Tag Archives: education

The Condemnation

Condemned to Hell by a five year old: strike that one off the Bucket List, dear friends.

The playground at lunchtime is a market place. Children of varying ages compete for the attention of staff. Children, each in their own world, dragging their own personal baggage and level of need. Some hold tightly onto my arms. Others side step my gait, eager to get face to face in order to pass on the details of every injustice bestowed upon them by other children. Others want confirmation that I am, in fact human, asking questions that seem obvious but shows they cannot separate the Head Teacher from the person: “Do you have children? What are their names? Do you tell them off?”

The games I play with them are designed to include as many as possible in a short amount of time. The aim is for dozens rather than a few being able to make contact before the playground bell marks the return to classes. Even then, they trip over my size 11 Doc Martens (equally at home defying the diagnosis of the Diabetic clinic or exiting the playground) as they squeeze any remaining attention from the sponge. “How old are you? My gran is older than you.”

One little girl and one little boy are the first to approach me every afternoon. Both are five and keen to take part in the game of Monster Chase or Sticky Toffee we will play each day. The girl is quieter.

The boy is inquisitive. He is stocky and thickly built. His halting Urdu accent reflects he is second generation Pakistani British. He smiles incessantly, obviously loved and nurtured at home and safe enough in his school persona to ensure he will flourish in the next 6 years with us.

Today he danced alongside me as the children funnelled from their classrooms onto the playground. It was not my daughter’s ages or the name of our cat that he wanted answers to. “What religion are you?” he asked.

The suddenness and bluntness of his question caught me off guard. I stopped and stooped so to look him in face. I had an innate sense that this was an encounter he might remember when he was 20, 40 60 years old and I wanted to handle it correctly.

“I’m a Christian,” I said.

“You will go to Hell,” he blinked back.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you don’t have my God,” he offered. “You are not Muslim so you will go to Hell.”

To witness someone so young indoctrinated and intolerant drew a sigh from deep inside my lungs as I said, “I think God loves everyone.”

The child, a five year old, shook his head to confirm my damnation.

By now the quiet girl had joined us. I knew her story well as I had been briefed before she had even started her first day at our school. Born in Kabul the young girl knew only war. The same was true of her parents before her and her grandparents before them. She joined us 8 months ago with no English, no writing. The Taliban had banned all girls from education so she spent her days holed up in her Kabul house playing games with her mother.

Eight months on; she speaks fluent English. She writes beautifully and frequently brings her work to my office to admire and discuss. She writes about life in London and how much better it is. She is joyful at the idea of going to school, of being free to walk down the street and feel her hair in the unseasonably cool July breeze.

She is my personal battle with the Taliban. She is one who got away from Afghanistan. She is the one we will save and teach to read and write and think freely without fear of judgement in the name of God. She is proof I will not go to Hell. 


Keep the Faith,


The Head 


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The Personal Statement

The lack of recent offerings, dear readers, is not owing to a case of Writer’s Block but rather Blocked Writer.

Life has been the epitome of frantic during the past few weeks. There has been little time for the necessities of life, let alone chronicling experiences inside the glass box. My short comings as a family man included a rushed and botched attempt at seeing my daughter off as she undertakes a round-the-world jaunt. I unceremoniously left her at Heathrow, in the jumbled angular car park of the drop off zone. It was a rite of passage waiting to be grasped and savoured; her great adventure into the world. It was me setting off for Europe at her age more than a quarter of a century ago. But I missed it. I was there, but I missed it. I make do clicking through the emailed photos of her clutching strange and alien animals from the southern hemisphere as she picks her way around  Asia and on into the South Pacific.

Meanwhile back in less glamorous but certainly unseasonably balmy London, I have been visiting a raft of different schools across the city; searching for the one that will have me consecrated as the next Head. I am preoccupied and not writing. I am not writing because I am not living. I am planning. Incessantly planning the next fortnight,  month,  5 years.

I have seen some schools that I liked but they didn’t like me. I have seen some that liked me but I didn’t like them. I have been trying to work beyond my usual remit of the dysfunctional and exploring schools that are good and wish to be judged outstanding. A different journey. The end is that next fix. To find the school that will act as my drug. To find the school that needs me as its medicine.

And to that end I offer you the personal statement, dear readers. It is a crucial piece of information that perspective Heads forward to schools seeking a new leader. The tone of the personal statement is crucial: come across too heavy and schools that are running well will view the applicant as a Change Merchant. Come across too weak and….you get the picture.

And so for the sake of catharsis which always was and remains the sole motivator of this blog; I offer the more curious of you the chance to read my personal statement for yourselves; and to form your own conclusions on the intended tone.

The school I am looking for will find me, or I will find it.

I forward my application for the post of Head Teacher at X Church of England Primary School.

Having visited the school, I was particularly impressed with

•           its commitment to educating the whole child.

•           its uniqueness and pride that it takes in being different to other schools plus the treasured place it holds in the local community where I have lived for the past 22 years.

•           the fact that it is a church school but very much a community school as well.


Of course, all schools evolve and can improve and I believe my skills could help X evolve even further.  I have a proven record of

•           developing middle and senior leaders.

•           helping schools progress in terms of pupil outcomes whilst maintaining what the school already does well.

•           managing challenging educational environments and spaces and maximising these for learning.

•           promoting links with other schools and the local community.

•           attracting funding.


I enjoy working in different schools, with different people, with different needs. In the past this has meant moving schools about every four years. X presents the opportunity to work in a school that has a big reputation in my own community. It is a chance to work with children and families from my own local area. That is a very attractive notion and a chance to stay for a much longer period.

The fact that each of my schools has presented unique challenges means that I have a wealth of experiences to draw upon.  I am proud that my current headship has involved rebuilding the senior and middle leadership teams and therefore guiding a school out of Special Measures. It would be equally satisfying to maintain and improve on X’s progress.

As a life-long learner, I am constantly seeking to extend my leadership skills. Recently I have been elected to the role of Chair of the E13 Learning Community; a group of 8 local schools that has become a national benchmark for soft federations. The current aim of our team is to focus more directly towards our core purpose of raising improving standards whilst maintaining the strong extended schools brief it was founded upon.   As well as these experiences, Roehampton University invited me to deliver the address to their departing PGCE students in July 2010. I have also provided training for schools under the umbrella of the British Council for School Environments in their drive to improve learning spaces. Last year I completed the Level 1 course in Philosophy for Children. I also have strong links with SENCO groups on the Continent and frequently host groups from the Low Countries to illustrate Y’ approach to inclusion. These activities have added to my leadership capability at Y but also made me strive to continue my career development at a place like X.

I enjoy the challenge of leading schools in differing positions and helping them to a point where they successfully meet the needs of learners. I have undertaken this role at four schools in the past 14 years. Currently I am Head teacher of Y School in **** which is a mainstream, two-form primary (NOR 398 inc Nursery) with resource provision for 32 pupils with profound and complex SEN. Y has a world-class reputation for its approach to inclusion for SEND pupils. In addition, the school serves 12 pupils with Exceptional Resource Funding (ERF). Roughly 25% of the school’s pupil population are registered on the Code of Practice.

Y was placed in OFSTED category due to issues surrounding quality of teaching/learning and equal opportunities for all pupils.  Since my arrival, I have led and supported our senior leaders and staff in a long and difficult journey of tackling many years of inadequacy in regards to its mainstream practices. It has also been necessary to address Y’ safeguarding issues. Furthermore, attendance was creating a barrier to learning for many pupils.

The school was removed from OFSTED category last December and continues to make good progress now that it is more settled. I feel, however, that I would like to continue my career at X, to work with colleagues on a different journey and to promote the learning of children in my own community. My experience shows that I have the skills to lead a variety of schools successfully.

I am ICT literate. An ability to use ICT skills to communicate, illustrate concepts and mange data has been a necessity in my daily work and forms a large part of each pupil’s future economic well being. My Master’s dissertation was on staff  ICT training and I have taken an active interest in the field throughout my career. I have set up data tracking systems which have been shared and utilised by other local schools.

I make a point of identifying set time in my schedule during the week for teaching and leading assemblies. I also like to undertake the running of clubs and lunchtime playground duties in order to maximise the time I spend with the pupils. Each morning and afternoon I can be found at the school gates where I am available for informal chats with parents.

I have experienced OFSTED 9 times as a Head and teacher. Following is the latest Ofsted comment on my leadership style.

Y December 2011: “The school’s improvement is largely due to the headteacher’s intelligent and unwavering leadership…” It continues in the Leadership section to say, “ The headteacher provides strong leadership and is well supported by members of the senior and middle management teams. The leadership skills of senior and middle leaders have improved considerably and information about the impact of the school’s work is now collected and analysed coherently to inform improvement planning.”

Z October 2008: “Z has improved to be a good school in which pupils make good progress in their work and personal development. This has been spearheaded by the outstanding headteacher and the school has greatly benefited from a period of relative stability. This is recognised by parents who are overwhelmingly supportive of the school. A typical comment was, ‘The school has gone from strength to strength and benefits enormously from such strong head/leadership and staff team’.” The report goes on to say, “The headteacher has provided outstanding leadership that has enabled the school to make considerable strides.”  It judgement on Leadership and Management opens with, “The headteacher has galvanised the staff.”

X’s next Head Teacher will need to be sympathetic to the fact that the school’s stakeholders know the kind of school they want. Ahead of the next OFSTED it will be important to make certain all pupils and groups of pupils make good or better progress. Xis a school that values the individuality of its pupils and certainly every child deserves the chance to achieve their best. The small, village school feel makes this easier to achieve. Likewise, helping the community to undertake a review of the current behaviour policy and procedures strikes me as a priority.

I would also help the school to explore its links with other local schools. This is especially important as the future for primary schools is in their relationships with and ability to support each other. Thankfully, X has the additional support of the LDBS as well as Westminster, but I would want to find an additional layer of strength from sharing and gleaning expertise from our local schools.

The school’s financial stature also needs attention. This means exploring alternative means of support for the budget and therefore increased opportunities for the pupils we serve. I have experience of all the issues facing Xat the next stage of its development.  For example, anticipating future educational trends and identifying what new developments would best impact on pupils’ learning are traits which I have honed as I have become a more experienced Head. As a group the E13 Learning Community have anticipated the demise of local authority support and become self-reliant/supportive in areas such as cross-school moderation. We have acquired charitable status and employed a business manager for fund raising purposes. Likewise, we have negotiated with the help of Barclay’s Bank, our first bulk-buying contract for supply staff.  E13 leads the way in regards to schools clustering together in new local government landscape and our work has been held up as a model by the National College of Leadership. My involvement as Chair has been a good learning focus for me, especially working alongside colleagues from other schools.

My specialism is the curriculum and assessment. I have led the staff in reviewing and adapting the curriculum so that it better meets the needs of the pupils it serves. The rise in standards and progress rates at both Y and Zare owing to many factors. Amongst these is a sense of rigour in teaching and learning and careful use of resources. Likewise I have paid careful attention to deploying staff and support to provide greater impact on learning. This has led to innovative programmes and a re-examination of what the school understands as inclusion. But the underlying factors remain the same; if the quality of teaching and learning, self evaluation and data are high, pupil outcomes will follow.

As result, KS2 English standards in my current school have nearly doubled in two years. In the same period attendance has risen 5%. The quality of teaching and learning was reflected in that 80% of lessons were judged inadequate when I arrived at my current school. At the moment, 70% of lessons are judged Good or better against the new framework.

OFSTED commented, “Teaching has improved considerably as a result of intensive training and frequent opportunities to     observe and share practice. Teachers use accurate and sharply focused assessment information to plan lessons and use a wide range of strategies to engage and stimulate pupils. ”

“This ambition is now spreading across the school.  It is striking that the two deputy heads have been transformed in recent months, increasingly seeing themselves as key leaders in the school and taking on that role in their dealings with other staff.  They have become much more confident in their roles and talk positively and with real understanding about the future direction of the school and how it is going to get there.  They have played a key role in the production of a new School Development Plan and in redesigning the curriculum.  The analysis and use of data has become a key driver in the work of the school, enabling better targeting of key areas to address underperforming groups and individuals.”

Direct experience is the starting point for learning. X presents perhaps the richest surrounding environment that one could wish for.  I am keenly aware of the resources available to schools beyond the entrance gates. I cite an example from my current school (which is behind West Ham’s football ground). Pupils wrote persuasive pieces about how match day traffic impacted on their lives. I shared the work with West Ham who invited the children to be part of their bid for the Olympic Stadium. The pupils visited 10 Downing Street as a result. These pieces of work have a real impact on pupils’ motivation to write and real outcomes are strong motivation to reluctant writers.

I pride myself on my ability to communicate in a range of styles and media. Examples are our school’s weekly newsletter which not only provides a bridge between parents who do not frequent the school site but also is a vehicle for promoting the school’s successes in the wider community. I have also initiated the Friends of Y which is my current school’s first parent group.  Z benefitted from a televised make-over of the learning environment. The process which culminated in the formation of an outdoor classroom, drama/music suite and ICT-based Art area, funded and crafted entirely through corporate goodwill and expertise, was shown both on the BBC and Dutch television. In turn, Y has recently achieved the Olympic Quality mark for its involvement and impact on the preparations for the 2012 Games.

In conclusion, I am a Head who thrives on challenge. I have developed many skills in my headships and wish to apply these to the challenge at X.  This would be to build on X’s success story and to make it even more innovative, even more at the heart of its unique community and as a result better for the pupils it serves. 

Overblown or understated? You will decide as will the appointment panels shuffling their papers as they weigh up whether to meet me. And thus dear readers, I maintain the hope that me and that school find each other.

Keep the Faith,

The Head


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The Day Chipmunk Came to School

There are two things that are impossible to teach via conventional means; the alphabet and multiplication tables. The only way, it seems to learn these two fundamental tools is by rote, by hearing them repeatedly over and over again until they are embedded in the memory (see the Sydney Carter blog from earlier this week).  I remember one of my daughters learning her alphabet as a toddler and we would laugh as she recited, “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K, lemon tea. Swapping lemon tea for L,M,N,O,P did not just allow us to have a laugh at a two year old’s expense, it also highlighted the fact that the alphabet song has a rhythm.

We always start by singing A through to G in one breath.

H-P on the second breath with L-M-N-O-P blurred so it takes on an indecipherable lemon tea quality as we run out of air in our lungs.

By now we seem to be nearing exhaustion and slow down increasingly during the final ten letters. It is as if each one was punctuated by a full stop. By the time we get to Z we have enough time to put ‘and’ in front of it.

Times tables have the rhythm of a train. 3×3 is 9, 3×4 is 12, 3×5 is fif-teen. One of the WORST teachers I have ever had the displeasure of working with was a master at teaching the children their times tables with that rhythm. It was his only endearing quality as a teacher or a human being but credit where credit’s due: he did that well.

With this in mind, we recently undertook a project at school which set the multiplication tables to a rap. The pupils responded well to the work which was to culminate in the creation of their own Rapping Times Table CD. Our music teacher came to see me a few weeks ago to ask if I would be adverse to the rap artist Chipmunk coming to our school and supporting the children’s project. She had contacts with something called she called his ‘crew.’

When I had ascertained that Chipmunk was a recording star and not a ship captain (well she said he had a crew), I warmed to the idea. I know the children like the rap genre despite being almost totally ignorant of it myself. As is the case when I am ignorant of something, I tend to make generalisations. I pictured a burly bloke in shades with plenty of gold chains and a baseball hat perched at a jaunty angle. Oh! And gold teeth must be involved and angry lyrics.

“Does he give a positive message?” I asked the music teacher. I had a second question that I had been straining to suppress but it tumbled out of my mouth; “and we’re not talking about THE Chipmunks are we? Simon, Theodore, Alvin? They irritated me even as a child.”

The teacher assured me Chipmunk’s message was positive and that I was referring to animated characters in my latter question. The guest to our school would be a real person. Which is always good.

I had to regain some credibility so I decided to empty my vault of any remaining knowledge of rap.

“No hos and/or bitches,” I warned, “the occasional ‘Brrrrrap’ will be fine but most certainly no bustin’ caps in ANYONE’S arse. Kapish?”

“Word” said the music teacher as she exited the room with her back to door and a worried expression on her face.

The day of the celebrity visit arrived. We had managed to keep the visit a secret from the children. As I watched the Mercedes with tinted windows pull up outside the school, I kicked myself for forgetting to include a posh car and tinted windows in my mental list of rapper stereotypes. I went into a panic as I realised I didn’t know how to address our guest. I turned to the music teacher and sputtered, “Do I call him Chip? Mr Munk?”

Neither; evidentially, Chipmunk would be fine.

And so he was. In fact, Chipmunk was charming, articulate and patient. He was a perfect role model for the children who predictably hung on his every word. He explained that he had worked hard at school and would have become a teacher if he hadn’t entered into a music career. He explained that he still harboured ambitions of starting his own school one day.

A baseball cap perched at a jaunty angle on his head was the only indicator that he was a rapper, according to my preconceptions. Nothing else gave him away except for the children’s awe in his presence. The children finished their question/answer session with one 10 year old asking, “Are you the real Chipmunk or a fake?” I realised that I was learning something: I really must stop playing jokes on the pupils.

And so Chipmunk departed leaving a school buzzing from the experience. The pupils learned that someone they idolise took time to nurture their own ambitions. I learned that my miscounted stereotypes of rappers were just that, ill-informed ignorance and nothing more. Not a bizzle had been shizzled during his visit. It had been a bling-bling of a day. That’s the 411. Or is it 911?

Keep the Faith,

The Head

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