What I have learned about church schools

I went to RC schools as a child and, after a period in my 20s and early 30s of being a “lapsed catholic”, I am now a practising catholic.  I was told around the time I was beginning to apply for headships that I couldn’t lead a catholic school as I had had a short marriage in the church and was divorced.  This was despite being happily married to a good man who was supporting me in bringing up our children as catholics.  Church schools (particularly RC ones) struggle to get heads and will of course continue to do so if those who have had failed marriages or who are openly gay are excluded.  I shrugged my shoulders at this, thought “their problem” and went on to 2 successful headships – one of a community school and one of a CoE academy.  As a woman who is a catholic I am well practised in shrugging my shoulders, thinking the institutional church has problems and carrying on living my life and serving as best I can.  I am concerned, however, that church schools, particularly RC schools, may be sowing the seeds of their own destruction as the leadership crisis deepens.

In my experience church schools seem to be either very good or very bad and sometimes those that are very good are highly selective.  (I’ll say something about those that are very bad at the end of paragraph 6) When a parent chooses to send their child to a church school that is a form of selection in itself, exacerbated by those schools which require attendance at church regularly.  Schools which do this cannot, in my opinion, call themselves comprehensive nor inclusive.  I heartily disapprove of schools which argue they are “serving the whole city” by making attendance at a Christian church an admission criteria.  My children attend a good RC school which is inclusive in that it takes every baptised catholic who applies, but with the free travel for faith-based choice having been abolished just about everywhere this school will become less inclusive.  I can afford the travel; many can’t.

If church schools exist I cannot see how they can justify their existence by having any admission criteria based on anything other than choice and proximity.  The Christian message is one of service to all regardless of race or creed.  The parable of the good Samaritan and everything in the life of Christ demonstrates this.  Furthermore church schools (even some fee-paying ones whose existence almost defies belief) were founded originally to serve the poor.

I do not believe that the role of schools is to evangelise.  The role of the school is to educate, nurture, serve and guide the young within an appropriate ethos.  For some of us our choice of appropriate ethos is one of Christian values.  Many people of faiths other than Christianity choose for their children to go to a church school for this reason, and the best church schools value those of all faiths and those of no faith.  At most the school can only reinforce the values of a faith; its job is not to indoctrinate, convert nor drill in catechetics: responsibility for bringing children up in a particular faith lies with the family and their faith community.  Offering young people the opportunity to explore and question matters appertaining to all faiths and give them opportunities to practise their own safely and securely is consistent with a good education.  I worry about schools being founded to serve specifically children from one faith community as it seems to me they will be confused in their purpose.

Our church schools should have an amazing headstart on developing an appropriate ethos for the education of the young.  Firstly the Christian narrative is one of hope and redemption for all: all are to be loved, all challenged to do their best, all are made in the image of God, and no-one is unforgiveable.  This interpreted into the daily life and practices of a school community creates high aspirations for everyone; offers a discipline system which is confident of forgiveness; inculcates the values of service in the next generation; creates respect for others, has an atmosphere of celebration and is inclusive.

Secondly a school founded on Christian values demands that we see the face of Christ in every child.  I taught for 31 years, 13 of them as a head and 2 as an executive head and always in challenging circumstances, and I can tell you some children are hard to love!  If you are reading this I expect you are an educator and you will therefore know this.  People are flawed and annoying and the most damaged of them are the most difficult.  As my senior VP used to remind staff “the students who need the most love will often ask for it in the most unloving ways”.  When there is a belief running through a school like the lettering in a stick of rock that we are all made in the image of God and that he loves all and forgives all, it is far easier for us to make the choice to love those who make it difficult for us to do so.  Of course this can sometimes go very wrong and the very worst church schools interpret this in a “cuddle and muddle” way, forgetting that we need to be judgemental about behaviour and have aspiration and challenge.  For example I knew a school where the head responded to a member of staff who had been sworn at by a child by saying “Ask yourself if he had had breakfast this morning?”  Mmmm………… perhaps making sure the children have a breakfast and dealing with their behaviour in a discipline system confident of forgiveness and redemption might have been a better response.

There are certain values shared by people of faith which lead to long-term happiness and challenge popular culture which is too often focused on pleasure  rather than happiness: for example humility, selflessness, conscientiousness and compassion.  Adults who exhibit these values are far happier than those who seek instant pleasure, are greedy and self-serving, seeking maximum personal reward for minimum effort, and make zero contribution to the betterment of society.  Values cannot be taught but they can be caught through the ethos of the school.

Some of my readers will say “but you don’t need to be a church school to have an ethos like this”.  I agree – you don’t.  Indeed I know many schools who have an amazing ethos which are not church schools: what I am saying is that church schools should have an amazing headstart in this regard and it saddens me when it is not capitalised upon.  If we are to have church schools which capitalise on this headstart and if the churches are to truly serve the education system then they need to be totally inclusive in admissions, be clear about their purpose and have a sensible response to the leadership crisis.

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What I’m learning about reclaiming management

When I first started teaching in the 1980s we talked about management a lot. I think the earliest course I was allowed out of school on was “Women into management”, schools had senior management teams and we referred constantly to “the management” when talking about the head, deputies and senior teachers.  There was a gradual evolution during the 1990s into talking more about leadership.  Senior teams were renamed as senior leadership teams and we discussed endlessly the difference between management and leadership.

I don’t think this was necessarily intended by anyone, but a clear feeling emerged that it was leadership that was important; managers just got things done, but strategy was all about leadership.  This permeated the entire system: many of us began talking about our heads of department as middle leaders.  CPD very often focussed almost exclusively on skills that were defined as leadership skills in order to prepare heads of department for senior leader roles.  We talked about the old models of ensuring people did things as opposed to the new models of winning hearts and minds to vision, of developing others and scanning horizons for adaptation to environmental factors.

When I got my first headship I began by insisting that senior mangers in charge of administration, finance and facilities attended senior leadership meetings.  I wanted the senior mangers to have the status they deserved and for everyone to understand each others roles more fully.  It didn’t work as the managers got totally fed up with listening to curriculum discussions.

When I built an academy structure I established two teams – a senior management team of the administration, finance, ICT and facilities, and a senior leadership team.  This worked reasonably as long as there were regular joint meetings with tight agendas, and as long as I maintained a very close relationship with each senior manager.  I have to be honest and admit that these two prerequisites for effective working were not always adhered to and communication between leadership and management relied too often on an exceptional relationship between me and the Finance Director which doesn’t build sustainability into the system.

Hindsight and time for reflection and reading have led me to believe that we have all too often built problems into the system by seeing leadership and management as separate strands when in fact they are impossible to separate.  I think we need to reclaim management as completely integral to leadership.  We simply cannot operate effectively with colleagues at all levels charging about being leaders without developing high level management skills.  I’ll go further: very often when things go wrong in a school it is because people at a very high level have not demonstrated any managerial competence, despite clear vision and communication.  Everyone knows what needs to be done, everyone is on board, but the translation into operational strategy has lacked effective management.

When I was doing my MBA I was taught there were five pillars of strategy:

Corporate strategy.  This is all to do with building the vision of the organisation, building alliances, determining the market and scope of the organisation and exploiting synergies and skills.

Resource and capability strategy.  This is about acquiring and leveraging resources and strengthening capabilities within the organisation.

Functional strategy.  This is about dividing the organisation into units on the basis of the skills and resources required to deliver.

Business unit strategy.  This is where a manager is held accountable for the operation of the unit and controls the resources which allow it to perform with clearly identified targets for performance.

Operational strategy.  This is about day-to-day operational tactics.

I recently led a seminar with middle leaders and discussed this with them.  I wanted to hear their views about which pillars of strategy required excellent managerial skills and which required excellent leadership skills.  I wanted to see how they saw the five pillars of strategy operating in their organisation.  I think this is a worthwhile task for us all to do with staff at all levels before we plan our next three year CPD programmes.

My current thinking is that it is in the business unit that we develop the excellence around managerial skills which are needed in all the other pillars.  My concern is that all too often we are in a big rush to develop colleagues’ thinking and skills around the corporate strategy.  How often do we hear about a colleague “he can talk the talk, but ….”? How often do fantastic strategic plans fail at the operational level? 

I went back to look at “Great by Choice” by Collins and Hasen (2011).  They identify three core behaviours of the leaders of exceptional organisations.  They make me smile every time I read them: FANATIC DISCIPLINE (consistency and utterly relentless, monomaniacal focus on goals), EMPIRICAL CREATIVITY (practical experimentation and direct engagement with evidence, creative moves from a sound empirical basis), PRODUCTIVE PARANOIA (being hyper-vigilant, attuned to environmental threats and developing contingency plans)

It is absolutely clear that these behaviours rely on strong managerial competence as much as they do on inspiration, vision and communication.  More importantly for these organisations to be exceptional the leaders need to have ensured that throughout the organisation there are individuals who demonstrate excellent management and leadership skills simultaneously.

I said about an organisation I led when it opened: All are teachers, all are leaders.  If I was doing it over I’d say: All are teachers, all are leaders and all are managers.  I think if we reclaim management, remarry it with leadership in all that we say and do, and teach it in CPD we will begin to see improvement in how the great strategic ideas in our schools translate into operational practice.

 

 

 

 

 

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What I have learned about the Labour Party

I don’t think it is a secret that I am a Labour Party member. You have a simple choice as a public sector leader: you can worry that you risk your employer and your community discriminating against you as a result of your political affiliation, or you can decide that those risks are outweighed by other factors.  So my political affiliations have never been hidden from anyone.  I don’t think the DfE have penalised my organisation as a result of my political affiliations and I don’t believe they ever would.

I’ve been a Labour Party member since 1977 aged 15.  That’s a long time.  At one time in the mid 1990s I contemplated looking to stand in a marginal constituency, but then I got a Deputy Headship and began to have a lot less time for political work.  By the time we won the 1997 election I was expecting my first baby and knew what I wanted was to be a Headteacher, not a politician.  I have actively worked (ranging from practically full-time to merely one leaflet round in 2015) on 9 general election campaigns and, although I haven’t been an active member since 2005, I have sat through 100s of Party meetings.  I have been a delegate at Labour Party conference twice: 1993 (John Smith’s OMOV debate) and 2008, and I chaired a constituency for two years in the run-up to the 1997 election.

I love the Labour Party and feel part of the tribe but it infuriates me. The truth is the Labour Party finds it impossible to celebrate its past, enjoy the emotional pull of its achievements while simultaneously living with modern realities.  In some ways the Labour Party reminds me of something I said when I was 12 years-old “I wish women still didn’t have the vote so I could go and be a suffragette.”  That is a funny thing for a 12-year-old discovering politics to say, but it is not acceptable for a modern political party to want to base manifestos and campaigns on issues which are no longer the battleground just because they feel secure on that territory.

The NHS is one of our proudest achievements and we know that everyone supports the NHS. Is there anyone in the country who believes the Tories want to “get rid of our NHS”?  I can answer that question for the Labour Party – there isn’t.  There is no hatred for “socialised medicine” within the Tory Party.  Now I am no expert on the NHS at all, but I do know it is a huge organisation to manage (some might say impossible) and that its structures are complex and one really wouldn’t start from here if designing it now.  What the public are interested in is simple: they want the NHS to be publicly funded, free at the point of delivery and to be seen and treated in a timely, safe and efficient manner with the latest research and developments available to practitioners.  What the public do not care about is how all that is achieved and they don’t understand the debate about how the NHS works.  “Do you want your local hospital services to be provided by private companies?”  The answer to this from everyone (except ideologues living in the past) is “If it can be done free at the point of delivery and I will seen and treated in a timely, safe and efficient manner with the latest research and developments available to my doctors, I don’t care how you provide it.”

I do understand education, I’d go so far as to say I am a bit of an expert!   In the Labour Party currently there are still people (loads of them actually) who still want to have arguments about who should run schools.  Providing free education for everyone and using local authorities as the mechanism for delivery was a great thing in the last century but just can’t be relied on to provide every child with a good school in the 21st century.  What is important is the quality of education provided not whether a school is an academy or an LA school.  While the Labour Party waste time not upsetting members hung up on protecting delivery methods of the last century, they have missed the important arguments about curriculum, accountability and standards.  There are three serious problems at the moment: funding; teacher recruitment, and the credibility of accountability systems. Great heads who know about this stuff (some of whom are party members) are not properly used as a resource.  Internal arguments of the last century are allowed to rage, advice is taken from the unions, promises that cannot be kept (qualified teacher in every classroom) are made and the way is left open for the Tories to cause serious damage to some of the most vulnerable children and some of the best schools.  Whenever I have challenged about this I get told that we cannot engage in curriculum, standards and accountability debates without being criticised for being on an anti-standards agenda.  This shows that party leadership doesn’t actually even understand the issues.  Well, why would they – if they are still talking about things that have either ceased to matter or which are on the agenda of the unions only, how can they be engaging in the conversations with those that matter?  And these matters are complex – grown-up conversations for grown-up people.  The field is left open for the Tories whose understanding is limited to seizing on what appear to be easy answers and solutions and replicating what they see as a traditional education which takes children out of poverty.  I am ashamed of the Labour Party allowing the Tories to look as if they are the aspirational ones for working class children; I am ashamed of the Labour Party for not engaging in proper debate of complex issues out of fear at being anti-standards, when they have at their fingertips some of the most successful heads at raising standards, and I am ashamed of the Labour Party for the lack of integrity and bravery.

It comes down to this really: if the Labour Party wants to take on capitalism, fight on a left-wing platform, and fight on yesterday’s agenda then it will never have power.  If the Labour Party wants to make sure that the poor and vulnerable get a good deal, that people have employment rights and that all have respect and dignity, then it needs to be proud of its past, but move on and be prepared work with the rich and powerful.  The Labour Party has to grow up and realise that the leader who managed to massively improve the public services and introduce a minimum wage was the one who also won three elections in a row.  If that took being friendly with people whose views we despise what is the problem?  I am nice and polite to people whose views I despise in order to get the best deal for my students – it’s called behaving responsibly; it’s called understanding how to get power and how to exercise it so that you can a) do good and b) maintain power.

Most of all I am ashamed of me and people like me in the Labour Party.  The private DMs and conversations we have been having about how dreadful the leadership is – we knew as soon as Ed was elected leader it was a monumental disaster (which followed the monumental disaster of the coronation of Gordon Brown).  I have been saying privately that Cameron would win an overall majority for years – I only changed my mind in the last few days as a result of the polls (irony!).  We should have fought for our party.  I’m not sure why we didn’t – too busy doing our everyday jobs perhaps?  Frightened we’d get blamed when the inevitable happened?  Well both of those are probably true.

The Labour Party is in deep trouble. I know this because I haven’t yet been in a room with Labour Party members who are prepared to collectively agree that we need to learn the lessons of the Blair victories, that we need to be serious about power, that we need to ditch the old sacred cows (the arguments we won and those we lost), and that we need to be prepared to find 21st century solutions and work with those who know about stuff and who can exercise money, power and knowledge to our benefit.  I have those conversations in secret with individual members I respect – but they aren’t the conversations any of us are having yet in larger groups.  When colleagues looked at me yesterday and said “Who?” I felt the closest to despair I have felt for a long time.  And I will say this now, publicly – unless any leadership candidate is prepared to fight on a platform like this I will not support them and I will not keep quiet again either.

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What I am learning about their determination to perpetuate unfairness in accountability systems

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.

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What I have learned about addressing inequality in schooling and life chances

There is a link between poverty and educational underachievement and this is a causal link.  The fact that some children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds have remarkable achievements should not disguise this. This is so well researched and so well documented that it is completely beyond dispute.

The traditional response from the left to this is to attempt to create a level playing field and each decade has seen new initiatives for education which aim to spend more money on the education of the most disadvantaged. Statistics show us, however, that very little has changed and this is largely because the children who are brought up in families who value education have home and school working together and those who are brought up in families where schooling is not valued have home and school working in opposition. Traditionally the professionals who have educated the poor have either chosen to do so from a sense of social justice and service, a commitment to make a difference, or because they have not been terribly good educators or not terribly well qualified themselves and have “ended up in the worst schools”. Hence a culture often emerged in schools serving disadvantaged communities of “cuddle and muddle”, typified by the phrase “we are very good pastorally”, and very often by “our kind of children”. The resistance to the standards agenda comes very strongly from this culture.

Thankfully over the last 20 years or so this traditional response from the left has changed and we have seen the standards agenda embraced by the Labour Party and by the profession. We saw the new response in the early academies agenda: spend more money on the education of the most disadvantaged, set committed professionals free from interference and set challenging targets. It was a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and frankly an exciting time. Leading one of those early academies was a great privilege. However, I quickly came to realise that far from regenerating the area I was working in I was doing no more than providing an escape tunnel out of it. The academy I lead demonstrably narrows the gap: from no children going to university to over 90% of sixth formers doing so and from 9% achieving a pass in both English and Maths at GCSE to 55%, but poverty in the area is worsening. And of course not all the early academies were successful and the response to this has been less freedom, less money, more restriction.

Turning to the traditional response from the right to the underachievement of the poor we can see that until recently it was nowhere near their agenda. Apart from a strong attachment to grammar schools as a way of providing a ladder out of poverty for a few they had no response.

It was initially heartening to see the right taking a interest in the quality of schooling for poor children but, oh dear, what a mess. Challenging a culture of an under aspiration amongst teachers – a good thing, but the blame culture, the punitive approach, the failure to listen to committed experts in the field together with the savage cuts is a disaster. We are left with a serious crisis in teacher supply at a time when we have never had a more skilled and committed bunch of teachers, and with a system which actively penalises the best teachers and school leaders for working in the most challenging schools. Leading my academy precludes the possibility of being an outstanding leader, and all the expertise in the system at what works in raising standards is discounted with punitive targets driving inappropriate curriculum. The joy has been gradually sucked out of the system. (If we succumb to it, of course, and many of us don’t)

Nothing typifies the current muddled thinking more than pupil premium. I lead an academy with 67% pupil premium. This is pretty staggering for a secondary school; however I have less budget, not more. Pupil premium is not new money. It also comes with punitive targets around closing the gap. For us pupil premium means desperately trying to continue addressing disadvantage with less money than we used to have, while justifying how we spend pupil premium. It is a nonsense, but here is the bigger nonsense: we know there is a causal relationship between poverty and underachievement and the poor are getting poorer. Think of it like this – setting targets around healing a wound, giving the ‘wound-healer’ less money but making them justify that a portion of it is spent specifically on healing the wound, while giving the patient less food and increasing the bacteria in their whole environment. The national figures show pupil premium is apparently not closing the gap. Are we surprised?

So here’s a radical idea – if we are serious about creating the opportunities for equality (which is a much more sensible approach the talking about equal opportunities) how about addressing seriously the causes of disadvantage. Worklessness needs to be tackled and so does benefit culture and the under aspiration that results from it, but in so doing we have to take the children out of the culture of poverty – all I see happening at the moment is the situation being worsened. New thinking is required or once again we will only be tinkering at the edges and the cycle of disadvantage will continue.

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What I have learned about love

Love is one of the four core values of LEAF Academy Trust.  It is the “L”.  When you establish a multi-academy trust it is surprisingly hard deciding what to call it and part of the process for us was discussing what we thought our academies were about.  People have often heard me say that the David Young Community Academy runs on love.  The rest of the acronym comes from Enterprise, Aspiration and Faith.

When you work in challenging circumstances there are some classic errors that are often made.  One of them is to develop the “excuse culture” and thankfully I see far less of that these days.  It is typified for me by the phrase “our type of kid”, and a key characteristic is the leader who wants to tell you why this school is so different to all the other schools in the town, bemoan the prevailing circumstances and make excuses for the poor performance of the staff and students.  A close relation of this is the “cuddle and muddle” – I still see too much of that and it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what love should mean.  This is the love that is afraid to face the truth and challenge; a soft “there, there – we’ll look after you”, unchallenging care (which in my experience works term time only 0830-1600).  What we see more of these days is the tough, uncompromising promotion of excellence regardless of circumstances, but I worry this can knock moral purpose off course if we don’t love.

This post is going to be an attempt to explain that.

Love is a choice.  It has taken me a long time to learn this.  Too often we think love, whether it be philia, eros or agape, just happens – in the case of eros with accompanying starbursts!  Love is more complex than that.  We are all hard to love at certain times and some of us are hard to love pretty much all of the time.  When we were interviewing for Head Boy a couple of years ago we asked the question of candidates “What about the students who don’t make the right choices and who haven’t had the best examples at home?” – one of the candidates smiled and said “They need more love than the others”.  Our Principal at DYCA, Lynne Frost, is very fond of reminding staff that the students who require the most love are the ones who will ask for it in the most unloving of ways.  What I know is that when I was a teacher I had to choose to love every child, because if I didn’t love them they didn’t learn.  “You need to learn to love the ones you’ve got!” is the no- nonsense advice dished out frequently.

Love is uncompromising and unrelenting.  Accepting poor behaviour and poor work is not loving; it is condemning to failure.  I have learned over the years to be very wary of leaders who tell me first “we are very good pastorally” – my antennae smell “cuddle and muddle” straightaway!  Schools that are very good pastorally generally don’t talk about that much; they talk about their students’ achievements.

Love challenges and tells the truth.  I have yet to meet a member of staff or a student who doesn’t appreciate honest feedback about their performance – as long as it is done in love.  Sometimes we have to give hard messages, but these need not be condemning of the person – they are about the behaviour or the performance.  Critically when we are choosing to love the person, regardless, we are also making sure that hard messages are given with the offer of help in changing, improving or finding alternative avenues.

Love requires silence sometimes.  I sometimes worry that when I am silent people know that is because I am digging deep to be able to love.  (Sometimes it is!)  I am learning though that being silent is sometimes the best way of practising love.  Some truths don’t need telling and some things can remain unchallenged – wisdom helps us discern when to practice the love that is silent.

Love is unafraid and resilient.  These are some of the most powerful characteristics of love and why love needs to be the choice of all who serve in challenging contexts.  When a damaged person (adult or child) is effing and jeffing and kicking off all over the place I like them moved to a safe place and to be told “We’ll deal with you when you are calm – this behaviour is not acceptable”;  when they express great hatred I like them told “That’s OK, but we love you and we will stay here loving you whatever you say, so you may as well calm down.”  Love baffles people and overwhelms “why do you care? why don’t you just give up? what’s it to do with you anyway?”  In truth it can be our greatest weapon; it is certainly far, far more powerful at changing people and situations than anger and revenge.

Love will be misinterpreted.  I have learned over the years that when I am doing some of the hardest things and digging the deepest, I will inevitably be accused of all kinds of things from lack of commitment to over ambition.  Love is also about not letting that matter.

Love is hard which is why it is a choice.

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What I am learning about sexism

Sexism is draining. It’s the cumulative effect that matters. Until recently I would probably have said that I hadn’t really suffered from sexism – after all I’ve not done too badly, I thought – but I am now coming to realise that this is really about my resilience, not my experience. Maybe it has taken the prism of 50 years to help me see the patterns and realise just how bloody boring and draining the everyday experience of sexism is for the professional woman.

I was a clever child and the eldest of five siblings. Without any shadow of doubt the experiences of my early life helped me develop organisational, managerial and leadership skills; however what I was known for throughout the extended family was being “bossy”. 40 years further on this causes me a pain that I didn’t have then. As a child I thought it unfair that I was given responsibility and then criticised for rising to it, but I had no words to describe this. I saw a tweet early this year about the fact that only girls are ever called “bossy”.

My first early experience of promotion to Head of Department drew an anger from colleagues that came from nowhere.  It was worded such as “not been here long enough” and “one of the youngest staff” and it was pretty vitriolic. With hindsight I think this was about being young and female – wish I’d realised that at the time as it would have made it easier.

Being young and female for a professional is the “double whammy”.  I remember back in the 1990s that young men rising in the teaching profession were generally referred to as “Young Turks” and were seen as ambitious and “thrusting”, and a generally good, transformational thing for the system; the adjectives applied to us most frequently were “strident” and “pushy” (presumably the adult version of “bossy”). We were criticised for being emotional at the first sign of any emotion; and yet if unemotional we were “cold”. It is a hard trick to pull off trying to be warm but unemotional and, for me, impossible. I am driven and I am emotional – why are women not allowed to be both, when this would be high praise for a man?

I am ashamed to say I have laughed with colleagues about the fact it took me 12 interviews to get my first headship: actually that isn’t really funny. Oh there were some that were wrong for me and there were others where I performed badly, but I have one clear memory of being told on the debrief that it wasn’t clear why the governors hadn’t gone for me. It was clear to me – I was 8 months pregnant. On that occasion I knew the job was mine – I had been fantastic throughout the process – and I asked the panel if they wanted to ask me about my circumstances as I would be ready to take up post with my husband as our family carer. The panel didn’t want to go there due to equal opportunities! I am convinced that I finally got my first headship because the school was in such a mess no-one else wanted it; however, it was the best opportunity I could ever have had and made my name, so obviously “all is well that ends well”, isn’t it?

I have seen the gender balance in headship change this century. I was one of only 4 female secondary heads in the LA back in 2000; now at secondary heads meetings it looks like 50:50 split. It never feels to me like we experience discrimination within the profession except I am often the only woman in some forums I work in, and I don’t know why; I sometimes have my opinions ignored, only to hear them lauded as another colleague’s later – but that’s OK because it is the ideas that are important, isn’t it? Female heads talk about the “boys’ club” referring to a certain type of male head – sometimes in an affectionate way, but more usually in a resigned acceptance way. An excellent female colleague said to me recently “I’m trying not to see it as a boys’ club, Ros as that will undermine me.” And that is precisely how we cope – we choose not to see it, because if we see it for what it is and name it for what it is, then we undermine ourselves.

The worst sexism often comes from those who espouse otherwise. I’m not going to say too much about this for another 10 years, but I am beginning to realise that the language people use about successful women is completely different to that they use about men. I have allowed people who should know better get away with using words to describe me which they would never use about a man. I have been pretty rubbish at spotting sexism at the time I experience it and generally require hindsight so I’ve decided to train myself. The cumulative effect is just too draining so I think I’d rather deal with things as they arise now.

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