Ten years ago, I had a mini-meltdown. Actually, it was a bit more than that and, like many people, I tried to put it down to feeling inadequate, telling myself to snap out of it. But it was a cocktail of stress and depression. I had a number of days away from school and then came back after Christmas feeling revived and positive. And promptly dislocated my shoulder.
A sign of the changes in society in ten years is that I can talk openly about stress and depression now, knowing it will be accepted, neither with hysterical sympathy nor through passing by on the other side of the road.
It is interesting to recall many of the job-related issues that, ten years ago, exacerbated my deeply negative state of mind. At the time, I wrote down quite a few of the things that made me so stressed. I paraphrase them below:-
- Why were people asking about the progress of my low-ability, White British boys in KS2 reading? I wanted all my children to do well.
- Why were we meant to be grading lesson observations of my teachers? It was obvious this was a false situation and often counter-productive.
- Why weren’t people coming in to assist me with the amalgamation of two schools? It was the biggest issue by far that I was facing.
- Why did people not understand that the behaviour of pupils was a reflection of wider societal problems? Parents seemed to blame the school on every occasion.
- Why didn’t people realise that the more high-stakes data you produce, the more cheating and maladministration you will attract? My ‘below-average’ data just didn’t reflect the school.
- Why were people obsessing with taking pupils out of class for ‘interventions’? Surely, they deserved the chance to have the lesson with their classmates
- Why were teachers being ‘performance managed’ on the ‘progress’of their pupils? There were multiple factors at work, some outside of the remit of the most inspirational teacher.
- Why were fabulous disciplines such as sport, music and languages being ignored by school bureaucrats, inspectors and consultants? We were doing really well but no-one seemed to care.
So it is with a great sense of optimism that, as we end 2018 and recharge our batteries for the new year, many of these questions that left my baffled in 2008 have been partially resolved. Whilst Ofsted, back then, may have been part of the problem, they are now an integral part of the solution. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman is showing considerable leadership.
We are not there yet – the so-called ‘performance tables’ are a stain on our system and they must be sent to a permanent isolation booth, sat alongside Michael Gove. They have caused much of the immoral off-rolling, informal exclusions and maladministration of pupil assessments. They serve no purpose but to infect our system with an avaricious consumerism that is deeply counter-productive to our work.
But let’s look up. We are seeing a shift away from the technocratic, data-obsessed system which caused me to blow-up all those years ago. Amen to that.
Further movement in the right direction will increase the pool of great leaders, lift the morale of passionate teachers, encourage collaboration and the sharing of great practice. It will focus on people, staff development and community.
In doing so, it will reduce the stress and depression that affects too many of our public servants.
They, like I, may then anticipate the next ten years in hopeful expectation, the very definition of this Advent season.