Working in schools is hard. Sometimes it is very hard. For schools with significant numbers of disadvantaged students (we have 32% of our school cohort, heavily concentrated in Y7 and 8) it is harder still. Occasionally working in schools with its constant, biased media criticism and ill thought-out political interference, it can feel like a battle against all odds. But it’s a battle worth having. Teachers and other staff are the ones who cannot give up: they are the ones who must pick up the pieces when everyone else has gone. When the finances of support services are cut, forcing them to retreat, schools are still there. Because they have to be. Even when school budgets are slashed, those that work in schools will not withdraw. Instead we shoulder the burden. To let children down is simply not an option. We provide the vital calm in society’s storm. Intolerant views and ‘hard line’ doctrines abound at the moment in the public discourse, and their influence has been felt recently in school. Stridency seems to be in vogue politically, and this filters down through families and in the community. Compromise, subtlety and ambiguity are perceived as weak.
Interestingly, then, the Education Secretary was forced to admit that he wrongly claimed school spending is going up. Damian Hinds, was wrong to claim that every school will enjoy ‘a small cash increase’. It seems the Secretary of State needed reminding that the mere repetition of a falsehood does not turn it into the truth. The official Commons record has now been corrected by the Department for Education to admit that school funding will only be “maintained” between 2017 and 2020. In reality, as the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, school budgets will decline in real terms by 4.6 % 2018 and 2020, because of previous cuts. This is not good news. Impact on us has now gone beyond not replacing staff to include making cuts in the curriculum offer and in resourcing. We have no plans at the moment to make redundancies but we must learn to cut our cloth accordingly and to ensure we learn to do things differently, and more efficiently. We simply have no choice. This is one more burden to shoulder. By pulling together we stand a chance.
At the Middle Leaders meeting this week we worked together to ensure the strategies we have introduced to accelerate progress for the high prior attaining and disadvantaged students are clear, achievable and valuable. Zoë also presented her new plans to improve SEND provision and referrals. It was a productive meeting and the outcomes should improve focus in the classroom. I talked about the importance of rigour. Rigour isn’t about excited enthusiasm. Rigour is part of a great teacher’s attitude. You don’t settle for sloppy thinking, mediocrity, half-hearted writing or incomplete answers. There is usually a general sense of high expectation in a range of areas: concentration span; extended writing; independence and self-help; maturity and sophistication. All these things reinforce a rigorous approach to learning in the classroom. The focus is on intrinsic reward and motivation through the learning; rigour is rarely associated with ‘having a bit of fun’. Actually, in great lessons, students get engrossed in rigorous tasks and enjoy the feeling of making progress. Serious endeavour, rigour and enjoyment are intertwined… a great teacher never dumbs it down or suggests that the ‘fun’ is all the easy stuff. You can’t do a bit of rigour every now and then; it is part and parcel of every lesson, relentless and automatic.
I have been overwhelmed recently with groups of students wanting to talk to me about fundraising for some wonderful causes including mental health awareness, the Tavistock Safe Haven, important local charities, and of course for SKRUM. I am feeling an increasing sense of pride in these events: a real sense of community pride and caring for others. Rarely do students simply ask for a mufti-day or bake sale. With much greater ambition they are actively organising bag packing in local stores, charity dinners and events, and we also have plans for Y10 to organise another dog show in June. We still have work to do on building relationships. The Humanutopia Heroes will be leading the way. But keeping everyone safe and happy is everyone’s responsibility. There are small acts of kindness that everyone can undertake every day that make the school a better place. Getting to know the students as people is so very important. When a child confides in you, it is not enough to make an entry on cpoms. It is your ball – don’t drop it.
Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend