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Dear Nicky…. An Open Letter

Screen shot 2015-05-10 at 11.22.25

Dear Nicky

Congratulations on your re-appointment as Secretary of State for Education.  Education Policy had rather a low profile in the General Election, but I’m sure  you’ll be returning to the DFE with renewed determination to put Education at the centre of the agenda for the new Government.  To some extent, you and your predecessor put enough changes in place to keep us busy for five years so don’t go crazy looking for things to do!

The examination and curriculum changes take up a lot of institutional energy and, above all else, we simply need time to get those things right. I’m actually quite happy about the move to terminal exams and the removal of the less robust elements of GCSEs: the ‘discourse of gaming’, as Brian Lightman has called it, never did us any good.  I’m looking forward to 2018 when all the GCSEs have converted and we’re not dealing with year-on-year tinkering to performance measures.  I hope you’ve been briefed on the statistical limits of Progress 8 and understand that it is not a measure of school effectiveness per se.  (I’ve got quite strong views on this.)

As the Head of a complex inner-London comprehensive, I’m hoping you’ll help me to address some of these issues  – or at least accept a degree of responsibility when ‘difficult choices’ have to be made:

  • My budget is shrinking in real terms. I accept that reality but already I’m plotting out how we’ll manage.  Take a look at our exciting curriculum model here.  Is there a better one anywhere? Note how we support the Arts and how it makes the Ebacc seem comparatively limited.  This is what comprehensive education can deliver – for all young people.  The only question is ‘can we sustain it?’ If not, which bits should we cut? Are we sincere about all young people developing character, gaining rich cultural capital….? I hope so.
  • There’s a constant ‘gun to the head’ feeling that I could really do without.  I was very concerned with the rhetoric being used in relation to primary Heads and times tables.  I’m sure you have a sense that this job is difficult enough without thinking you’ll be sacked if the data doesn’t pan out as you’d hope?  Personally, I feel quite secure at the moment. I’m new in post; I’ve got time and I’m experienced enough not to jump left and right every time a new tweak is made to the OfSTED framework.  Actually, I feel Heads can and should step up to lead change with more confidence.  But, as Secretary of State, you have so much influence in creating the climate where more Heads could express that confidence – not just hide within the safety zone of compliance. Please do all you can to set us free to unleash greatness.   Putting the guns down would be a start. Take a look at OfSTED and let’s move forward on the intelligent accountability agenda.
  • Teacher recruitment and retention is challenging.  It would be great if there was more affordable housing in our area but I know that’s a big ask.  You could go a long way simply resolving never to return to the dark days of the ‘enemies of promise’ rhetoric.  More pragmatically, giving some shape to teacher training routes would be helpful and, if I were you, I’d have an early conversation with David Weston from the Teacher Development Trust and pretty much do everything he suggests.   I’m glad that you take workload seriously although, in truth, I think that’s really an operational matter, especially when money is tight.  What we need is a more active, more effective leadership development body that could promote good practice; we don’t need new rules.  Can we have the NCSL back please?

Finally, I’d like to make sure you are aware of what we’re doing to develop a grass-roots National Baccalaureate.  You don’t have to do much except perhaps promote it and let us get on with it but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the details with you.  It’s a very cost-effective, aspirational and inclusive concept that could address a range of issues in our fragmented system.  I’m actually going to send you a formal invitation to attend our very first Baccalaureate Awards Ceremony in 2017.  If you can make it you’ll see my A level and BTEC students alongside their peers from the special school next door receiving their National Baccalaureate certificates and transcripts side by side; all them achievers; none more important than the other, all having received a broad, challenging education. You’ll love it.

Good Luck. Work with us and, for sure, we’ll work with you.  Remember that new types of schools might give the sense of a quick fix – but they don’t really solve the fundamental problems; they don’t stay new for long!

Yours sincerely

Tom Sherrington

Headteacher, Highbury Grove School

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Dear Nicky…. An Open Letter

  1. Another fantastic post! Absolutely spot on! We work hard to create a positive working environment where teachers and children can thrive and express themselves, yet the head teachers position is now more precarious than it has ever been. This is heighten greatly in areas of significant deprivation. I feel like a CEO of a fst100 company but with out the million pound pay off!

    Like

    Posted by Richard Thorpe | May 10, 2015, 4:28 pm
  2. Sane , realistic and decent . But I Feel Tom that none of this will be listened to ? Free Schools will dominate the agenda and funding rather than the things that matter . Actually feel very gloomy about future .

    Like

    Posted by Kevin Moody | May 10, 2015, 5:54 pm
  3. Looks like we both had the same idea today. Here’s my open letter to Nicky Morgan: https://thelearningprofession.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/an-open-letter-to-nicky-morgan/

    Like

    Posted by mrsfoster85 | May 10, 2015, 8:11 pm
  4. Reblogged this on 3D Eye and commented:
    Highbury Grove School in Islington has a very special place in my personal and professional memories. Back in the wild and whacky days of the 1970s I was sent there by the ILEA for a stint as an unqualified supply teacher. I’d assumed supply teachers were moved around from school to school to cover for staff absences, but no – I was there for the duration. On account of staff shortages as well as staff absences there was a permanent pool of supply teachers which was to become my peer group and support group for several months whilst I was waiting to start a PGCE at Goldsmiths. I soon discovered why the Remedial Department was short of staff. And when the headteacher offered me a teaching post and said the school would train me to QTS I politely declined.

    The school opened its fine new buildings in 2009 – 3Di had a brief look inside when we attended a meeting of the Heads Round Table there a few weeks ago. Tom Sherrington has been the head of Highbury Grove since last September. Tom has worked in a wide range of schools, including Holland Park Comprehensive and King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, before taking up this interesting and challenging post. He’s a founding member of the Headteachers’ Round Table and a well-known blogger and tweeter. He’s also prepared to speak truth to power, as shown in this important blog post which he addresses to the Secretary of State for Education.

    For us this is a key paragraph:

    “There’s a constant ‘gun to the head’ feeling that I could really do without. I was very concerned with the rhetoric being used in relation to primary Heads and times tables. I’m sure you have a sense that this job is difficult enough without thinking you’ll be sacked if the data doesn’t pan out as you’d hope? Personally, I feel quite secure at the moment. I’m new in post; I’ve got time and I’m experienced enough not to jump left and right every time a new tweak is made to the OfSTED framework. Actually, I feel Heads can and should step up to lead change with more confidence. But, as Secretary of State, you have so much influence in creating the climate where more Heads could express that confidence – not just hide within the safety zone of compliance. Please do all you can to set us free to unleash greatness. Putting the guns down would be a start. Take a look at OfSTED and let’s move forward on the intelligent accountability agenda.

    We need a lot more heads, teachers and parents to join with Tom Sherrington in speaking out on the issues he’s raised – if we’re to achieve what’s right and equitable for schools, teachers, students and families.

    GF

    Like

    Posted by 3D Eye | May 21, 2015, 11:42 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: TDT Newsletter – May 2015 | Teacher Development Trust - May 22, 2015

  2. Pingback: Education Panorama (June ’15) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit - June 2, 2015

  3. Pingback: Dear Justine. Some thoughts… | headguruteacher - July 17, 2016

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