Review by Dr Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Deputy head, Robson House, Camden

16 Sep 2023, 5:00


The Conversation – with Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

A late resurgence of summer has ensured the return to school had no wet play, though someone should perhaps coin the term ‘sweat play’. Notwithstanding, refreshed by change and rest, staff teams everywhere (with apologies to those disrupted by RAAC) have approached the new year full of resolution and hope.

A changing world

Looking to the future first, this week’s OECD report, Back to school in a changing world reminds us that whatever and whoever we teach, our work is also shaped by where we teach.

The sense that the world is ‘speeding up’ is perhaps felt more strongly as we return from a (hopefully) restful break. But beyond our individual classrooms and schools, change is already influencing practice and comfort.

There are jobs young people can aspire to now which weren’t even dreamed of when I was completing careers surveys, but there are also skills shortages. There is a rise in young adults pursuing advanced qualifications, and also in those classed as NEET.

It turns out shift really does happen – and that’s without mentioning climate.   

Becoming the deputy

As I begin a new chapter as a deputy head, this blog from Mrs Spalding spoke particularly to me. The title includes the phrase ‘teaching is a people business’ and there is no doubt in my mind that leading is also exactly that.

The blog emphasises the strengths that different roles we fill in our lives bring to our leadership, but also the importance of understanding the different roles our colleagues hold. Her focus is on female colleagues, and her emphasis on shared parental leave and other ways to support a group who is the most likely to leave the profession is an important point. Thinking beyond this, showing we value all our colleagues’ other roles, caring or otherwise, is crucial to treating them as more than mere employees.

Beyond that, it’s a healthy reminder that showing up as your authentic self is powerfully humanising, and that ‘seeing the good in every person isn’t anywhere near as difficult as you might imagine’.

Rise of the home educators

On the BERA blog this week, Sarah Gillie focuses on an important distinction for researchers and others between elective home education (EHE – not new) and the rise in school deregistration, ‘particularly for children with identified or suspected learning needs’ (newer).

The blog refers to a conference presentation where such children were described as ‘refugees from the school system’. This phrase, though emotive, reminds us that not all of us experience the same welcome, inclusion and opportunities.

Though she includes positive experiences of EHE, Gillie also describes feelings of marginalisation expressed by parents and their rejection of the use of the word ‘elective’. The research underpinning it includes recommendations for how we might improve our interactions with these families. I will be paying close attention to it. I hope ministers do too.

A window of opportunity

I maintain that a visit from inspectors puts school leaders in the privileged position of being able to share the excellent things that happen in their schools, but we can’t ignore the negative impact inspection can also have. Here, Ofsted’s deputy director for schools and education, Lee Owston sets out to reassure the profession by laying out what changes the inspectorate has made and why.

His reference to a separate blog clarifying inspection windows doesn’t bring much comfort given the window is so long, but other changes are more reassuring. The acknowledgement in the section on attendance that ‘schools cannot be everything to everyone’ is encouraging, especially for headteachers who do not drive.  And the opportunity to make minor (clerical rather than systemic) safeguarding improvements during inspection brings hope that we will not see another situation like the one our colleague Ruth Perry faced less than a year ago.

This week’s news about Queen Anne primary school highlights how big a change in culture that is going to be for Ofsted. But recognition of the impact of Covid on the context schools are operating in gives me hope. (Well, it is still September.)

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