Watching “Around the world in 80 days” with my Mum – and other solutions to teacher wellbeing.

I was born in the 70’s and enjoyed and remember 1980’s children’s television – apart from Why Don’t You – couldn’t stand that show! Anyway…

My Mum was a teacher and I remember looking forward to sitting with my little brother watching children’s TV when we got home. My school finished at 4pm and I imagine “Around the world in 80 days with Willy Fog” was on at around 4.30pm. My Mum would usually watch it with us, sometimes my Dad too, I remember it being quality family time and I was lucky.

A lot has changed since then, we are a more evidence informed profession, yet I imagine few teachers, at all levels, regularly sit and watch children’s TV with their family at 4.30pm as my Mum did with us.

It strikes me that if we are serious about teacher well being then ensuring colleagues have the opportunity to do more then kiss their tired offspring goodnight should be a priority.

I am starting to passionately believe that quality text books, sensible feedback policies and an end to an “Audit culture” is key.

There are thousands of schools up and down the country considering their curriculum but often in isolation. Would it not be possible to get schools to work with each other? Could we not collectively consider transferable subject knowledge rather than individual schools working it out?

Surely a multi phase approach to curriculum development would both benefit children and colleagues and also be a huge step in squaring the issues of transition?

A teacher curated Primary text book – a concept that might work?

Following on from a conversation on twitter which was started by @iquirky_teacher. She wondered whether a centrally commissioned text book might be a helpful step forward in supporting colleagues.

This stimulated the usual debate but from it came the idea of a teacher curated text book. The idea being that as teachers we could curate a text book, or series of text books, that would be freely downloadable and would meet the needs of colleagues in the classroom saving time and perhaps money?

I emailed the idea out to a few colleagues and it seems that independently this is something that is already being considered in individual schools and academy trusts, which is exciting.

Clearly it one thing to ponder through rose tinted spectacles and another to actually make happen, but I was encouraged by the response I have had so far and by the offer of support from

Will it happen? The best I can say so far is it might. I would really welcome your thoughts and if you are interested in being involved, drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you!

My thoughts on Headteacher well being

Headteacher well-being is something that I have thought about a fair bit recently. There are times when being a Headteacher can be an exceptionally lonely experience, when I asked if anyone also felt the same and would like to join a WhatsApp group, I had a fair amount of interest and the group currently has 43 members. But why is Headteacher well-being an issue?

My favourite book is Catch 22, anyone who spends any amount of time with me will hear me quote it at some point. I sometimes liken being a Headteacher to Chaplain Shipman from the book. The Chaplain lives a very comfortable life, in a tent in the woods, he has everything he needs and should therefore be happy. Except that he feels a sense of disconnect, that his role makes others feel uncomfortable. To quote the book loosely, he felt that whoever he was talking to was patiently waiting for him to go and talk to someone else. Yet, he feels his responsibility as Chaplain keenly and tries to guard against doing things which he feels might be insincere or simply wrong.

As a Headteacher there is much pressure to get it right as I am yet to meet anyone who purposely sets out to get it wrong. You are charged with the welfare of the students in your care, your staff and sometimes parents. At any given point someone may place a problem that has been vexing them into your lap and feel lighter and brighter for doing so. Added to which you have the constant changing tides and ever decreasing budget to contend with. Who enjoyed the clear lead offered by the DFE over GDPR? Those centrally produced customisable policy templates that reduced workload and stress? No? Me neither.

So what is needed? Well first foremost Heads need to feel less isolated. They need to feel that there is someone who is wrangling with the same issues they are. Who is on the end of a phone or a WhatsApp and is happy to help and may have the very thing you needed just two clicks away, or is happy to be a listen as you vent your latest frustration.

There needs to be an acknowledgement that Heads are under real pressure, research into what these pressures are and then serious commitment to do something about it followed by action. I used GDPR as an example but it is a case in point, it caused a lot of worry and it didn’t need to have done so. Schools found themselves paradoxically with less money yet with greater need to seek advice, which costs.

What I have never found helpful, though maybe others do, are events in which “Inspirational” speakers talk of climbing mountains or achievements in high jump with two broken legs. Their stories are interesting and can act as a tonic, invigorating but ultimately you leave with no new answers but some helpful suggestions for mountain climbing.

If there could recognition of the need for Headteacher well-being and a commitment to connect and support colleagues before there is a problem rather than after. Often support is offered to pick up the proverbial pieces. As someone said recently, it is rather like fitting a gas mask to a deceased miner’s canary.

If you would like to join the Headteacher well-being WhatsApp group, please contact me via twitter @chrismcd53 or by email

Flightpaths – what?

A little while ago I had a conversation with a colleague from another school who was describing the progress of a child. They spent twenty minutes or so talking about a flight path and the relative points progress, both up and down, the child had made. They were earnest, committed and passionate and after twenty minutes I hadn’t the faintest clue what they were talking about.

Clearly a lot of time had spent calculating this and I imagine a good number of staff meeting hours and PPA given over to feeding the spreadsheet or database that drove the system. But if it doesn’t actually make any sense or difference to the teacher or children concerned – why bother?

Could just be me, but wouldn’t some tea leaves be equally as useful and a lot less time consuming?

Dear Dave, can you ask them if it was an accident? 

Dear Dave,

When you next see Nicky Morgan and Nick Gibb could you ask them if the SATs fiasco was an accident? 

I only suggest this as it often is a good way to start talking about mistakes made, saying sorry and then moving on.

Maybe they think you will sack them and are worried about confessing. After all the back benches are only appealing if you are very tired after a long day.

So, if you could sit them both down, tell them you like them both very much and you won’t make them Chief Whip for admitting where they went wrong – maybe we can all move on? 

Ooooo and probably best not to mention Nicky’s video – it will only upset her. 

Just a thought….

Coasting schools – the art of perception without direction

Unless you have have been away from education for a while then the issue of coasting schools is unlikely to have passed you by.

It is CLEAR , from recent announcements, that there ARE coasting schools.

It is CLEAR, from recent announcements, that this government ARE NOT going to stand for it. 

HOWEVER what is decidedly UNCLEAR is what a coasting school might be. Nobody seems able or willing to say. OFSTED don’t know and are leaving it to politicians and politicians who tweet about everything from coffee in a local academy to a walk along the beach seem studiously silient on a subject which is leaving all pondering and some, no doubt, without sleep. 

This is not picking out new curtains for the ministerial pad or deciding which charity to give our 10% pay rise to – this is people’s careers and mental health that is being toyed with.

So, after the coffee is finished, the curtains are chosen, the walk is complete and the charity is finalised politicians might be so kind as to cease creating the perception of a “Coasting school” and give some direction in none ambiguous terms as to what this phrase means. 

Great effort has been given to creating a perception in the public mind now let us all have a little direction – otherwise, well, you’re simply COASTING. 

Does respect come from Union?

Whilst on Twitter this morning I read this:

In an open letter to education ministers around the world, the leaders say that a “declining respect for teachers” will “weaken teaching, damage the learning opportunities for millions and ultimately weaken societies around the world”. 

The full article is here:

This got me thinking about what we actually mean when we talk about respect and what others use this phrase to mean. As it certainly has the capacity to be used as a mask for something altogether different.

Politicians are forever banging on about the other party failing to respect our profession – this is a noticeable theme quite close to an election – here’s Tristram for example:

But often respect seems a way of sugaring the pill of a new initiative or at least a substantial change in an existing one – do this, the profession is told, and you will be respected. Feels rather like telling the pianist in the restaurant that if he/she plays “I did it my way” he/she will be respected as a musician- although the “way” they are doing “it” is clearly somebody else’s.

Perhaps the first step would be to have self respect and have a united voice and approach on things that matter to our profession. I was discussing this with a colleague on Twitter who was firmly of the opinion that there could never be one teaching Union as teachers were all too different. 

I don’t doubt that we are all very different- but so are doctors, the difference being that when doctors speak their Union is – well union and people listen. 

Perhaps this is the first step to the elusive grail of respect – after that we may be in stronger position to conduct     the music rather than simply and occasionally unwillingly dance along?

OFSTED – it’s all about trust!

In Red Dwarf, Dave Lister knew he was in the game Better Than Life when the second cup of coffee tasted better than the first. This is my second blog of the day and if you didn’t think much of the first one this is hardly going to help matters…

The reason for my ramblings was in response to #helpsean who asked how could school leaders be convinced to serve in Requires Improvement schools. My response was to train all headteachers with five years or more experience as HMI and make inspection a peer support process. 

OFSTED, to change for the better? 

There were a number of people kind enough to respond positively to this and some who questioned my thinking (Am flattered they thought there was any…) 

The first question was around trust – a key point. For me trust is a sore point for OFSTED and the system almost seems to under line a lack of it. Short notice inspections hardly say trust – more it says we think you are probably putting on a performance and we don’t believe you. That sort of thing is a big enough issue by itself without the curious judgements of some poorly trained teams under sub contract. My personal favourite was the lead Inspector delivering training who claimed things had changed since Mike Cladingbowl had written his clarification about lesson grading and this chap didn’t mean since 2009! In house training will improve consistency by my point was wider and it was about capacity. 

If heads are trained in house and inspect and then form lasting collaborations with the schools they have inspected then schools become about learning as well as teaching as schools learn from each other.

I am not swayed by the counter which states that heads are already serving inspectors as this is a case of new people in an old role and it doesn’t build capacity moreover it will only certain Heads who feel confident and able to do this – rather than it being an expectation of all.

Tweaking the old system will mak  it better than before but that is a sticking plaster for a broken leg.

OFSTED – to change for the better?

Ok, so yesterday I had an idea and quite frankly I am worried – as there seemed to be a notion that it might not be as silly as my usual ideas. This is worrying as it has taken 39 years for this to happen which means I will be 78 before it happens again – a big gap.

The question was about incentives to support schools who “Require improvement” – I love this euphemism. I once had a personal trainer if he told me my technique at what ever thing I wasn’t very good at required improvement I saw it as positive- in so much as he would help me get better. Sadly if a school requires improvement that collegiate nature of support and optimism is sadly lacking.

What isn’t lacking is scrutiny and now an assigned HMI (A professional inspector – one whose role is to inspect) supports the school. In this hot house environment a hero is needed (so the popular narrative runs) to help the school out of this purgatory- there being a shortage of such willing Lone Rangers gave rise to Sean’s question.

My suggestion was this – train all Headteachers with over five years experience as HMI – this would then remove the need for professional inspectors- instead you would have professionals who inspected.This would cover all colleagues, not just those in a certain category of school – the perverse notion that only colleagues in a certain category of school have ideas worth listening to seems absurd. 

Create an “Inspection duty” in which heads (in the first instance) are expected to support inspections within  a certain geographical range. The funding for this could come from the reduction of professional inspectors. 

Now we come to trust – inspecting schools has come to be seen in the same light as cheating athletes- we have to catch them at it! If we accept that everyone, everywhere could improve at something then let’s treat inspection in this vein. Tell schools when their next inspection will be as their last one finishes – and have the expectation that the team, not simply an inspector will stay in touch with the school – sharing practice and perhaps colleagues with school inspected. 

But what about all those professional inspectors? We need some but not too many and nowhere near the number we have. Often they are committed professionals who want to change things for the better – Mike Cladingbowl a good case in point. So let them return to schools and enrich from within.

My answer to Sean’s question is in effect not to answer it specifically but to answer it more generally and to use the inspection framework as a stimulus for peer support. Will it work? Well here’s the thing said the king – let’s give it a try.

On the fad of leader lopping…

So yesterday we arrived at a Conservative majority – the reaction was a tad predictable. Leaders from Liberal Democrats, Labour and UKIP announcing they are stepping down. This isn’t a political blog so the rights and wrongs of parties and their leaders I’ll leave for others to decide. 

But for me the point is wider (football equally falls into this) which is the curious short tolerance we have all developed to a perceived failure to deliver in the short term what was hoped for. 

A Miaculpa moment is cathartic but standing down isn’t always the best course of action. Leadership is tough and can sometimes be intensely lonely. Mistakes are a given towards any success and five years is a perilously short time. 

Perhaps Ed et al will enjoy the rest and come to regret their decisions. But maybe in the words of that soppy song – we should all try to have a little patience.