Sue Williamson, Chief Executive SSAT, writes…
I read with great sadness Vic Goddard’s letter to the Secretary of State. Like Vic, I believe that being a headteacher is the best job in the world – or at least I did. Now all we are hearing is about the unbearable pressure being put on school leaders such as Vic.
I and many colleagues at SSAT have visited Passmores Academy and worked with Vic. What a wonderful school and a truly outstanding headteacher. Vic knows every child at Passmores – he also knows their problems. He never gives up on a child. Passmores Academy is a very special place, but it cannot solve every problem on its own.
I visit many schools and headteachers have been telling me about their difficulties in recruiting staff, particularly in English and mathematics. In my pamphlet – What the new professionalism means for England – I highlighted the concerns around initial teacher training.
We all know the impact on results that will come from poor teaching in these two areas.
Headteachers like Vic need our support not unrealistic pressure. Politicians of all parties need to wake up and smell the coffee – there is not a huge talent pool of headteachers lined up waiting to take on challenging schools. We are truly moving into the world of management – football style.
Of course we do not want coasting schools, but the picture being painted is not one I see on my school visits. Judgements are not being made using all the evidence from a school, nor on looking at the individual young person. SSAT believes teachers are heroes – they make lives. Vic and thousands of other school leaders deserve recognition, not condemnation.
You can read Vic’s letter in full below.
Vic Goddard’s letter to Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan, Wednesday 27 May 2015
I sit here contemplating whether writing this is a good idea/a waste of time/a drop in the ocean. I am the Principal of a school where the governors decided to take the option to become an academy and then an academy sponsor. We officially decided to work in partnership (I use these words deliberately rather than ‘take over’ ‘run’ etc) with our two nearest primary schools that had just been deemed to be ‘Special Measures’ (SM) and ‘Requires Improvement’ (RI). One of those two schools was inspected last month and moved to RI with some ‘Good’ at the first time of asking. We all worked hard to achieve that by evolution not revolution (no sacked heads just supporting through extra resources, coaching and teamwork; with the odd challenging question in both directions). We focussed on the needs of the young people, the quality of the staff and tried to support both in a journey of improvement. On the way we lost some staff because of a variety of reasons but not without trying all that we can to help them to grow to meet the demands of being in SM.
Despite knowing all that we have done the result still left me feeling vulnerable that we hadn’t shown enough improvement. I wouldn’t be lying if I said for a brief while I worried about my job, my mortgage and my family. Why should this be how I felt? I work with whoever is in government both locally and nationally to balance their demands whilst remaining focussed on the needs of our young people.
At Passmores Academy this current year 11 group started very significantly below national average. The year 11s two years ago were slightly more able and achieved 48% in the headline figure of 5+ A*-C inc Eng and maths. However despite knowing that Ofsted deemed us to be ‘Good’ with those results I am convinced that if we don’t get over 55% this year that I am vulnerable to losing my livelihood and the job I love. We have worked with staff to improve individual and collective teacher quality. Same as in our primary partners there have been some casualties through competency procedures; which is a dreadful process but nonetheless it is my responsibility to ensure that the staff standing in front of our young people are able to do what is required.
Today I sit in a beautiful setting on my family holiday and read the latest stance on school standards that you have given to the press. I can’t help but wonder whether the true reality of the decisions over the preceeding years (from both Labour and Conservative governments I hasten to add) ever cross your mind?
Why don’t you pop over to Passmores Academy for a latte, we serve a good one. Maybe even Mr Cameron would like to pop in too. I can let you know first hand in a non-blob/enemy of promise way exactly how challenging it is right now.
I work in and for the system that you have helped create. I do so with every ounce of energy I have; as can be witnessed by how much I have slept this week and how many ulcers I have. However I still feel inadequate. I still feel no matter how much we all work, for the dream of every young person being in a good school, you will just redefine what that means to make us feel inadequate again.
This is the time of year when recruiting new staff becomes a real focus. Let me tell you how it has gone. Months of adverts through social media and the TES. A recruiting trip to South Africa and Canada. Developing a school that is a good place to work, where staff are nurtured and valued. Tens of thousands of pounds spent with recruitment agencies over the last few years to carry out an interview over SKYPE and pray that you have appointed a ‘good one’.
I genuinely don’t disagree that we should focus on the basics of a timetable based on strong literacy and numeracy skills within the context of a basis of traditional subjects (as well as making sure that the particular strengths/interests of each individual are met and developed).
Please tell me how I can continue to grow and develop the three schools with less money and it being almost impossible to recruit with any certainty? Three months of advertising for maths teachers and then we rely on those being produced in other countries. This really is the outcome of the decisions around initial teacher education over the last few years.
My job as headteacher is to shield my community from these worries. As Sir Tim Brighouse says one of my key jobs is to create (positive) energy. The stick on grin. The up and at ’em demeanour. The endless positivity towards everyone around me. Believe me I work hard at those things.
All this is despite the fact that my brother, just one of my family of teachers which currently stands at 8, died suddenly, in his early 50s, just before Christmas after returning from work at his ‘failing’ school. Now I can’t say the stress he was under definitively caused his death but I doubt it helped very much.
So Secretary of State, I write this as someone that wants to help. Wants his community to grow. Wants to give his young people the best possible start in life. Doesn’t want his staff to feel under any more pressure than is healthy and will take it on personally rather than let it all filter down to them. I even wrote a book that was meant to celebrate and encourage colleagues to become a headteacher. I’ll happily send you a copy for free if you like; it is called ‘The Best Job in the World’. I stand by every word but I could do with some help from you to convince others it is a good career choice. I am not sure your latest pronouncements are a huge help.
Sorry to ramble on but the offer of a visit and a latte remains.