When is the right time to go?

This morning I woke up and read a few tweets about OFSTED on #helpSean and the blog that resonated the most was by @heymisssmith following her recent visit to Ofsted Towers .

I remember my own visit to @mcladingbowl in Manchester last August. I went with a spring in my step and came away with a conviction that things were changing for the better. I sat up half the night writing my blog, checking and re- checking my notes to ensure I presented a fair and balanced view of the meeting. Mike was passionate about schools delivering an excellent standard of education to every child and I wanted to convey that passion. I had asked PRU colleagues on Twitter what questions they wanted me to ask him and was fortunate to be able to pass on Mike’s considered replies. He admitted he knew little about PRUs but accepted that we were teaching vulnerable, damaged children whose SEMH was a barrier to learning and seemed sympathetic to our commitment to breaking down those barriers before we could impact on this.

Fast forward nearly 12 months and we have a new lead in place…Sean Harford. Sean seems a nice man, forward- thinking and  committed and , like Mike, wants to seek the views of the twitterati  amongst others. Trains converge in London, a meeting is held, views are exchanged and tweeps busily tweet and blog their findings. Sean even sets up a hash tag #helpSean and all is right with the world. Except it isn’t.

There is at least one dissenting voice who writes a  ‘not about OFSTED ‘ blog which strikes a chord with this very disillusioned Deputy. So what has changed for me? Well….OFSTED. They descended upon us a few weeks ago and left us with an RI judgement! Now I have promised a good Twitter friend that I will not blog about it and I won’t blog about the process because a) as a school we have decided not to appeal (you don’t poke a stick in a hornet’s nest) and b) I don’t want to be unprofessional and bitter. We just need to get on with things now. However I will blog on why we got RI…..in a word…data.

First up our lead asked for everything we’d got on data. Now, foolishly, I was very confident that our processes were good as their roots were in our last, outstanding, inspection. Numbers in a PRU are small so we very much personalise it using PIVATS which measure very small steps of progress; this is important for our children, many of whom come with undiagnosed SEN and significant behavioural difficulties/ SEMH. The conversation got off to a bad start when the LI talked about national progress indicators …..I admit I didn’t know what he was talking about (sadly for us) but quickly found out they were NC levels based and dated back to 2010!!!! But , you may say, this is ‘life after levels’ and only possibly relevant to years 2 and 6 at primary level? Not in the world of OFSTED!! However, Mr LI was prepared, seemingly, to give us a light touch on this, particularly as it was in our SEF to look for something more robust and relevant. Interviews with governors/ managers were held with everything pointing to ‘ good’. Happy days! The next day we got word that HMI were coming in and suddenly everything changed. Our local authority were very supportive and being ‘ helpful’ handed over some data reports they had concocted…..but LI and HMI now had a plethora of data which conflicted and confused. Holed up in a little room they came to a very different conclusion from the previous day and despite judging behaviour and safety ( our core purpose) as good….the data told a different tale……RI. Now there is a lot more to our story because RI reverses every judgement……teaching and learning, management, governance…..you name it and it is all crap! Even though nothing less than good was observed, ‘bad’ data trumped the lot!!! The children (mostly) did us proud but that counted for nought! Rubbish data? One Y6 boy with extreme anger issues moved from Level 2 to Level 4 in four terms after we engaged an attachment specialist who delivered a therapeutic teaching programme!! We have 13 year 6 this year and ALL have taken SATS….a testament to the success of our teaching and learning!!! Not as simple as it sounds….pupils everywhere…one boy was so anxious his mum came and sat in each day! I thought of Mike and his insistence on the best for all. 13 disaffected, anxious boys all taking SATS….surely we delivered the best we possibly could? Didn’t we? Apparently not, according to HMI…sorry I mean OFSTED!….I still don’t know about the role of the HMI….we thought to oversee the work of the LI…..but on day 2 he pulled all the strings and judgements were reversed without us having any recourse to challenge. He stuck closely to the side of the LI and thwarted any attempts by our HT to engage said LI in conversation or ask him why he had changed his mind in such a big way. Sorry my twitter friend but I will stray from professionalism by saying the whole thing was an utter disgrace. The subsequent report was a work of fiction (it had to be cos of judgement) but hey ho we have to live with it! We can’t challenge it in any meaningful way because worse things may follow! Sean, consult away, but your meetings have as much relevance to real life as a winged horse does to a donkey meet in Blackpool!

So, moving to the title of my blog….when IS the right time to go? And why? I love my job and like to think, in a small way, I make a real difference to the lives of our pupils. OFSTED please note…..I have taken at least a dozen pupils this academic year to consideration of an Education Health and Care Plan from scratch!!!! And one statement reversed before appeal!!!! All except 2 are destined for specialist provision!!! OFSTED would be better advised to look into permanent exclusions and why they happen rather than criticise our provision which seeks to repair damaged lives!! Recently I lost my dad and death concentrates the mind wonderfully. I really feel now that I have had enough and hope to take early retirement next summer…..I have battled away for our kids but it has worn me away to a shadow…literally….I am physically getting thinner and my life revolves around work. Enough is enough. So what next? I actually want to stay in education and hope to start a consultancy in SEN and behaviour management. I hope to do well…..there’s a lot of need out there. Also I feel I need to be in mainstream striving to prevent exclusion and looking at unmet needs. PRUs are unnatural, if vital, and do not prepare our kids for real life…..they form a protective bubble around them and cocoon them from their problems. The talk at the moment from schools is about extending our PRU provision rather than tackling problems head-on, but that is pie in the sky! In recent years, PRUs in our county have halved , and a halfway house set in a large primary school has shut! Our PRU is now at capacity so soon schools will be forced to take permanent exclusions themselves! Economic reality is the only reality I’m afraid! That aint gonna change any time soon! Conversely, some schools are saying that our PRUs don’t give value for money and object to being top sliced to fund us. If that happens we will no longer be able to give free help and advice and I foresee problems spiralling out of control which will be costly in the longer term……in lives as well as cash!

So yes I am thinking of going…..I have told my HT so she can plan for the future…..no one is currently capable of carrying out my SENCO role and this needs thinking about. I do care very much for our school and am willing us to overcome the ill- judged RI and succeed; we deserve to. I have one more year in me (just) and I will make it count but fighting the good fight has knocked the stuffing out of me I’m afraid! My fear is that OFSTED and their ilk will destroy provision that seeks to help those on the fringes of society due to political and economic pressures but on a personal front it’s time for someone else to take up the baton. I admit I cried this morning…..it has been, admittedly, an emotional week clearing out my dad’s house…..but my tears were for our kids and our school and our decent, committed staff. And for me.

Acronyms : I’ve done it again and used acronyms which others may not understand! Sorry for that!
SEN…special educational needs
SENCO….special ed needs coordinator
RI…..room for improvement…bad but not as bad as inadequate!
LI…..lead inspector
HMI…her majesty’s inspector
SEF….self evaluation form
OFSTED…..dreaded inspection machine
PRU….pupil referral unit….home of excluded pupils
NC…..national curriculum
PIVATS….assessment scheme measuring small steps of progress
SEMH….social emotional and mental health
EHC PLANS. ….replace statements for children with spec ed needs
SATS…..exams for Y2 and Y6 phased out this year
HT……headteacher
I think that’s it now!!

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20 thoughts on “When is the right time to go?

  1. I cried too, Jackie. This is the most raw and honest account and I am sure there are many, including me, teachers who hearts are breaking with yours. What is going to happen to our noble profession? I’m only hoping that you will find a way to use all your passion and experience to help vulnerable children that also keeps you well and sane. You know I will help all I can x
    Lynn

  2. CTLJ says:

    Completely identify with so much of this, especially the Ofsted seeing good but refusing to budge from the data. Utterly pointless process and does not help the children one bit. Left teaching at Feb half term after 23 years, when a bereavement also made me reevaluate and I have never looked back. Sad to see so many dedicated teachers who are in similar circumstances. Best wishes for whatever you decide to do.

  3. I wonder how many teachers read this and think ‘That could be my school, that could be me.’ The children you describe have complex needs, are damaged and their recovery requires skilled and patient therapy over time, yet too often schools are expected to ‘magic’ an instant solution, often with little or no support. Best wishes for the future.

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  5. Oh this is so terrible because I know what a wonderful and dedicated person you are and the system can not afford to lose you. But I also know what it’s like to get to the end of your tether and to leave. I did it last year and am sitting here on a Sunday without a care in the world. For 21 years, Sundays were planning/marking/panic days. I hope one day to return to teaching. But it won’t be until this broken system is fixed and when children, not data sit at the heart of the process. I wish you all the luck in the world. Rest and recover and know that you did so much for so long xxx

    • Ah thanks Debra! Just feel it’s time for a change now….don’t think I can face ofsted again! After good / outstanding several times RI was shock to system!! Also was very unfair…just on data….but I do the data so am accountable….I need to make way for the next lucky person!! :))))

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  7. A Parent says:

    I’m the parent of a child with an ASD dx who escaped school on the morning of one of his year 6 SATs and was found at the top of a rocky gorge in the adjoining park … It is thanks to the help of dedicated professionals like yourself through year 6 and 7 that he had the space to grow in to himself without time in a PRU – or ICU – and cope from year 8 when all his support was withdrawn. Ironically, the anxiety lowered SATS scores give him reduced targets for GCSEs at his newly data-driven school. Best of luck with your future path. It’s the day-to-day support not the data analysis that makes the difference!

  8. jillberry102 says:

    I am so sorry to read this. I know from your writing how dedicated you are, and when you say “I love my job and like to think, in a small way, I make a real difference to the lives of our pupils”, my feeling is that SHOULD be what it’s all about. But I fully understand that sometimes it just seems that it isn’t enough….

    Perhaps you need to rest and refresh but then at some stage come back? You have too much talent, and too deep an understanding of what is really important for that to go to waste.

    I wish you well, whatever you decide.

    • Thanks so much x I just feel that children are less important than number crunching to the powers that be! I wouldn’t mind so much if I felt the judgement was accurate….but it wasn’t!! Sean says the appeals process is for individual cases but we are too scared to use it….so how is that any good? Just feel I can’t go through this again….but still want to work with children :))) Hope to branch out on my own :)))

  9. Agree says:

    I’m from a school who did appeal a 3 and HMI came in and downgraded us to a 4. I had been responsible for L&T for less than a year and In came a MAT and to cut a long story short despite being awarded three ‘outstanding’ grades and despite having the best data at key stage 5 I started my redundancy this week. It sucks…..

      • Agree says:

        Thanks, I actually feel great. It turns out I have three children and they seem to really like me. There’s also a lady around the house who’s apparently my wife (turns out that in the evenings and at weekends she is available to talk about non-school items) I too was feeling the pressure but absolutely loved the job. I just didn’t want to let go but once I turned down a SLT position in another school I felt fantastic.

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