Review by Fiona Atherton

Headteacher, Ladypool Primary School

2 Dec 2023, 5:00


The Conversation – with Fiona Atherton

Every time I sit down to write my column, I look out for the good news stories. In all honesty, it is becoming quite difficult to find them. SEND and ‘the right provision for pupils’ seem to be dominating this week, permeating even those conversations that seem to be about something else.

The sound of silence

Take for example, the debate about silent corridors that started last week and has rumbled on since. Usually a hot topic for the inevitable school holiday edu-Twitter rumble (Someone should really study this phenomenon!), this time it seems to have taken on a life of its own. Some liken the practice to cruelty. Some maintain they would never send their child to a school with such practices. Others admire and defend the approach.

Some argue that it is particularly good for pupils with SEND, who benefit from order, predictability and low-stimulus environments. Others counter that the practice is inherently exclusionary. I find that working in primary, the whole issue seems much less important than it evidently is for secondary colleagues. I understand that we are talking about much larger numbers of older pupils and more regular movement around the building, but in primary schools most teachers I know would simply expect children to move quietly around school without debate.

Emma Williams’s blog offers an interesting take. Her contention is that the different views on this issue are shaped by people’s own experiences of school. Her final words implore us to remember that we have more in common than that which separates us: “We all want children to be safe, supported and happy in school and for them to receive the best possible free education. What we differ on is how to achieve this.”

Perhaps it’s time for a period of quiet reflection.

Bridge over troubled water

This damning blog could make a good stimulus for that. Here, ‘Blog Standard Parent’ Daniel  gives his thoughts on a news report based on whistleblower testimony that schools are permanently excluding pupils with special educational needs to protect their places in league tables. The whistleblower, a senior member of a local authority education team says: “The system’s falling apart.”

The story itself is saddening, but to read here that so many parents believe schools don’t understand the needs of their children and to be confronted with how long and how hard they have to fight to get their children the support and entitlement they deserve is very difficult and for the most part extremely negative.

However, I have seen both sides of the coin: some happy parents and some unhappy; some with whom agreement can be found and others who will never agree. After all, we are talking about the most precious parts of a parent’s life. While it can be incredibly difficult to keep the customer satisfied, I still believe the vast majority of teachers and leaders are aiming for the best for every pupil.

Years of underfunding (and, for the same reason, shrinking support from local authority teams), make the job of providing adequate support for increasing numbers of pupils with additional needs arriving in our classrooms ever more challenging.

I am a rock

And speaking of challenge, the latest episode of the Headteacher Update podcast is dedicated to survival advice for primary school leaders. Headteachers, Helen Frostick, Paul Ainsworth, Kulvarn Atwal and Rachel Jones draw on their considerable collective expertise to offer their top tips for making it as a headteacher in these challenging times.

Wellbeing is a huge part of the discussion, but in the sense of managing your own wellbeing and making time and space for yourself. Sometimes, a little bit of ‘selfishness’ can go a long way.

I was lucky enough to see the fabulous Diana Osagie at a conference recently and one of the things she said really sat with me. It was so simple, but she reminded me to always remember my purpose as an educator. We all have different ideas about that, but whatever drives us we need to be at our best to do it well.

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