So things were a little broken. Exam results were lower than predicted and for many teachers, it was a paralysing devastation they took to heart; and that is how I met them on Day 1. They had been through a merger, a complete restructure, a third of teachers and a quarter of support staff had left and those remaining seemed battle-scarred. There were a lot of documents, complex systems, checklists, data galore and piles of evidence of teachers doing their job. A paperweight of justification sitting on them like a golden Buddha. This was our beginning.
Be a Teacher and Love it:
Our people needed to be reminded of the joy, the moral purpose, the gravity of teaching; they needed to fall back in love with being a teacher. They had been drowning in paper, teaching in fear of constant high stakes scrutiny, they wanted to be good teachers but many no longer trusted themselves to know what good was anymore.
So we stripped it all out and made it simple. No written lesson plans, my teachers plan what they will do and what the students will do- I trust them to do this. No graded lesson observations. No marking/individual comments; my teachers use whole class feedback based on misconceptions and a plan to reteach it. No multiple data entries, no levels-even-after-life-with-no-levels, no 8 page criteria sheets(remember APP?) no data drops; instead, my teachers RAG rate on one element: have students learned the knowledge? We are more interested in a conversation where we discuss the students, and the leader enters the data- next year this is the way it is to be done. No setting and chasing homework- students learn the Knowledge Organiser and get quizzed on it in class. No gimmicks or teaching myths- our teachers are the experts and they teach from the front in a simple and straightforward way. We teach an academically rigorous curriculum, no dumbing down. Think Doug Lemov, not ‘edutainment.’
I tell my teachers they are good because they are. Not Ofsted good(whatever that mystical, golden unicorn is) I mean, good, strong teachers who love their subject and are the expert in it. And the teaching grows stronger every day because we trust teachers, we train teachers and we keep all the junk away from them. We stripped away their workload. They are free to love their jobs again.
Love what we teach:
For so long, teaching was process-driven and all about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what.’ The Head of a nearby school sent me a welcome to the neighbourhood card and that set off a chain of events I affectionately call Joining Clive’s Knowledge Cult. Our Trust was already aligning exam boards and beginning curriculum collaboration and we spent this year, writing a knowledge rich curriculum. It is a game changer. A tour around nearby St Martin’s left me in no doubt it was the way for us. As a Trust, we took the best elements and ideas from the schools we knew and spent this year developing a rigorous, academic and aspirational curriculum.
Make no mistake, this is a curriculum our pupils deserve. A curriculum that is based on ‘the best that has been thought and said’, a curriculum that excites and ignites because the knowledge does that- not the teacher trying to dumb down/jazz up in order to entertain. It has been built by many hands across the Trust, across 5 school years and reaches out beyond the GCSE expectation of knowledge. It has challenging, intellectual content and will be taught by our teachers who are experts and love their subject. Teachers are writing their own knowledge organisers, work-booklets and text books then sharing these across the Trust. Lots of schools talk about working in partnership- I can only describe this as ‘accelerated collaboration’ that strengthens us all and cuts our workload by 75%.
And the test is this. When I look at the 5 year curriculum plans, across all the subjects; I don’t just feel excited about teaching it, I want to be in Year 7 so I can learn Homer’s Odyssey. I want to be in Year 8 so I can argue the significance of railways and canals in the Industrial Revolution. Our curriculum is so delicious, I don’t just want to teach it, I want to learn it.
Behaviour was not good enough, processes were complicated and teachers were interrupted by low level disruption. And to lay in the knowledge curriculum, behaviour needed to be much better. We made what my Exec Head calls the sacred pact: the conditions for learning are the responsibility of SLT and teachers are responsible for…well…teaching. Our teachers give students a chance to change behaviour, then they are removed to silent study so that everyone else in the class gets to learn. We have centralised, same day detentions so the next day is a fresh day. Students start the lesson in silence, greet the teacher and sit down to a Do Now task. Students finish the lesson standing in silence, thank the teacher and move onto the next lesson. Very high expectations coupled with explicit and tangible respect. We feel strict, calm and purposeful. All our visitors comment on it.
We do tough love because our students deserve both an academically rigorous curriculum and to grow up strong with good self-discipline. We do this because tough love is what our students deserve; it is the making of them. We are always telling them that when we tell them off, we do this because they are worth it, because they need us to- and I tell our parents the same. The way we raise our children is the way we change the world.
It Takes a Village:
People say that being a Headteacher is the loneliest job in the world. Not for me: in fact, I have found the complete opposite. I knew at the beginning I would need friends and I can truly say I have found my people.
I needed an executive Headteacher with that perfect balance of support and space to lead. Someone who lives service leadership, has the moral drive of a ten tonne truck and common sense around teacher workload and curriculum. I found her (or she found me?)
I needed a tireless, make-it-so deputy, one who wanted more for the young people in this area. A deputy who supports and challenges me, has made our journey his own and is my critical friend, my ally, my teacher. I found him.
I needed a team of staff who believed in what we were doing and understood why it was important. People who could fall back in love with what they were doing. People who could find a true north for their moral compass. People who felt good, doing good things for a community that deserved it. I found them.
I needed ‘Headteachery help’ from my peers and all I found was genuine care, advice and wisdom from my nearest Headteachers. I needed to find our way back to teaching & learning and curriculum- I found the way was lit with the torches of St Martin’s Academy, their leaders having already begun this journey and shared it with us.
The House that Love Built
Every step of the way and everything we have built here, has been moulded by many hands. We have built our house on trust of one another and faith in ourselves. We have built our house on knowledge; the awe and wonder of the best that has been thought. We have built our house on social justice, that all children deserve the best education and we are the ones to provide it.
We have built our house on love, a love of teaching, a love of education, a love of children and this, this has truly made the difference.