It would be fair to say that my social media interaction has been greatly reduced over the past few months. It would also be fair to say that I was never under any illusion as to the job that awaited me when I applied for my first headship. The support of my family has always been paramount in my ability to do a ‘good’ job. A young family with a son whose sole purpose in life is to dig up every plant in the garden, has always maintained my focus.
Over the past 18 months I have tried to connect with leaders, teachers and people who are brave and bold. They challenge the ‘normal’, push the boundaries and do the right thing for the right people. I have always been drawn to these people, embarking on my own journey of change and courageous leadership. I have always remained steadfast in my want to improve the lives of children I teach, to offer them something different, to be bold and to keep the focus on core purpose.
I have faced a number of challenges in my first headship position but none more so than the ones I have encountered this term. I choose this school because I believed I could make the biggest difference to the children there. The school serves an area that sits in the top ten most deprived areas in the country, a small authority that perhaps some would not release just how deprived the area is. The school where I started my journey was lost, lacked direction and needed a complete turnaround. The leadership team had greatly reduced in the years before my arrival, including part time leaders at all levels resulting in a school with no clear direction and teachers working in very difficult circumstances.
So yes the Ofsted and an RI judgement was not a shock. The report was positive on the changes we had implemented since my arrival, agreed that there was capacity to improve and that the ‘plan’ was good. So what since? And why the silence?
At around Easter time it became clear that were facing a challenge to our improvement plan. A budget that had appeared healthy with a healthy carry forward was suddenly reduced to a deficit when it was highlighted by myself that our numbers had been recorded incorrect in the previous years. The part time deputy was off on long term sick and would be for the foreseeable future. One teacher on maternity leave and another due to start theirs in the coming months. No business manager. Phase 3 of the building project to commence. And of course the water leak which had reared its head again like a monster from the deep.
Yes these are all things that most heads and schools encounter and so we set about a plan to over come them. We prioritised what needed to be the focus. Quality teachers in front of children for a start. But how to afford these and balance the books was always going to be difficult. Erratic pupil numbers was adding to the overall financial picture and so a marketing campaign would be needed in the coming months. It felt difficult but there were options, possible solutions and ideas.
Half term. A break in thinking as I celebrated my 40th with friends and family. Beautiful weather, BBQs and games were the other order of the week. Perfect and the ideal way to relax and focus the mind. I had at that point no idea how quickly my challenges would rapidly increase.
On returning to work on Monday the tone of term ahead was quickly realised when the police set up a cordon in school cark park next to the playground (much to the excitement of the children who were outside at lunch). No information was given to me at the time but I was told it was a significant incident and would be there for sometime. This was mine, and the schools, first terror related incident. And it was happening on our doorstep. Press were quickly on the scene, phoning the school and walking the school grounds. ‘A school on Lockdown’ it would seem helps focus the attention of a reader. A bomb squad outside my main school gates helped focus mine. There was at no point any threat to the school or was they any immediate danger to our school. The cordon remained in place for a week presenting the school and myself with a communication challenge.
For most this would be a one off. Isolated. A chance to move on with a review of policy. However schools continue to run even in the most challenging of circumstances. A malicious allegation against the school was quickly to follow. In fact would present itself on the following Monday. The details of this I am unable to go into but a police investigation, social services involvement and great deal of anxiety would follow, what we all knew to be a malicious way in which to undermine the hardwork the school undertakes.
But what about the quality teacher on front of the children? Clearly this was delayed a little with the other issues developing. A school in a challenging area would always find recruitment difficult. But perhaps none more so than ours in this moment. And so it should have come as no surprise when we were unable to appoint. More changes, more planning and decision to mix year groups was taken in a term when parents are eager to find out what the plans are for September. Such changes so late in the day presented there own challenges.
Fluctuating pupil numbers depend on good relationships with communities in order to improve the schools reputation. So you can imagine my surprise and anxiety when arriving at school in such glorious weather I was met with two irate gentlemen demanding to know why a tree on the school grounds was currently resting in there back garden. Another issue. Another distraction.
All this against the backdrop of a huge multi million pound building project. But this was my selling point. Changes to the physical building would help my ability to sell the changes the school was going through. The replacement of an 80 year old building to bring it up to date, modern and fit for the future would help steady the pupil numbers. Admittedly dealing with such a large project with no business manager would not be easy for someone who has no experience of any building work. Not even on my own house. Risk assessments, fire safety and healthy and safety are therefore all important. And so when a fire alarm sound during the works in should be no real surprise given the amount of equipment on the school site. And the fire alarm did sound. No fire but it was clear there were issues. With everything else happening it would seem obvious to contact the fire service and ask for help. Perhaps what we hadn’t expected was a threat of closure due to fire risk and building regulations.
We remain open. The school hall now out of use creating a challenge at lunch time to say the least. The tree has been removed from the garden. Although the extensive forest area now gives the residents cause for concern. The police have gone although a planned assembly and work with the community is planned. The building project remains although is now somewhat delayed. The complaint is being followed inline with school policy.
Teaching and learning? My strength. My core purpose. Lost in the tsunami of issues to hit the school this term. My sleep is broken. My anxiety levels raised. My family life suffering from the pressure of a job I live for. For the first time in my career I have fely lonely, a sole voice and to be honest scared. I know these issues will strengthen my resolve to make a difference. But a child who enjoys pulling plants out the garden and de-heading the flowers only sees a dad that is distracted, absent in thought and upset with a flower that will of course grow back.
My family are everything. They guide and support me. I know they understand. but my heart is breaking at the pressure I now put on them
This is a long blog. I hope honest. But its Sunday morning. I have bought pancakes for breakfast. We will eat them together as a family in the garden. And this morning. Just for this morning. We will take the flowers out together. They will grow again.