Two Fingers Up To The System by Phil Sharrock
Dad, Foster Carer, Free thinking Headteacher, Motorbike Rider.
It’s About Sticking Two Fingers Up
The question that gets asked to me constantly as an experienced Headteacher is “How did you get your school to improve so quickly?” Usually from school leaders and always from “school advisors”. This deeply worries me, these are exactly the people who should know precisely what to do and how to do it.
It really isn’t rocket science. It’s about sticking two fingers up to the system and doing what’s right for the children and staff. There you go. Simple.
An example, recently I offered my sons secondary school an old motorbike that works but could do with some tinkering. As my son is in his GCSE year he loves to strip it down, make bits and put it back together. I offered it to the school for all the children to get their hands dirty and work on a real project instead of their “Curriculum”. Three months later after a number of messages back and forth and the answer was “No. We have nowhere to store it and Health and Safety restrictions” I explained I was giving the bike gratis to them to just use as an educational tool for the benefit of the students, but alas my pleading fell on deaf ears. This sums up whats wrong, people afraid of trying something new.
This raised a few thoughts to me. My daughter (Year 9) and just made her “choices” (Hahaha – 3 subjects, 3, out of 10 she has to do) and my son, were being led down a path of Progress 8 subjects neither of which they excel in (Engineering and Art being their strengths). Again I was finding that the schools were looking to protect themselves rather than looking after the talents of all their children.
The Very Last Thing To Do Is Look At The Curriculum!
To rapidly improve schools the very LAST THING to do is look at the National Curriculum, a more stupid document I have yet to come across in education; you need to look at your schools context and decide on what those children NEED. How can a child in rural Devon need to know exactly the same stuff as a inner city child from Birmingham the same as a child from leafy Bourton on the water in the Cotswolds??
My school needed to get out so I set aside funds to get them out, a minimum of 12 trips a year, we brought in diggers when we were building Anderson shelters and the children got on the diggers and dug the ground out (under close supervision for you H&S bods out there), we charged around as pirates in fancy dress trough the SeaLife centres, I bought scrap cars and got disengaged boys to strip them down, polish up the parts and sell them on ebay. We built full size go carts with power tools to engage learning, we designed classrooms to the individual needs of each teacher (they spend 30-40 hours a week in that room it should at least be comfortable, I know they do it for their lounges) I had every disease known to man given to me (via makeup) and the children cured me with fantastic food recipes (weekly at one point in the year) every child had a tablet in year 3 and it went with them through school. Not once did we focus on specific lessons on adverbial phrases and subordinate clauses (SPAG…the second most stupid document in education..I don’t believe they even do it at KS3 so why do we? Oh yes, a test, so we can be compared…I digress)
And The Staff?
Now all this is good fun you might say but what about the staff? They needed encouragement and training yes but as soon as they realised they could “teach without a fear of failure” they bloomed! They were happy, planning was slashed (my outstanding teachers did one side of handwritten literacy and numeracy planning a week) by the way…in all the Ofsted Inspections I’ve been through they have NEVER asked to see planning, so cut it right down and get the teachers doing what they are paid to do …teach. Marking was made Über simple and efficient and assessment was cut right back and “honesty” was put at the forefront instead of teachers trying to cook books to look better for Performance Management.
FUN in Bucket loads!
All we did was have “FUN”, in bucket loads, everyday.
A little context for you, I’ve been a teacher for over 25 years, a senior leader for 15 and a Headteacher for the last 7 years. My last school went from “inadequate” to “Good in all areas” in 15 months (would have been 12 months if Ofsted had got their act together) we went from the bottom 3% of schools in the country to 50th in 2 years and were in the top 15% for progress. I’ve been a secondary school Governor, I’m a foster carer and have worked as a Headteacher in 5 schools in the last 3 years supporting them to get out of category quickly, all of which is happening.
But don’t listen to me…I’m no-one special, listen to Andria Zafirakou, the global teacher of the year 2018, listen to The head of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon, listen to the OECD who all advocate what I happen to be saying. The problem DOES NOT lie with Government (though their incessant tinkering doesn’t help) it lies with the Heads, the SLT, LAs, The Trusts who stop teachers from teaching because they’re afraid, they are so scared of the system that its now created exam factories which fail our children and I for one fear for their future.
e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Current position – Dad, Foster Carer, Free thinking Headteacher, Motorbike Rider.
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