It hasn’t been easy, but Liam Collins is determined to keep “the positive energy up”.
I wanted to be more positive this year. So I wrote a list, and one side was much longer than the other. Still, I’m going to try to keep the positive energy up. To help, let’s take the classic structure of three positives of the year and a wish for the future.
First up, the Headteacher’s Roundtable grew under Stephen Tierney’s care and leadership this year. I pulled myself away a bit because funding has left me with a rapidly reducing senior leadership team so I can’t be away from school too often. But there are so many more heads involved and especially across age ranges, which is really great.
Trying to work out what difference the Roundtable makes to other teachers is difficult. Honestly, I don’t know if it does.
But we are in a bit of an odd position at present in which the National Association of Head Teachers has moved towards a slightly more confrontational stance, with which I agree, whereas the Association of School and College Leaders is mixed up in its completely bizarre leadership campaign.
Politicians used to listen to social media. Now I wonder if we are just in an echo chamber
A second positive this year is that collaboration across schools is finally working. Around me, at least, I see a genuine desire for school leaders to try to improve the quality of outcomes for all pupils in their area — not just the ones in their own school.
There seems to be a desire to work together for the best of all kids and not just the few. Clearly, schools have also been shoved together in some parts of the country because of the white paper earlier this year. Being told we had to become an academy kick-started conversations across many schools and even if the plans are now changing, there’s a lot more sharing across schools — we go to see each other’s departments, etc.
Possibly this is because of the introduction of Progress 8, the new way of measuring schools that means all pupils’ improvement across many subjects matters.
Though, I have to say, ours is bonkers. The inclusion in our figures of a pupil who was educated elsewhere drops our FSM Progress 8 score by -0.45. It is crazy that one student can have that impact.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine an Ofsted inspector looking at the figure, with the way we have explained it, and not coming out and saying “OK, yes, that’s one student with a disproportionate impact” — which feels like an improvement on times past.
The third real positive of 2016 is Education Datalab. Have you seen its amazing work? The way it investigates school data is
mind-blowing and has changed the education discourse. It is now evidence-led.
That evidence is important because I worry about the social media bubble among school leaders. At one time social media was driving change as it was listened to by politicians. At times I wonder now if we are just in an echo chamber.
However, I’ve been asked to meet our local MP Nus Ghani and appear to have managed to arrange that meeting with Nick Gibb. And being able to take all the evidence from Datalab rather than just going up on my own and moaning is vital.
He is going to be well-briefed and he will pretend that PISA tells us that grammar schools are needed, but I can use Datalab’s statistics to show the reality.
In terms of a wish, well, the obvious one is: leave us alone! But also we need more funding.
High-needs’ funding, in particular, is an issue with millions spent on transport alone. When schools are not funded adequately for high-needs pupils it is no wonder that, increasingly, parents are being told a school cannot take a child with such needs.
Can it be right that we can find the money for potholes but not for children with high needs?
Liam Collins is headtecher at Uplands community college in East Sussex