prism_t_32kEveryday I get, sent through by various helpful course providers, invitations to a course to “get to grips with” or to “make sure you don’t miss out on” or “ensure you are fully compliant with” the most recent OFSTED framework, or safeguarding requirements, or leadership requirements, or governance, or outstanding teaching or behaviour and safety requirements or whatever. The list is endless, like their mailing lists (every school in the country has their inbox crammed with this stuff), and indeed, the list of providers. Every second retired head has decided to be a consultant, it seems (the other ones have all gone off to be OFSTED inspectors).

I find this hard. I am called to lead a school in hope and contentment, in joy and peace, to a certain hope of God’s love and affection for both the children and the community they are going to contribute to, and all those around me, in the educational ether, are telling me that the only way to improve schools is through fear. Do this or OFSTED will judge you. Get up to the mark or parents will desert you (because they listen to the fear-mongers). Today I read a comment at the start one of these wretched e-mails, this time from “ModernGovernor”:

It is now no longer enough that schools are judged as ‘Outstanding’ – excellence within tougher rules requires even further commitment. Blah, blah..

Soon we will be in a situation where schools will be judged “perfect” or “not yet perfect”. The former will be asked to surpass perfection and the latter will be burnt down and converted into coffee bars (why so many of those?) and their children farmed out to perfect schools where perfect teachers work with perfect expectations going into perfect universities and then into….well, unemployment or part-time work, like as not. But no matter, because we will have world-class (as good as Guinea-Bissau) perfect schools, BETTER than Finland or Singapore.

This is not OFSTED’s fault, actually. We live in a culture where it is assumed that we can have more and more improvement. Where things have to get better to stay the same. Where there are said to be no limits to human ability. Where we set up humanity as a little tin-pot god that can do whatever we like.

What we fail to see, or at least are not yet seeing clearly, is that there are limits which we should place on what we do. We are finite beings. There comes a time when we cannot do more and more. We cannot keep working harder and smarter, because in doing so we let go of some things we love. We generate guilt in ourselves and one another. If we work for longer hours, we will have a better school. No we won’t. We will have a tireder school, and how is that GOOD? In the true sense of moral worth, affectionate understanding and deepening relationships, of warmth and joy?

Of course schools will want to get better and do more for their children. This motivation comes from within, and needs to be trusted to come from within. Of course we need to challenge each other and encourage each other to do the best for those we have responsibility for.

In the ongoing flustery fall out from the crass stupidity of a handful of the House of Laity to kybosh the appointment of women bishops, renewed attacks on the church are being seen from government and the media. It is as though the government are saying – if the church can’t be trusted to show equality to women in their leadership, then let’s use this to slip the issue of gay marriage past them. No problem here, by the way, because we can give as robust a reply as we need to about the value of living Jesus kingdom here and now and sharing the benefits of that to all who want it. However, it has also, in comment pages and blogsites, re-opened some old sores about the value of church schools and we need to say, loud and clear, that church schools have an unrivalled opportunity to bring hope, joy, peace, affection and a deep godly kindness into the lives of the children they teach. We serve a higher authority than community schools and that authority is rooted in the word and love of God, and empowered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If church schools do not take that opportunity, if they blow it, if they fail to be the prisms through which God can shine light and transform lives, then we validate the criticisms, whether from OFSTED or anywhere else. If we give way to fear, and worship that, rather than the deep hope of God’s kingdom as it emerges through our actions and the power of Jesus which sustains it, we have lost before we start the race. This is why John says that perfect love casts out fear. It is the wholly opposite way to live.

If you catch me, ever, trying to rule this school by fear, challenge me. Please. It’s insidious, and I do not want it.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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