Review by Fiona Atherton

Headteacher, Ladypool Primary School

24 Feb 2024, 5:00


The Conversation – with Fiona Atherton

The flowers of spring

It’s the start of a new half term and we are starting to see a little more of the sun which always makes things seem a little brighter and more positive. Spring 2 is one of my favourite times of the school year, but this year the five week half term means there is an awful lot to squeeze including World Book Day, Mothers’ Day and Easter celebrations along with the start of Ramadan.

Adding to the excitement, the DfE kicked off its half-term by publishing its ‘long-awaited’ mobile phone guidance from the government (just kidding!).

It doesn’t really have much of an impact on primary schools as far as I’m aware, but it has been a huge talking point this week and it has certainly divided opinion on X. A blistering tweet from Andy Calvert described it as a ‘dead cat’ piece of guidance – ‘political and theatrical spin on a non topic’. Some think the contrary, voicing belief that the guidance will be a useful back-up for headteachers who are struggling to implement the ban in their school.

For me, the controversy should really stem from the fact that many, many schools have already dealt with this issue. As usual, it’s too late from the DfE to be of any use, and it just draws attention to the fact that there are so many much larger issues government should be focused on, such as SEND funding.

Assessment, not assumption

On the topic of SEND and funding, this insightful post by Unity Schools Partnership’s pupil premium adviser Marc Rowland makes an unarguable case for looking beyond labels to support all children to thrive.

The blog is divided into two parts. The first quickly unpicks the dangers of using labels like SEND and PPG to make sense of under-achievement. Chiefly, he says, this can lead to disempowering teachers, limiting our expectations and making generalised assumptions rather than specific assessments. He then sets out ten detailed principles for ensuring every child can thrive.

The second part of the blog looks at students with SEND who are also disadvantaged. Rowland adopts an intersectional lens and sets out four thinking traps to be avoided in our attempts to support these pupils. “Multiple challenges mean multiple complexities,” says Rowland, but “Where possible, it’s vital to avoid an overly complicated response.”

Broadly, Rowland’s argument is that these labels – whether a child falls into one or more of these groups – are useful only for thinking about the link between circumstances and educational outcomes at the policy/population level. They rightly determine where funding is directed, but tell us nothing useful about how to support the children in our classrooms.

One sentence from this blog particularly struck me: “What this group is more vulnerable to is holding less status within our school system”. If pupil premium and SEND funding (for what it’s worth) are for anything, it is surely to reverse that link rather than strengthen it.

Elevating Black leaders

And for my final thought this week, I managed to catch an episode of the Mind the gap podcast with Amanda Wilson as the special guest.

Wilson is the author of Letters to a Young Generation: Aspiring School Leaders. Her book is written from a Black British perspective and it is her third book of letters. She talks about how important it is for a light to be shone on some of the few Black headteachers in the UK. This book came about off the back of the statistics from the government that indicated how few Black headteachers there are in the UK and how young Black and other teachers of colour can be encouraged to try and take the next steps in their journeys if leadership is something that they aspire to.

I love the idea of “sending the elevator back down”. I highly recommend you have a listen. Maybe on your phone.

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