Monday, 14 July 2014

There goes my hero

This time last year was diagnosis day for husband.  Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

6 months of intensive week long chemotherapy. EPOCH chemo, cutting edge stuff. The amazing NHS did us so proud. 

Then home. Cleaning the house down to medical standard when he came home & getting him through the few short weeks before the next hit. 

Then 2 months of radiotherapy. Which he worked through. Having his radiotherapy at 8 in the morning and going straight to school. 

Because he loves his job as a teacher & leader & it kept him feeling alive. The photo at the bottom is him on World Book day when he had just finished radiotherapy. 

There goes my hero.  Utterly inspired by the way he fought it off & survived. By the way he had a laugh, stayed my bestest friend even when really ill and got back to teaching as soon as he was allowed to. 

Thanks to all of you lovely people for being there for us xx 





Friday, 11 July 2014

Gemma Laura Wilks

I still haven't written about her. I haven't been able to. It's been almost a year. So here goes. 

A year ago tonight Gemma and I were on the phone very excited about meeting up at the Amanda Palmer gig at Koko in Camden.  She was seriously on the up.  I had never heard her so positive.  Doing several courses, volunteering for Mind. She had even written to her MP about lack of mental health crisis care.  She was surrounded by lovely positive friends and was full of mischief. That's how we ended up missing one another at the gig. 

We were planning to meet but she was with a great big gang of folk & so was I. If all of our paths had converged it would've been great but they didn't. That was fine. We chatted on the phone that night & the next day after the gig to share how much we'd loved it. She had her request for Delilah played as usual. Life was great. 

I first met Gemma not even a year before.  Myself and a friend had managed to get in on an exclusive Amanda Palmer gig at the NME office.  I had pictured a grungy location but no, the super slick Blue Fin building not far from The Globe & The Golden Hinde. 

We were VERY excited Martin and I as we arrived. We literally frolicked our way to the entrance.  Then one of those magical things happened.  As we walked in we saw a man dressed as a Highwayman and gravitated toward him. Gemma and Josh kinda did the same and it ended up that we were a band of six. Gemma, Josh, Phil, Robin, Martin and me. We got talking so naturally. Then we all got mistaken for a band called The Concept.  A truly brilliant moment when the NME lass came over to ask if we were 'The Concept' Robin (@Raliel) answered 'if I were to be a concept I'd be non linear time' needless to say she was lost!  

To this day I see this video as feeding that misconception! http://youtu.be/uIwhh-mFDgk I'm sure we all have a band in us somewhere! 

We were meant to meet. Robin knows Amanda and Neil Gaiman and has done art work for their projects. Gemma had made her a marmite hair clip. Josh had his uke to be signed. I had a picture of AFP my 8 yr old had drawn. 

It was a fabulous mini gig. This is my fave vid that Martin took on his phone. We really giggled at the idea of NME folk coming back to their knived desks! You can see a few of us & hear us laughing http://youtu.be/UDYEwX2ffUE

Then we all went to the pub.  Such a great afternoon. My brother in law came down and Robin got him a gig ticket for AFP's gig that evening.  

After that Gemma and I became friends. We spoke from time to time, text too but mostly direct messaged on social network sites. She helped me through some tough times. We had laughs and serious conversations. She told me her story. I told her mine. We planned for her to visit in the summer holidays. 

The day after Gemma and I spoke on the phone last July my husband had a call from our GP to say his CT scan showed he probably had cancer.  The world fell apart.  I didn't have chance to message anyone or call anyone. He was straight in for a biopsy.  Just after he had been taken down to theatre for biopsy I found out that Gemma had died.  

Her funeral was an amazing celebration of her life.  Amanda Palmer sent a personal video.  Her mum and dad are incredible people and are so inspiring and brave. Here's a vid of photos I made & it has the one of us all in the pub :) http://vimeo.com/m/79005245 

It isn't fair.  Her heart stopped working and now so many hearts are breaking with sadness. I miss her messages but that's nothing compared to her mum and dad, her gran, her lovely friends who don't get to see her face every day. 

She changed how I think. She made my life better and me mentally better for my husband and my kids. And didn't we turn out to need it! I never got to thank her.  I'm really lucky that through Gemma I got to know her mum Carrie & I know she'll be a friend always.  

Here's her usual request for the last time & a photo of Gemma me & Martin. Gemma Laura Wilks you were a beautiful, fabulous, inspiring human being. You make me hope there's something else out there so I get to see you again. I'm so very glad we met. 



Thursday, 10 July 2014

Professional Obituary

If I get the convoluted sack someday because of bad results here is what I'll remember. Hopefully I won't get the sack by the way. I keep lots of notes & evidence about how we support all of our pupils. But they are all at least 10% of any cohort's results in my school. Some pupils in my school represent 17% and now the league table reports on 5 pupils in a cohort.  Presumably statisticians are giving themselves hernias with laughter about that. 

Anyway, back to the point. If the march toward everyone having to attain age expected continues and the worst happens here's what I'll remember.

Today, in a placement meeting for two children who have just been taken into care, I received one of the best compliments I have ever been paid.

We had the foster carer's previous child for three years before the child was moved to permanent placement. Very experienced wise foster carer.  We have a parent that was turned around for the better by this person. She said 'The social worker and virtual school link said we'd have to approach the local school and that might be difficult. They explained that schools often try & avoid now because of negative impact on results. I told them you would never do that Lynne. I said 'Lynne would never let a child down like that.' 

If I ever have to go to my professional grave as Headteacher that will be my obituary. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Governance and learning from a wise Mountain..

I have just heard about the death of one of our ex governors.  A thoroughly excellent man called Arthur Mountain.  He was on the governing body when I was appointed and remained for two years before finishing to enjoy his retirement, having giving many years of service to us, his local school.  He attended our school as a child, his attendance is documented in our log book and on our walls in the old photographs.

Arthur's contribution was always that of measured common sense.  He possessed that skill, which I often wish I had, of using few words in a very measured way.  However, he said with those few words far more than most of us do with many.  When I started to think about Arthur and his contribution to our school this afternoon one particular conversation stuck in my mind.  We had bought and had fitted a new water fountain on the infant playground.  Since installation it had done nothing but leak and cause problems.  We had spent a good deal of time discussing it at one particular governing body meeting.  Arthur listened to it all and then very politely interjected. 'We seem to be spending a lot of time discussing this.  Why don't you go back to having a trough in the playground like we used to when I was at school? Then we can get back to talking about what the children are learning!'

Thinking about that conversation led me to think about governance generally and the shift there has been over the past few years.  Governors have been perceived to go from (at best) well meaning, intelligent advocates of the school to trustees tasked with ensuring the successful development of the organisation.  I say perceived because actually governance always should have been the latter, and for folk like Arthur that's exactly what it meant to be a governor.  Yes, the focus from the inspection schedule on governance and accountability has certainly shifted and that has led to a raft of potential complications.

Some governing bodies have felt pressurised and devalued by the constant message they should be doing more to be strategic and challenging.  Some Heads have felt pressurised by the idea of their own leadership judgement being affected by the performance of a group of well meaning volunteers.  Sadly, politicised situations have occurred where hard working, dedicated governing bodies have been at odds with government plans.  They have ended up feeling that they have let the school down somehow.  Some governing bodies, having been rated good or outstanding, have become too much of a challenging force and not enough of a supporting body.  The balance is crucial and hard to achieve.  Getting the balance right takes constant work on relationships.  As with anything that involves constant work on relationships it can get really exhausting.  But it's worth it.

I recently did a piece of work with one of our governors on looking at gaps between pupil premium children and others.  She is a data manager in another school and I have to say her skill with data is more advanced than mine.  I had to work really hard on not feeling threatened.  Anyone who has encountered 'the fraud police' will know the feeling.  That is, an imaginary body of people that are going to rock up and discover that I actually have no idea what I'm doing and expose me!  Of course they don't exist and I do know what I'm doing for the most part!  However that feeling is not uncommon to most reflective professionals.  I worked on how I felt though and admitted outright that she has a far better understanding of excel and data management than I do.  So, she helped me.  We laughed about my mistakes, she showed me easier ways and did work for me at times freeing me up to do other things.  I was then in a position where I had useful data that teachers understood and that changed their mindset about how we come up with initiatives to help vulnerable pupils.  Our teaching staff are a very valuable asset and always approach this type of work pro-actively.  The work also relied heavily on the work of the Education Endowment Foundation.  I also have evidence of the impact governance is having on improvements for our most vulnerable pupils.

In order to have governors that are able to effect positive school development we must be reflective and proactive as leaders.  Even when we feel a bit threatened, especially when we feel a bit threatened!  I am in no way naive enough to ignore the fact that there are occasional governors who do not have a positive agenda.  There are mechanisms to help though, as unpleasant as it is.  I can thoroughly recommend the National Governors Association for help and advice.  The NAHT are also an excellent source of support and don't be afraid to ask colleagues,  Twitter is a hugely valuable resource for that type of support.

Sometimes the best thing about my job is not having 'a boss' I'm the one who gets to set the direction of my work.  However, often that's the worst part of my job.  Of course I have a boss but who that is from day to day is a tricky one.  Is it my Chair? Not quite, but she does have delegated responsibility for being my boss. Delegated from our LA, delegated from the DfE.   Is Gove my boss?  Better stop bad mouthing him on Twitter then! I don't have anyone to pass the buck to though.  It stops with me, which is a pressure, a responsibility and a huge privilege.  Let's not forget what 'the buck' is here.  Children's futures.

Back to Arthur Mountain.  His agenda was to listen, to support, to challenge.  His purpose was that we concentrate on the children's learning.  That we work together, that we don't waste time on fodder, of which there is so very much.  When he retired from governance his letter said something along the lines of 'having seen all the changes coming to governance it seems like a wise time to leave and let someone more modern take it on' how wrong he was about that but I am glad that he spent the last five years of his life relaxing and enjoying life.  He certainly deserved to.  May he rest in peace.  Myself and Worth Primary School owe him a debt of gratitude for all he did for us.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Baseline, phonics, stones and bones.

So apparently the pass mark for the phonics test is a secret this year.  I'm missing the joys of that this week as I'm off recovering from an operation.  It's assumed that this is so we don't cheat, getting children just over the pass mark and stopping there. Presumably there must be some evidence of a large number of children just about reaching the pass mark. Maybe that's because it was an appropriately written test? Or perhaps it's whim, or myth, as I say I'm not part of all that this week. 

Obviously that is in no way intended to sound like absolution. Whether I'm there or not I'm the one responsible for how many six year olds are able to pass the phonics test. It's another one of the bits of evidence of whether I'm a good headteacher or not. It'll be in my Raiseonline report, it'll be compared to last year, the year before and National average. Our seven year one pupils. 14% each. Saying 'oh I was at home poorly that week' sure won't make any difference! 

I was a bit rubbish at phonics when I was six.  I was one of those sight readers but what I did develop was a love of books and a great set of comprehension skills. That was based on how much I loved reading. 

I know a lot of our children need that specific phonic teaching and I know that no one has stopped teaching a love of reading. But the test continues to puzzle and worry me.  Assessment and testing, whatever we feel about the system we have, isn't going anywhere anytime soon. What worries me is the further down the school system you go the more unclear and arbitrary the testing seems. 

We have had a choice of 2007 or 2009 test materials for the past five years now for children age seven at the end of Key Stage 1.  Of course, this is on which to base teacher assessment. However, when we consider the differences to how we might be asked to judge teaching now compared to seven years ago, the fact that the official assessment materials haven't changed at all feels wrong. There are many infant teachers who have been using these tests year in year out for seven years now.  I could probably quote bits of 'stones and bones' the level 3 reading paper just from the three times I've used it. My daughter did 'stones and bones' when she was in year 2 three years ago. 

Then we consider Early Years assessment and all the changes that have occurred there over the past seven years. We are now looking into the face of a return to baseline testing but with a choice of commercially available tests. I trained specifically in EYFS as part of my four year degree and yet when it comes to Early Years assessment at the moment and the way it is moving I am lost. It was rather depressing to hear a representative from DfE say at a recent Optimus assessment course that the subject of EYFS assessment has been 'unexpectedly difficult to resolve at the DfE.' As that was her only answer to the many questions asked about EYFS assessment it left 'so we gave up trying' hanging in the air. 

I am beginning to really look forward to delivering our new curriculum in September.  We've worked really hard on making it exciting and involving our children.  We have our heads around how we will assess and can see how we can fit that well with the end of Key Stage two.  However, the incongruence of assessment at age 4, 6 and 7 concerns me as this surely is where a child's academic trajectory will be set. 

I worry that this trajectory will be set too early for some children. I taught a particularly vacuous but lovely 4 year old some years ago who has now aced A levels with A stars and started at Cambridge studying law in September. I also worry that the infant assessment points feel so unclear and disconnected that even us EYFS professionals won't have a firm idea of where to set that trajectory.  I wish I believed that we won't be asked to set it but I suspect, with baseline testing coming back, that we will. 

My son starts school this September and as I look at him, and our new cohort of four year olds when they visit, I hope we can get this right for them.  I know we'll try our level best to. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Nigel Utton-the end of the beginning

Today Nigel Utton said goodbye to Bromstone Primary School on his last day as Headteacher of his vibrant, inclusive, wonderful school. 

The first conversation we ever had is still etched on my mind. It was my first year as a Head, his first year at Bromstone. His second Headship. He had picked up the telephone because one of our pupils was moving school to his school. There had been some tragic family circumstances and mum could no longer make the car journey to our place every day. 

Phone calls like that between heads usually have one of two purposes.  A kind supportive sounding attempt to try and find out the child's academic levels before a decision is made about whether to accept them or a genuine effort to ensure the move is right for the child and that the child is welcomed as well as they can be if that is so. Fortunately the second is still just about more common than the first and I could tell immediately that this was the second of those scenarios. 

Nigel wanted to find out how this child could be best supported to become part of the Bromstone family. I immediately felt less concerned about the child leaving the Worth family. I also felt encouraged that big schools can be family too.

This telephone conversation happened the day after this news broke: 


I had heard about it, everyone had. I couldn't leave the conversation without asking Nigel if he was ok. His response will always stay with me. 'Oh I'm ok' he said. 'We've had to arrange some extra security as there are homophobic protest marches outside but it'll pass. It always does. I hope it raises awareness of the issue of homophobia as it's so important.'

I was inspired. To be so calm and positive and remember what's important at a time like that is a true skill! 

I have been fortunate to have become a colleague and friend of Nigel's over the past six years. I nagged my husband to apply for a job at Bromstone as soon as one came up when his time at Margate Football club learning zone came to an end. He has been there three years. I just asked him how long he'd been there & he wanted to know why I was asking. When I told him I was writing a blog about Nigel he asked for the following to be included. He told me that Nigel has been the most inspirational leader he has ever worked for. He said that Nigel taught him that the way to teach a child to behave is not just to keep dressing them down and disciplining them but to love them. And if it doesn't work love them even harder the next day. Andy's a great teacher but he says he is a better person for working for Nigel. He's never said that about anyone.

Nigel has found a way to move onward and work to influence the lives of more. He has some very exciting plans and I can't wait to see how they change things. He applies the same logic to the inconsistency and frustration of our system. Keep loving how it should be harder. Keep working to get there. Change your road if you need to. 

I am selfishly sad he's not going to be at heads things any more though. I have many many favourite moments from our times as fellow HTs. Here's a brief selection:

Dancing like cats at the 2011 conference.
Nigel trying to kick the football over the fence to the boys at St Ignatius when we went to Heads Roundtable.
Our night out in Leeds before going to David Young Academy.
Sitting with some v serious colleagues at the end of Kent conference and Nigel shouting across the foyer 'I'm off back to school, I'm going to tell your husband we've been shagging all night!'
Our regular co counselling sessions when Andy was in hospital.
Being in his school, especially assembly.

Sometimes I worry as Headteachers that we make the job of working in school fulfilling for everyone but us.  Nigel always reminded me that the kids are the ones that do that fulfilling thing for us. Nigel has changed the landscape of inclusion in Bromstone, and in Thanet. Actually nationally too. The staff from caretaker to teacher to lunch staff all promised last night at his leaving do that the ethos would remain. The children live that ethos too. My rough maths computes that at least 740 children have gone into the world inclusive and acceptant of difference because of his ethos. Nigel's legacy continues, there will be hundreds more children as he changed the adults. 

Thank you Nigel.  I will miss you at meetings but that's a small price to pay for you being out there changing the ethos in a wider sense. It's only the end of the beginning. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Headteacher/football manager

The marathon is never done.  The 26.2 is for this year though.  I did the 26.2.  It was fabulous :) I met loads of friends and, of course it hurt, but I did it. I felt proud & I started a teensy cry when I was stretching but the salt hurt my eyes so I dried them on the tubigrip I didn't have to use.  I didn't cry as much as the morning after my most recent Ofsted when it suddenly hit me that my staff had time to develop now through what we are doing with lesson study, our school had the opportunity to thrive and that I'd get the chance to keep doing this job that I love. 

I have raised about £3800 for Macmillan by completing the 26.2, which considering the target was £2500 is amazing :) I am still getting an influx of village folk popping down with money & congratulations. I think that's why they respect me, my wartime spirit. I think that's why several of the feisty older ladies in the community appointed me!  You have to have that 'stiff upper lip' when looking into the face of the education system nowadays. In the age of educational prohibition we are a tiny speakeasy! We were born to be victorious, to be what we believe. We were born to run.  Anyway here's some marathon pictures- http://vimeo.com/91977751

We have to wait until May 16th to find out what's going on with Andy, my husband, which is a lengthy wait. He seems well but we have our paranoid moments.  If it's not right he'll have to have a bone marrow transplant. 6 weeks in Kings. Hoping not. That's harder to remain stoical about.  But we are working on that one day to day.  The marathon is never over. The marathon is mortality sometimes. 

Last Saturday I took my daughter to the West Ham vs Crystal Palace game, her first game. Sir Trevor Brooking signed her program. (Photo below)  Her first ever match day program :)  But she held me tight during the minute of applause for Dylan Tombides, our reserve team striker who had lost his battle to cancer the previous day aged just 20. She loved everyone feeling the football together. And she loved the support we were giving those close to him. But it was close to home for us too. 

It made me think about a great song by a band called Amber Run.  A good friend's cousin made a lovely video using it in summer after her tragic death from heart failure aged just 23.  They, like Dylan Tombides family, talk about making sure we all live life to the full.  They deal with it by celebrating life, not feeding their grief and letting sadness win. 
Cos life's for living, right? 
Here is my version-

I got back to work this week from Easter to find that two people I love a lot have resigned.  I love them both professionally for their beliefs and the way they transform the lives of pupils and staff.  One is also a close personal friend and an admired colleague.  I knew how he had been feeling as he came over to see me during the holidays.  

Why is 'life's for living right' opposite to being a headteacher? Surely this job, that can be best in the world, should be about being truly alive. Taking risks, having fun, being challenged.  Enjoying each breath.  But, clearly it isn't is it? 

I don't get it. 

It seems like more and more being a headteacher is akin to being a football manager.  The true passion to do it comes from the love of what football truly is.  Not the fame, not the money, but jumpers for goalposts.  That feeling my daughter experienced for the first time last weekend as the mighty Hammers came out to the sea of bubbles & the fans singing our song. The exasperation, the disappointment, the joy, the anticipation. It is to be truly alive.  

Same with learning. Everything about learning and the opportunities opened up by it resonates with all that is to be truly alive.  It's the best job in the world for that reason. 

But it seems both jobs are now equally precarious.  And decisions are made on the basis of results and tables. 

Maverick Heads and maverick football managers get some fabulous results.  They bring everyone in the organisation alive. Do big corporate football clubs or academy chains want maverick leaders though?  If they think they do, can they cope with them? 

Do the mavericks end up feeling like this? 

Are us Headteachers football managers now? If so please could someone make clear who are our chairmen/owners.  Perhaps give us enough budget to attract and keep high quality players?  I'm sad & worried about losing the passionate Headteachers. The ones that feel learning like football fans feel football. 



My daughter meets Sir Trevor Brooking