The ‘O’ word is banned at Saint Martin’s, rather like ‘he who must not be named’ in ‘Harry Potter’. Nothing we do is for the Big O. We educate and teach to change the lives of our students because that’s what we believe to be our mission. It is our passion.
We focus on the simplicity and impact of what we do for all staff, but especially for teachers who we want to work from 8-4 daily. And, usually, they do (parents’ evenings – though we are on to smartening those up – and exam marking would be the exceptions). We want and encourage staff to go home so they can enjoy the evening with family, friends; go to the theatre, read, play sport – anything they want because it is their time. It will render them relaxed and content, and result in their being energetic, expert and enthusiastic for every student, every lesson, every day. We believe that being a teacher doesn’t mean you have to sign away your life and family and friends… You can be a teacher and live!
So, when ‘the call’ came at 11:30 Wednesday before half term, SLT gathered, talked through the brief/focus set; tasks were appropriated and off we went. Business as usual.
Staff were informed in person before lunch; students were told in Prep time or via assemblies that were already booked. For staff, a short meet (10 mins) happened after school where the Head outlined the day to come: the brief/focus of the Section 8 Inspection, and told staff it would be business as usual the following day – routines, behaviour, expert teaching of an ambitious curriculum, memory. Staff left calmly. No-one stayed until midnight preparing lessons, cutting up card, sorting groups; making Powerpoints, seating plans; writing lesson plans or objectives – we don’t do that usually. We teach.
No-one was up until midnight (or beyond), marking the books they had so meant to mark the previous week but they had been too busy or exhausted to do. We use feedback most effectively to drive progress. Staff weren’t anxious about challenging student behaviour. They are not nervous about being judged if a student needs to be corrected, sanctioned or removed (rare) from a lesson. SLT deal with ALL behaviour issues and there aren’t many as students are told explicitly they will be polite and charming; kind and respectful because that is who we are.
Wednesday afternoon, staff left calmly, untethered, bemused (if anything) at not quite knowing how they could be going home at normal time without need of a Sherpa to cart suitcases of marking and prep out of the building with an inspection team due to arrive in fewer than 16 hours. They asked if we needed anything, were assured all was in hand and how kind that offer was, but to go, enjoy their evening, re-energise for the next day’s teaching and we’d see them in morning. Business as usual.
A few stayed – the Head, VP, Data/Progress, and Behaviour and Attendance Leads, SENDCo… We ordered food and took time out to eat it, but the tasks in hand were administrative – the printing and gathering of documents
- we had already prepared an introduction to Saint Martin’s, our Knowledge, context, data headlines and current actions (We deliberately hadn’t done a SEF)
- a streamlined, understandable data pack – 2 sides of all Year Groups.
- a case study prepared
- marking analysis for 4 terms, the Feedback Policy from January 2018, why we had changed and the impact
- knowledge books and scripts to exemplify our ambitious curriculum
- behaviour statistics (to demonstrate the explicit execution of our policy that supports all students’ behaviour to maximise learning
- attendance data
- we rang 22 homes, requesting student books for the next morning.
Amazingly, the biggest task was the re-allocating of staff to next day’s Year 7 (150 students) London visit – essentially to replace SLT on the trip, secure cover and supply. In that 11th hour, staff stepped up so supportively – booking childcare, changing their day, sacrificing their day off, or evening/family time to let us stay to meet the Inspectors. What an amazing set of people. Thank you.
We were gone by 10 p.m. at the latest. All content, calm; not arrogant. Rather, with a feeling that we were ready to address, and explain our approach and educational faith because we believe in it; we live it. There was no rehearsal of straplines, or mnemonics, or mottos to learn. We know it: ‘The best that’s been thought and said’ and to know they are loved by us and God. Our students and staff would be great – because they are – every lesson, every day, every week… it’s what they do. And I say that with full confidence as we pop in regularly to see wonderful practice; we have toured in excess of 300 visitors to witness the same, and staff use us for coaching (we don’t observe lessons). Having built that culture firmly over the last 3 years, the habits of trust, team and excellence course through our veins.
Come Friday morning, the day following Inspection, we returned to school. Slowly, we started to reflect on it having been the most calm, non-stressful Ofsted any of us had ever experienced. We had thanked our Inspectors for being most personable, and they were equally incisive and knew their job and purpose. However, I’d account for the composure and lack of anxiety because we did what we always do. I’ve said many times that chasing Ofsted (and what you think they want) is like chasing a leaf in the wind – you go to grab and it flies away. Our approach, therefore, is to stand firm, to pin our educational philosophy to the mast, and drive that every lesson, every day, with every person on board. When Ofsted came to call (or anyone else visits for that matter), that philosophy was completely embedded; indelibly etched into each one of us. We have had the benefit of time – 3 years – over which that core purpose has been explicitly shared, revisited, reiterated, developed via CPD, briefings, informal chats, interviews, line management meetings, coaching. Equally, trusted, driven staff are respected as experts, have control over their curriculum, and the time to think how to craft and perfect their delivery of it. We all own the philosophy and the culture of it.
And on Thursday, that’s what was so evident. In Inspector-led observations, it meant staff delivered (in my opinion and not related to the pending official Ofsted feedback) stunning, sequenced, expert teaching (it was a privilege to watch) in lessons where students were enabled to learn deeply and reviewed to remember (learn); it meant students were polite, charming, honest, kind, articulate and not uncomfortable talking to visitors. It meant SLT presented the cases; answered the questions and showcased the brilliance of a truly-dedicated team of staff and evidenced what we believe: that every child, regardless of challenge, will succeed and we are transforming lives.
It really was business as usual.
Vice-Principal, Saint Martin’s