Regular readers of my blog will have noticed that I have become less prolific over the past year or so, as a consequence by implication that I have had less on my mind and less to say. Whilst my work on internal communications within school has remained pretty vibrant, I have had to be much more focused on a range of targeted audiences, and so I am taking this half-term post to draw some threads together and give some publicity to that range of work.
Ticking to the same Tock – Awakening school life after Covid – Entrainment
I am deeply indebted to the range of psychologists and researchers who have made it abundantly clear that organisations simply can’t just emerge from catastrophe and carry on as if nothing had happened. Operational fatigue, relationship stress and conflicting pressures have meant that as schools have come back to life and recovered that wide range of learning activities in addition to classroom work, we’ve had to check those operations that used to run like clockwork, and make sure that that the various working parts are still aligned and engaged. Both at the end of last term and the start of this, our professional work as colleagues has involved coming together, many meeting colleagues for the very first time after 2 years of forced separation because of requirements for isolation and disease control. The term “entrainment” was coined by noted physicist, Christian Huygens, in 1666 when he noticed that a pair of pendulum clocks, left to their own devices, would eventually synchronize to each other. I have an image conjured up from my university days of entering a Swizz cuckoo clock shop, and noticing that all the time machines would be ticking to the same tock, in synchonous harmony with each other. The clocks as a consequence would be accurate tellers of time, yet once removed from the same building, each clock would steadily drift out of synchrony, and need correction in ways they never would have done if they had not been sold to a customer!
Most living things are entrained, to the earth turning on its axis, to the rise and fall of the sun & moon, and to each other living organism around. The schooling of fish, swarming of bees and murmuration of starlings are all examples ‘flocking’ caused by their biology being in very close concert with each other. Breaking the symphony so to speak, as #lockdown has done, has affected us all, and certainly disrupted many of the feedback loops that kept us unconsciously sane and connected to the wider societal activities giving purpose to our employment and lives. For communities, be they families or workplaces, we have all noticed the drop in some individuals’ well-being and mental health, made much more obvious as we have come back to life and noticed that some are off the pace or disengaged. In so many ways, as a school leader, I’ve had to spend so much more time with my colleagues, consciously ‘clicking’ so the tick of the tock could be heard and entrained. Meetings have had to be more frequent, checking the pulse and giving the praise, both ways of ‘oiling & spinning the wheels’ so to speak. It’s only now, having seen the exam hall with A level and GCSE candidates in full flow, watching the boys in years 5 and 6 perform together on the stage, seeing the CCF in the fields training Year 7 and of course seeing our many and diverse sports activities participating in national competition that I begin to see we are operationally back in full flow. It’s taken its time, and we’ve reflected on keeping those #covidbenfits of ‘slowing down the rat race’, using technology ‘to save time and effort’ and ‘being kind to others’ and making them even more overt.
Equality, Diversity, Gender and Challenge
I remember one of the greatest lessons from my own childhood was that ‘Life is not fair, get used to it’. I won’t be the only child that resented being sent to bed at a time I considered too early, or unable to play with the bow and arrow recently acquired, or even more obviously when a coveted toy would not be bought from the shop. When the boot moved to the other foot, when I became a father, I found myself mouthing the same words of my own parents on the lack of equity between adults and children. Fundamentally though, as I have worked as both a professional and private person, I have always aimed to my best for others, to ensure fairness was visible and people were treated well and fairly.
In 2022, it is so very clear we don’t have the equitable society we need, that in some way, we’ve managed to stretch the links between supply and demand so greatly that event the calls to our emergency services no longer summon the immediate response of those front line workers we’d expect. When a call for an ambulance can’t be met at all, when most crimes are not brought to justice and when social care can’t actually help, we know immediately those services simply don’t have the staffing and experience they need to carry out their front line duties. For education providers this massively increases our work load, and for my school that means we are now indeed doing much more, providing not just education, but health & social care advice and support in full measure. That in turn impacts upon training, upskilling, time for professional development and quality assurance measures we’ve needed to grow at pace. Currently we have 6 Early Career Teachers in post, completing their first year post qualification induction as part of the new national framework to provide for their support and development. We attract new talent from all walks of life to train to be teachers, because if we don’t we be part of the cause of the shortage problem of suitable professionals by stripping workers from other schools that can scarcely afford to lose them.
We’ve just received the quality assurance report from ISTIP following their visit to meet with our 6 new colleagues, and the report concludes with this peaen of praise:“The professional, patient, unstinting support of the SM/ITs is a great strength of induction at Claires Court and their confidence in their role, despite the fact that most of them are inexperienced, is a great tribute to the proactivity and efficiency of the Induction Lead. The quality of the relationships within the induction team and the genuine commitment to ensuring a positive experience for the ECTs are of inestimable value in fostering professional progress. The Headmaster’s personal knowledge of the ECTs and awareness of the process was demonstrable and again reflects the seriousness with which the school takes ECT induction.” (The Induction Lead mentioned is Caroline Butterfield, and I the Headmaster, not a title I often use.)
Matters of diversity, gender and challenge are with us every day, facing the multiple parodoxes our society throws at us. I wait with some trepidation the guidance DfE are working on for schools on the management of gender fluidity in schools; for those under the age of 18 their rights to express their gender are not supported in our legal framework, though it is quite clear that we have to give very good sight of such developments. DfE are also conducting a full review of the Special Education Needs framework, so clearly utterly broken in terms of funding needs for the state sector. The trouble is, DfE is so wedded to the public examination framework that it will always ignore those in schools or wider parties in receipt of our ‘products’ that know the assessment framework is utterly out of date and irrelevant to our modern needs. Let’s face it, after 2 years without exams, schools are very aware we can both assess accurately and develop learners for their next stage of learning, and the last thing Universities and Employers want us to do is to turnout young adult who know stuff but can’t join it up to be competent human beings.
This is not a call to scrap A levels or other assessments at 18+, as across the globe including all the most successful education pathway providers, University course providers claim they need to be able to select the best from the rest, and clearly, those seeking to embark upon a Named subject degree need to have the effective baseline of skills and knowledge to pursue that channel of study. It turns out you only need 2 years for such refining activities (the Sixth Form years in England), so it’s the GCSE examination requirements that attract all the opprobrium, and not just from me. Every GCSE subject has its own exam requirements, lengths, assessment objectives etc. and that’s before as an Exams Centre lead, I have to provide for those who need additional time, keyboard, scribe, speaking out loud, rest breaks and such like. The sheer cost of enterprise to provide an independent assessment process for 16 year old is astonishing in terms of employment and resources (a total of 10 weeks in a 35 week academic year), locking up sports halls and building from their many other purposes. You can read here the summary in this from the Times Education Summit earlier this month – link – but even Sir Michael Wilshaw, once Head of Ofsted and scourge of failings schools has this to say “Children should be assessed at 14 or 15 not only on core subjects but also on their ability to be courteous, punctual, work in a team and show leadership qualities. This would focus attention on the first few years of secondary school and address the slide in standards after primary that is seen in many areas, he said.“.
How Integrity above all was forged
When I chose to move the school from a faith-based values system to one that those of all faiths and none could adhere to, it struck me then as it does now that of all the values we should hold dear, Integrity was the most important of all. Without doubt my own value system was developed under the careful stewardship of my teachers whilst at school, and I consider myself fortunate that amongst the best I count my father and mother. Dad taught me History and Latin, in those days the former covered a romp through the entire history of the British peoples, from Ethelred to George VI, the latter not just Wilding’s books 1, 2 and 3 (no relation) but also the ancient history of the Greeks and the Romans. Mum taught me English, largely creative writing it must be said, and we covered a range of great books, from Shakespeare’s comedies & tragedies, Dickens (all the biggies) through to the then modern classics, including Animal Farm and 1984, both dystopian novels by George Orwell.
Through my history and Latin studies, I formed some pretty strong impressions, of the civilising power of the ancient civilisations, the power of their controlling philosophies and the quality of their leaderships. I revelled as much in Emperor Nero’s fiddling whilst Rome burned as much as any of the successes of the Caesars. I was as intrigued that we only knew what Socrates said because Plato wrote it down (Socrates despised writing, blaming it for the failure of memory) as I was by the many evidently wise sayings of theirs we had to commit to memory. From Socrates “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is a habit”. From Plato “If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.”
History managed to cover it all. From William the Conqueror through almost all reigns through to Edward VIII’s abdication, the struggle between monarch and the people was always to the fore, with a clear understanding that the king or queen could and would be held to account eventually. Doomsday book, Simon de Montfort, the scheming Wolsey and Cecil behind Henry and Elizabeth Tudor’s power, Oliver Cromwell’s dour legacy of Protectorate & Commonwealth, the heroics of Marlborough and Wellington in conquering the French across the ages, Victoria’s star rise with Disraeli and Gladstone as her prime ministers through to the decline of the British Empire and the optimistic emergence of the new Commonwealth after 2 catastrophic World Wars.
Whilst Shakespeare and Dickens romped through every emotion, frankly it was the bleakness of both Orwell’s novels that struck home to the emerging adolescent shortly to leave prep school for boarding public school at Douai, and prepare me pretty well for an educational experience that was both exciting in the freedoms offered and emotionally draining because of the callous stewardship of the times of the boarding provision. As with Winston Smith, star of 1984, I saw myself slowly slip into the thought control of my peer group, and having to confront my greatest fears (not being eaten alive by rats it must be said) of personal failure. However, it was in Animal Farm I found the greatest parallels to the real world I occupied, always imagining there was a Snowball or Boxer somewhere nearby to trust and rely on, to be deeply suspicious of self-appointed Napoleons, associated Squealers and of course their nearby attack dogs. I hadn’t really understood propaganda until I learned of its power in controlling the animals under the pigs’ leadership, and to this day I check headlines on chalkboards with great care, remembering how “4 Legs Good, 2 Legs Bad” morphed to “4 Legs Good, 2 Legs Better”, and the stark realisation of the animals outside when they saw the pigs inside the farmhouse cavorting on hind legs, drinking with the very humans whom they had deposed.
The Present Day – Animal Farm once more
I won’t be the only commentator that finds the conduct of our current Prime Minister ‘beyond the pale’. Andrew Marr is one of many journalists that have felt they have had to leave the BBC in order to surface their own opinions rather than remain neutral: “For politics is also an animal business and Johnson is a big and bloody-minded beast, a kind of hairy, obstinate, and endlessly energetic mastodon. It seems there is simply nobody else in the party big enough to push him over – no prowling Michael Heseltine figure, as he was the last days of Margaret Thatcher. Yet it is also true that much of the party has fallen out of love with the mastodon. And so, on the great tussle goes, day after day, week after week.” When the Sue Gray report was published last week, Marr blew his top “There has never been anything remotely like this.” Marr attacked what he saw as “egregious, stinking behaviour at the heart of government”, which leaves the Prime Minister with serious questions to answer. He went on to say that the most damning conclusion from the report is the line that these events, in the view of Sue Gray “were not in line with covid guidance at the time. We have it in black and white from Sue Gray herself. Rules were broken again, again and again.”
So Boris is currently under investigation by the privileges committee over whether he knowingly misled parliament when he repeatedly told MPs there were no parties in Downing Street during lockdown – which the police and the Sue Gray inquiry have proved otherwise.How on earth is he going to wriggle out of this, I hear you ask? None of us could have possible guessed that he would authorise the rewriting the said Minesterial code, now making it clear that “Ministers who are found to have breached the ministerial code will no longer have to resign or face the sack.” Revisions to the ministerial code, which sets out standards of conduct for government ministers, were published last Friday, changes arising from a review arising from the loss of previous ministers for mistakes they have made whilst serving in his administration, and look set to permit ministers merely to apologise for their conduct and ‘not do it again’.
When Johnston first stepped into the murky depths of rewriting the Ministerial code rules, he wrote this in the foreward: “We must uphold the very highest standards of propriety — and this code sets out how we must do so. There must be no bullying and no harassment; no leaking; no breach of collective responsibility. No misuse of taxpayer money and no actual or perceived conflicts of interest,” it said, and a breach of the code was meant to be followed by resignation or dismissal from post.
But in his most recent foreword, Johnson merely notes that “thirty years after it was first published, the Ministerial Code continues to fulfil its purpose, guiding my Ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs” and removes any reference to propriety at all. And what punishment may now take the place of resignation? Options such as public apologies and loss of ministerial salary are now stated in addition in the code. Could it get worse? of course.
Johnson’s reference to “my Ministers” is placing himself in place of the person previously reserved to use the phrase, ‘My Ministers’ notably the Queen. Whilst the minor changes to the Code relate to new terms of reference for Johnson’s independent advisor on ministers’ standards, Lord Geidt, it turns out Johnston is not to give Geidt the power to carry out such investigations. No, difficult to believe but it’s true, Johnson has given himself the power to mandate investigations or not as he thinks fit – in short, a request by others for an investigation can be denied if the prime minister sees fit.
As I write, Conservative Members of Parliament are having to consider their positions very carefully. In the light of the never ending set of scandals that emerge from Johnston’s coterie, I do hope they do the right thing and ‘bring him down’. Headteachers are always expected to be loyal servants of the Crown, leading their pupils down a pathway to honest and diligent citizenship, and at the time of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, I can say I’ve done my best, what with a ‘Green Canopy’ and Tiny Forest to boot to commemorate her service. But in all honesty, I cannot serve this Prime Minister or the country by remaining silent on the matter “Egregious stinking behaviour at the heart of government’ sums it up!
Wow … fantastic write up … thank you James for sharing 🙏👍
A fantastic tour around a host of different topics and challenging and thought-provoking as always, James. Thank you for your thoughts.