Review by Sarah Gallagher

Headteacher, Snape Primary School and PGCE tutor, University of Cambridge

20 May 2023, 5:00


The Conversation – with Sarah Gallagher

The wake of SATs

The decent of this week’s conversation into so many social media spats has sometimes felt like a concerted effort to talk about anything other than the elephant in the staffroom. Which one, you might well ask. The answer this week, as set out brilliantly in this blog by headteacher Simon Smith, is SATs.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to read much further than Smith’s opening comment that there is some sense to these tests. But read on I did, and I am glad because his assessment of the high level of challenge this year’s reading test presented to able readers is debated with a twist..

On one level, it was comforting to find that it wasn’t just our pupils who found it hard going. On another, as Smith points out, this year’s uproar at the difficulty only highlights the invisibility of pupils with SEND when it comes to SATs. The distress able readers experienced last week is felt by many children every year. But it’s okay, apparently, because the DfE says the tests are “designed to be challenging”.

Quite how any of this helps with the current mental health crisis, I’m yet to understand.

A career in flow

Sticking with the theme of inclusion, the latest episode of the Primary Education Voices podcast welcomed seasoned primary educator and inclusion adviser, Carol Allen to chat about all things SEND.

With 43 years’ experience across a huge range of settings and age ranges, Allen speaks passionately and movingly about why she became a teacher and what drove her to keep going – once setting up a mini school in her garage!

It’s a heart-warming conversation that reminded me, in this SATs week, about the real heart of what we do. The sheer delight in Allen’s voice when she relates the story of a child ‘getting’ reading gave me goosebumps. A powerful antidote to needless bolt-ons and meaningless hoops.

The turbulence of the pandemic

New to me this week, the T and Teaching podcast is billed as ‘the education podcast that you can listen to with a cup of tea’, which suits me to a T. In the latest episode, teacher-hosts Arthur Moore and Mike Harrowell discuss post-pandemic behaviour over a cuppa with their guest Adele Bates, author of Miss, I Don’t Give a Shit.

All three discuss how difficult behaviour has become in recent years and how challenging dealing with it is proving. Part of the problem in my mind is that while the pandemic itself feels ever more distant, the reality is that its impact on children and young people is still very much a live issue.  

As edu-social media seemingly becomes ever more polarised, I found hearing these three being honest and open about their struggles refreshing. Bates talks openly about a class where the dynamic simply wasn’t working and how she gave them some agency in fixing it – a healthy reminder that young people are not automatons.

Encouraging us to address our own wellbeing, she also reminds us that we have to be in a good place ourselves before we can address challenging behaviour. All of which is highly pertinent at this time of year.

A rudder for the lifeboat

Pertinent too was this blog by Anaheim University professor Hayo Reinders. ‘We have to place more trust in our teacher and better support them to face future challenges,’ it reads, and given our leadership recruitment and retention crisis I very much hope this comes to pass. If it doesn’t, I fear there will be many rudderless schools in the next few years.

The blog is about values-based leadership and what motivates people to take on leadership roles. Starting with a walk-through of the ‘Bull’s Eye’ exercise, which poses reflective questions about all aspects of our lives, Reinders then suggests making an action plan to better align our lives outside school with our school values.

Just like Bates earlier, Reinders’s point about putting our own life-vest on before helping anyone else is also well made here. Almost as if we were on a sinking ship.

And yet the DfE violins still play.

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