When I first became a headteacher 15 years ago people thought I was mad to seek out a challenging headship. I remember one particular deputy almost sneering at me about the school I had chosen to lead. At that time there were very few schools serving disadvantaged communities that were any good – many of them were where poor quality teachers washed up and (this is true, I remember it well!) the dominant culture among headteachers who led these schools was one of excuse-making for poor standards and achievement. I suppose that was why other ambitious deputies thought I was mad and felt able to sneer.
For 10 years though it was exhilirating and exciting because that dominant culture was changed by heads like me. We worked very hard turning around schools and communities, transforming the attitudes towards schools like ours and producing the frst generation of employed young people and higher education students that some areas had seen for decades. We were sometimes unpopular with colleagues as we proved it could be done, but we worked in partnership with our government; many of us became Principals of the first academies – the most challenging communities of all. We had our National College of School Leadership assisting us in establishing networks and helping us learn from each other, many of us became NLEs and were able to work across the system: it felt like there was real system leadership emerging.
I remember the challenges as they emerged around school performance very clearly. First we were ensuring that all children were expected to and could gain qualifications and then we were focusing on the quality of those qualifications. We moved to ensuring that there was a clear focus on English and Maths as they are so vital in opening doors to employability and being able to benefit from further study. Then there was the challenge of ensuring there were no abuses in the system of “mickey mouse” useless qualifications, which needed to be done, as there were undoubted abuses which disadvantaged some students. Each new challenge was embraced by those of us passionate about transforming the life chances of the children raised in our most disadvantaged communities. It is ridiculous for anyone to suggest that those of us who have been doing this are wedded to any form of excuse making or under aspirational culture for our schools and communities, but we are now bitterly disappointed and let down.
When we first heard about the move to “Progress 8” in our accountability we were excited. This was something that we could embrace wholeheartedly; it would be fair. For the progress of every child to be valued and for proper consideraion to be given to progress from starting points was not only a fair and just way of measuring our schools’ performance, but would also enable us to move away from the dubious focus on “cliff edges” and the iniquity of schools forced to pile resources into C/D borderline students to the detriment of others. I wrote about this in November 2013, and I called it my six reasons to smile.
Since then we have seen some things happening which should give pause for thought. We know that there are far more schools who have below average prior attainment that receive an OFSTED inadequate judgment and that where student outcomes are higher it is less likely that the OFSTED judgment will be inadequate. This blog from @kristianstill asks the question, and I think it is a key question: are the evaluative mechanisms for assessing the outcomes of schools that have the highest proportion of higher attaining students sufficiently taxing? Or putting it another way as there are notably fewer schools with students who have lower prior attainment receiving outstanding OFSTED judgments – are we measuring school effectiveness fairly and accurately? Many of us have been increasingly concerned that our judgment-based accountability system (OFSTED) has become increasingly reliant on our data-based accountability system – this in itself begs all kind of questions. But …. the move to Progress 8 will address this, won’t it as the data will be fairer?
Yesterday I was concerned to read this from @dataeducator and asked @drmarkarobinson to do some modelling for me. All my reasons for welcoming Progress 8 are swept away. It is clear from our modelling that all my “reasons for smiling” back in November 2013 have proved to be entirely false. In our early analysis we see clearly that a system which could have provided some accuracy and fairness is now being manipulated to benefit schools with a higher proportion of students with high prior attainment. I understand that the official excuse for this is the changing GCSEs. Really? Given what we know about how students with different levels of prior attainment progress differentially this is smoke and mirors. Students with higher prior attaniment tend to be easier to drive further progress from as they tend to come from families and communities doing a large part of the work for the school. It is ridiculous to deny this. You can see from @DrMarkARobinson’s work Prog 8 models 070315 UPDATE that schools adding valuing around the G-F and F-E will receive signficantly less recognition, whereas those adding value in the C-B, B-A and A-A* will receive significantly more.
Now I am angry – “proper angry”, as we say round here. So here are my five reasons for being angry:
I am angry at the unfairness of “clever” children counting more than the others.
I am angry that the judgement-based accountability system is so firmly tied to a data-based accountability system which is working hard to obfuscate, rather than cast a light on performance.
I am angry about my colleagues who simply cannot take the stress and want to quit. I am angry about how the children and the families in our communities will lose great school leaders and struggle to recruit. I didn’t feel brave back in 2000, but someone embarking on the headships I’ve tackled now would certainly be brave.
I am angry at the loss of the system leaders this may well cause. (I doubt people like me will be labelled “outstanding” again!) The implications for the system are huge. I am angry that headteachers running schools filled with students of high prior attainment will be the ones with the supposed wisdom to help failing schools instad of those of us who know how to do it.
But above all I am angry at an arrogant cadre of people who believe they are born to rule, know better than anyone else, listen only to the few who agree with them and who are causing deep damage to our most vulnerable.