Being graded ‘requires improvement’ has made The Primary Head invunerable to governmental gubbins. And he likes it...
As I struggle to condense my school development plan onto 25 pages of A4, I begin to fantasise about a better future for education – a future where schools are merely expected to keep children safe and happy so they can learn and achieve and gain a curiosity about the world in which they live. This is my utopian vision for the future and in my own school, over the last two years, I have almost achieved it. But this is all set to change. You see, for the last 24 months, we have been working from a Requires Improvement Ofsted report, but at the next inspection we will be graded as ‘good’ and that is where it will all start going wrong. I truly believe that being RI is the best thing for a school and if I had my way, we’d all be category three schools.
Yes, I said it: you should all consider yourselves requiring improvement all of the time. Why do I say this? Not because I’m jealous, miserable, negative, or a (total) idiot. And not because I have a Govian mindset that we’re all rubbish until we’ve proved otherwise. No, I think this because sometimes being RI is great. It’s liberating. It focuses the mind and forces you to go back to basics such as, well, good levels of achievement for every pupil, good teaching, good behaviour and effective leaders.
The best thing about being RI is that you’re allowed to ignore stuff. Well, I don’t know if you’re actually allowed, but I have, on many occasions, ignored emails, hit delete, replied ‘no’ and told people to just leave me alone. I have freed myself from educational and governmental gubbins and trust me, it feels good. If it isn’t on Ofsted’s ‘what this school needs to do list’ I’m not interested. So far, I seem to be getting away with it too.
Occasionally another head will ask me: how are you preparing for this or that? At this point I normally pop on my shades, put a matchstick between my teeth, smile and say, ‘Don’t bother me, Daddio. I’m RI.’ Then I hit the juke box and we all start jiving.
Imagine if we could all do that? British Values curriculum – behave, we’ve got children to teach. An Olympic legacy plan – um no, that’s just silly. Nonsense words phonics test – I think I’ll just get them to read normally, thanks.
We wouldn’t have to put up with the reactionary nationwide initiatives that come about because something not good happened to one school, somewhere. Being RI gives you the strength to be bloody minded – if it’s not going to raise standards, I’m not going to do it. Sorry.
My SDP is gleefully littered with RI inspiration and it is really working; trust me when I say I couldn’t have done it without Ofsted. They made everyone in the community think, blimey, we better focus on the basics. And would you believe it: focusing on the basics actually worked!
But what next? At the moment Ofsted are my battering ram, used to push and shove superfluous initiatives and schemes out of the way. But what happens when I get there and receive my ‘well done – you’re now good’ pat on the head with matching cuff links, certificate and car bumper sticker? Will I no longer be able to hide? Will I have to join in with all the other schools and do as I’m told? More importantly, will I have to think for myself and come up with a grander vision for the school?
Maybe I’ll have greater capacity to improve so I can bolt these initiatives and expectations onto my SDP and it will be fine…or maybe that will cause me to take my eye off the ball (I’ve failed to make floor targets, but on the other hand the school does now have a solar panel roof…). I have grand visions. I think I can create a school that is a shining example of 21st century education. I’m certain we can become outstanding one day. But I’m scared that my vision of an outstanding school is too simple and won’t be judged far reaching or good enough, leaving me vulnerable to becoming overblown and overstretched.
So please, for the sake of heads, teachers and children everywhere…believe in my utopia and let’s all decide to be RI!