Cuts and overbearing accountability have driven me out of headship

27 Dec 2019, 11:01

Andy Mellor, the past president of the NAHT, has left his role at St Nicholas Church of England primary school in Blackpool. Here, he explains why he believes he can do more for children from outside the profession than from within.

The other evening as I drove down the M55 from Blackpool, I pondered the leaving mass I’d just attended for Stephen Tierney, as he prepared to leave his trust and school.

We have both led schools serving some of the most deprived areas of the country and both of us are passionate about social justice and giving Blackpool kids a chance.

We both came into the profession with a sense of mission and to make a positive difference to the life chances of the children and young people we work with.

But after 30 years in the profession, I feel my ability to make this positive change and positively impact the children and young people of our country is better served by me being outside of headship.

I came into teaching with a desire to make a difference. But for the last ten years, as school budgets have been cut year after year in real terms, my ability to make that difference has dropped with every pound that has been taken from my budget.

I’ve had to lose highly effective staff and provision, and have had to watch as vital services for our children have been lost.

It’s truly demoralising to know what we were once able to offer, and see what we now have left.

Our staff go over and above what is reasonable as they try to ensure the funding shortfall doesn’t affect the children, but ultimately, the lack of funding does have an impact.

And as we have watched the funding dry up, we have seen the expectations of Ofsted ramp up.

In Blackpool, we hoped Amanda Spielman’s pledge a year ago – that the new education inspection framework would benefit schools serving disadvantaged communities – would ring true.

As we suspected, nothing has changed.

No account is taken of the context in which some children exist in Blackpool.

Our children are expected to jump over the same bar as those from privileged and secure home situations. It’s clearly wrong.

The staff working in Blackpool schools are among the best in the country, but still their efforts fail to be recognised by a system obsessed with inflexible frameworks and national test data.

If truth be told, after 17 years of realigning my school to fit the latest Ofsted framework requirements, I’m tired of it.

After 28 years of Ofsted, is it still fit for purpose? No-one would deny the need for oversight and regulation, but in its current form, Ofsted doesn’t do that. It reinforces the postcode social inequality of our country.

My new role as national wellbeing director with the Schools Advisory Service will allow me to support those suffering the consequences of long term underfunding.

I’ll be working to improve the wellbeing of staff and pupils, we can hopefully return some of the joy of working in schools to those who need that support the most.

We will do this by providing services that are badly needed in school like speech and language therapy and quick and accessible educational psychology support.

I look forward to working with the profession to continue to make that difference that we all seek, but without the overbearing accountability that now seems to be a permanent ball and chain to the profession.

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