provision is.  If I'm inviting an inspector back for day two it will be to push for outstanding not defend RI. 

Once life recovered I needed to recover. I did, and then it was fine again.  I am really worried that our children are losing headteachers who haven't perhaps had the support I have.  I have a wise improvement adviser as I mentioned yesterday, it is no coincidence that under his and his colleague's leadership Dover district is almost top in all indicators in our large county. Coming in above some very affluent areas despite huge challenges. 

I have great colleagues, our team have supported me to the nth degree. Headteacher colleagues also. And you on Twitter. Those of you who phoned, emailed, visited, nagged me to visit you and sent me cards and messages won't ever be forgotten. If it takes a village to raise a child then it took a Twitter village to raise a headteacher! 

I'm encouraged by the National support school and National Leader of Education program but other than that I don't see enough support being offered to heads. Everyone talks about it being a lonely job at times but support mechanisms are in no way reliable or consistent in my opinion. Life doesn't give you a plan or choice about what happens to you.  Our children deserve better than to suddenly lose a head who actually would be fine if supported properly.  The knock on can also be teachers not being supported properly when life happens as some humans attack when they feel vulnerable in order to defend.  It's a mess and it must be a waste of money. 

Anyway, those were my follow up thoughts! 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Data's inferno

Half an hour before getting up time today my stomach tightened into a painful knot.  Improvement adviser visit this morning.

I have an experienced, knowledgable and trusted improvement adviser. I had done all of the data interrogation in advance and sent it and have always been very open and honest. When the visit was scheduled he took the time to ring me and explain that the local authority data table top exercise flagged us up as potentially vulnerable. He also reminded me he knows the context. He rang me before the letter dropped into my inbox. 

I couldn't ask for more really. Honesty, challenge and respect. I have known my adviser for a while and whilst he is quite new to my school (last year) he has supported my husband's school very productively and a very long time ago observed me as a class teacher and supported a tough school I worked in.  He knows that each pupil in last year's year 6 represents 14%. However, the standards agenda is unforgiving and uniform. 72% 2 levels combined progress looks terrible.  It is 2 pupils, who missed a few marks each in maths at level 5 but are thriving at the local grammar school. 

What those few dropped marks on a bad day for two pupils in May has given me though is extra IA time. It will be brilliant to have extra IA time, he can help me lead improvement, he can help me evidence.  It's really great to have someone I can ping my SEF & SIP to for helpful feedback.  

We had already sort of hit it off last year but this morning cemented it with the following. In the middle of a serious conversation about data there was a tap at my office door. It was our secretary looking really worried. I have a new teacher doing PPA cover & she had sent a child (named Dante) round to ask for help. Secretary assumed something awful had happened so I rushed round and it turned out to be a problem with switching the whiteboard on. I passed that on to someone that computers don't hate and it was solved! 

When I got back to the meeting secretary had made IA another coffee and they were chatting. I had phoned over to the explain the problem. As I got back to my office I overheard the following:

Secretary: 'Oh dear, I did assume the worst. The way Dante rushed round here it was as though the devil was after him'

IA: 'as well he might with that name' 

Myself and our consultant improvement adviser will get on well this year! 

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Blown away balloon

Blown away balloon.  Where are you from?
A birthday party, engagement celebration or leaving do?
Did you sneak out of the vibrant celebrating room through an open window into the air, or were you tethered outside. Tied too loose, or too tight. 
Did you escape quietly, unnoticed, during the revelry?  Or wait until all slept and softly creep away?
Blown away balloon, orange with a bright yellow string.  Bright against this morning's blue sky.  Are you floating upward aimless or making your way with purpose?
Up, up into the sky.  Toward the hand of someone who would have been at the party, but had to be somewhere else.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Another decade creeps up

I'm about as philosophical as a person who isn't too keen on turning 40 can be about turning 40.  

I'm feeling pretty good in myself. I weigh less than my fattest but not as little as my thinnest, which is fine. It's within the healthy range. I can still run 5 miles pretty comfortably & with training can do more. I can do a spin class (even one of Elisa's!)  My school work is done, as much as anyone's ever is.  I eat well, especially now daughter can cook! I drink perhaps a little too much but as Jerome K Jerome wrote 'thirst is a dangerous thing!'

I am very privileged to have great friends and family.  There is always somewhere to turn, someone to listen.  Including my wonderful Twitter friends. There is always laughter too.  Some of my friends and family aren't around any more but if there's one thing I'm sure of it is that they are somewhere. 

I'm not keen on 40, as I said. I wasn't keen on 30 either. I spent the last night of my twenties listening to Duran Duran & feeling impending doom! What was a fabulous and pleasant surprise though was how much more comfortable with who I am I became in my thirties. How much more confident in school leadership too.  

It's very hard to be confident with the shifting sands we stand on as school leaders.  I noticed & commented on a question about the popularity of Estelle Morris as education secretary yesterday. My comment was that she was neither hated nor reviled.  140 characters isn't a lot is it?  In my opinion she was popular with heads but teachers were fairly ambivalent toward her. She stepped down just before I was a head but I hear from others that they felt supported by her.  That her actions and work supported school leaders. She couldn't continue to do that though within her context and stepped down rather than do that in which she did not believe. Political landscapes change and the money ran out. That's how I perceive it and I suppose the idea of her in that context might be popular.  She did the best she could under the circumstances. As the years go on I find I am able to do that more and more. 

I hope my new decade continues to fuel me to keep stepping up though. I'm not finished yet with this job I love, not anywhere near.  I also hope I continue to feel more confident, but never arrogant.   I don't want to be full of it but I'd like to be a teensy bit less scared of the fraud police! (Those imaginary forces that confirm what I secretly suspect...that I actually have no idea what I'm doing!) I credit Amanda Palmer with that term & I think many of us know the feeling. 

So, with ten days to go until I'm 40 I'm going to put 4 songs on Twitter each day.  Today is 1975-1978.  A musical history of me. 

Here is the first. From 'Young Americans' by Bowie 1975, the year I was born. It's actually a Beatles cover.  Lennon & Mcartney ✨

Friday, 7 August 2015

Communication and trust

I would have spent a lot of time and money on things like this 15 years ago: 

Things like this really bother me.  If there's a genuine reason to look you probably know what you're going to find. Often though it's capitalising on worries that are founded on nothing. If there are texts you dislike it's usually only because things read to you as you read them not necessarily as the writer wrote them, or even the recipient read them. 

Adopted Dad Neil Short can charge me royalties on this as it's one of his 'c's but context is everything.  Even a conversation we are having in the same room face to face can so easily be seen differently by you, or me, or both. So many Twitter exchanges that go wrong can be tracked back to exactly that problem. It's even more open to interpretation written down.  

'I didn't mean it like that!'

'Well, that's how I took it!' 

Maybe the most common exchange since communication, and therefore miscommunication, began? 

Why would you choose to read the texts? (Or nowadays pay money to a third party to receive the content of the texts...sigh.) That one's simple sadly. Fraud police.  I can't be this happy. Something will go wrong. Etc. 

So 'Dear younger self' :

If you fear you're being cheated on and you never have before & you have no evidence you are. You're probably not. 

If you fear you're being cheated on & you have a gut feeling & evidence. You probably are (especially if you have been before by the same person.) 

If you fear you're being cheated on & there's no evidence but you have been before by a different person you're probably not. 

I'll waiver the $1 charge. Just for you folks. 

What is it about being human that causes us to question the loyalty of others so very deeply?  Then, once we find someone that lets us down, to make that our marker of how new people are? Most people are actually pretty great.  Perhaps it's the frailty of being human.  The risk taken on relationships, the investment of heart and soul. It's scary to start with the idea that people are great and want to meet more of them. It's safer to stay at home with the ones you know already. 

I love my home people with all my heart and because of them my scared days are over. People are great, I've started meeting more of them & I intend to continue. See you soon! 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Leading learning by example

Leadership.  It's a long game right?  But politics demands it's short term.  What to do? 

I spoke to a really good friend on the phone a while back as his organisation had been asked to speak at a local event.  I know him well, adopted dad.  He asked about our Local Authority & Director of Education.  I said that, whilst some county procedures have seemed really disagreeable from the outside the values of Patrick Leeson, director of education in Kent, are sound in my opinion.  He only ever talks about improving things for children.  He invites us to thank you receptions for our achievements. He's one of those people that I have avoided talking to as I'm sure I'm going to say something stupid to even though I don't know why as he's a kind man.  I went for it this week though! He actually made that easier as I wanted to talk to him about improving things for children.  When you start a conversation with him about that his eyes light up.  I have only ever observed a passion for making the best of our children's one chance at education and courteous respect in his behaviour.

I am going to acknowledge now that Kent policy hasn't always felt kind to some.  I don't have first hand experience of feeling targeted.  But I have friends that say they do. I have been told some sad stories. 

Patrick was given a very tough remit for change when he arrived. And a very short time frame.  I have considered all of this differently since my friend Heather Leatt started working in school improvement in Lewisham.  It's a big ask that job! So, so tough & so voraciously accountable. 

Patrick has already delivered what he promised. Change. Which was needed. It felt a bit pacey.  But it was right.  I wrote this just after his appointment as director. I had just met him & listened to his first speech. 

He had to deliver change and now he will deliver improvement.  He has delivered hugely on the percentage of pupils that attend a good or better school. 82% good+ I believe now.  He is a clever man & we should get behind him.  He has been looking at the work of Saahlberg & Schumacher, & many others.  He commissioned a study.  Conducted in the Autumn term and shared today.  All based on the capacity of the small school head. All capacity is based on necessity and therefore the mind set and skill set of the small school head is paramount.  We think like the village.  It takes a village to raise a child.  

Since Patrick has arrived I have begun to see the undercurrent of change.  He quickly involved Vic Goddard in speaking to us about change. Relationships? Leading by example? Not a small school exclusive. Vic is at the Kent County Showground at Maidstone on November 11th. So are many other great folk with a passion for improving opportunities for children in Kent.  Here's the link to sign up. Come if you can. 

All we can do is work for the best outcomes. This is a song I've sent Vic & a few other shining lights this week. We can only make a difference from inside the fire. 

 I came back from a late alarm call from school happy last night.  The village pub called me.  The alarm was going & no one knew what to do. The new landlord is my mate's cousin & got my number from him.  I went over in my shorts & West Ham Vest. A humble state is best... Anyway now the pub landlord & I are compadres as we've stalked around the school site together.  He'll always be an ally.  

What's left of a village? The school? The pub? The church? It takes a village to raise a child. 

Relationships are all. The overriding message from all research. From Human Scale education (contact Dr Robin Precey Canterbury Christchurch University College) to National Association of Small Schools contact Neil Short @neils46 to relationships & leading a large school & a federation (contact @vicgoddard) 
To our local landlord Jason Blown The St Crispin Inn Worth, Kent :) 

Working together, striving & changing lives (including ours) for the better. 

Lots of inspiring stories today. Thanks for this though Karen Dodd from Shipbourne.  It's just unfinished without a muppet video 

I feel excited and hopeful. I believe in hopeful leadership.  As leaders we must have aim, hope and belief.  Over the years I have heard people in Education cynically talking about things coming around again. Well then so will windows of hope. There have been plenty of those over the years. So we must always be ready to jump through them!