We have had, as they say, a year. I only have to trawl back through issues of Life and Learning, our fortnightly newsletter, to see that what we have accomplished has been substantial and in nearly all aspects, good, work. When I wrote the series of posts on good work, it sparked in me a determination again to see our accomplishments defined not by the “narrow range of excellence” but by all that is rooted in the character of children and adults that make up this school. Good work remains good work and is self-defined. It is not measured necessarily by outcomes, ever. I know schools that have become outstanding by paying attention simply to the “narrow range of excellence”, and I know those that are “requires improvement” where I would be happy to send my children because of what they will experience there. And, looking at the criteria bandied about by the government, this mismatch between an “outstanding” school and one that may be worth sending your child to, will only increase. Sometimes there will be honourable overlap between what is truly great and what is only judged so by inspectors, and one hope in all our minds is that in the current cull of less-than-inspiring inspectors, there might be a honing and sharpening of those with the breadth of judgment to spot what it is that makes a school a place of beauty and excellence. But I was not encouraged yesterday to see a conference in London being advertised with a senior HMI on the speaker list whom I know was refused entry to two schools in Shropshire because of his abrasive and insensitive manner. That being said, and even with the stakes set even higher for those schools judged less than good, the inspection system’s ability to fix itself is in serious doubt, despite what passes for its best efforts.
At the start of the year, I put together the display board shown above as a metaphor for where we would be going during 2014-15. The idea was that we had to head into mountains where things for a while are less clear than they might otherwise be, but where, looking back, we would have a very clear understanding of how we had got where we were. Over the year we added quite a lot of text to the picture, more or less obscuring the mountains! The final version (below) shows the story of the year with actions we had taken across our 6 core priorities and the criteria we had set to tell us when we had been successful. Despite the density of the text, it is the story of good work done in a good spirit and to good effect for the vast majority of children and adults. The icing on the cake for me was the opportunity to develop a new coaching and mentoring program that will release another 9 staff into leadership or support of other teachers.
The trouble about walking through mountains is the extent to which it limits our vision – we might be eagles, but we behave like chickens. Only rarely do we get to a place where we can see large tracts of country. Part of the huge gift that John Hattie’s visible learning has been for the profession has been the way it enables us to see what is happening in the classroom with new eyes. The challenge for us at school in 2015-16 is to have that view – a common view – of our renewed vision for learning, depth of character and spiritual awareness, and the craftsmanship and deep understanding of our theory of learning that will enable us to get there, together.