Headteacher's Message, Friday 23rd June 2017
At the conference last week, many colleagues were intrigued about the early years of my career (I should just record my thoughts as I am asked the same question regularly). What were schools like then? What did Headteachers do when there was no Ofsted, no league tables, and no national curriculum and so on? Budgets were managed by the local authority and safeguarding was simply a word rather than a deeply embedded ethos. I was then interested to read over the weekend that the Scottish parliament is looking at devolving responsibility for budgets and the appointment of school staff to Headteachers. My brother, who is a retired teacher and lives in the west end of Glasgow, would often talk about how the equivalent of the local authority would appoint staff to schools and move teachers around. To be frank, I would not be a Headteacher under such circumstances, not having any influence over the key areas of school improvement; money and staff.
It took me back to the time when I was in Kent; I heard the story of a Headteacher who wrote to the local authority asking for new furniture because the tops of the desks were badly damaged. He was informed that there was no more money in the 'furniture' budget but 'flooring' had an excess so how about putting linoleum on the desk tops? I could talk for hours about the changes, not due to any love for the 'good old days', far from it, but to show how far education has come.
Change is part of life, it has always happened and always will. Despite the downsides, who would go back to not having a mobile phone? Who would throw away their laptop and use a typewriter instead with the obligatory bottle of tippex nearby? Who would get in a car without any seat belts? Yesterday's norms can become tomorrow's unthinkable, but there were aspects to life that I valued greatly. Enrichment was an everyday part of school life with a large number of clubs running at lunchtime and after school; letters were a common form of communication which gave people time to think and reflect and young people spent much of their leisure time outdoors. But it wasn't all good; pastoral care in schools was largely non-existent. I vividly remember a member of staff in a school telling me "we don't do problems here" when I raised a concern about the wellbeing of a student. Looking back this great kid who was struggling was showing all the symptoms of Aspergers.
During the summer, I am going up to Scotland to see my family and will be interested to hear how the Scottish education system is moving forward on their notion of devolving budgets and staffing to Headteachers. Their education system is lagging behind, yet not that long ago it was considered to be one of the best in the world. Perhaps it shows what happens when a whole country doesn't change and respond quickly and that, I think, is the crux. It's not just about what you change, it is also about what you don't change, as well as what you keep and hang onto and refuse to alter. As a school, it is our values and what we passionately believe in; caring for people.
This weekend, I will be doing plenty of cooking and cycling then taking our eldest son Richard and his girlfriend to Stansted in the early hours on Sunday morning where he flies out to Sardinia for a short break.
Have a great weekend.