What would your response be if, within a month, your school moves from being a shining example of all that is right to an example of how all is not well?
To set the scene: the prime minister mentions you in a “One Hundred Days in Office” article as an example of a school that has turned itself around. You don’t know about it as you’re abroad, but three days before the article appears in a national newspaper, while savouring the final days of your holiday, you do receive your English iGCSE results and know that your school’s headline figure will take a hit.
You have a week until you find out whether it is a blip or a meltdown. Those are the long days, and longer nights, of educational leadership in August.
This happened to me. When I got home I received a lovely email congratulating the academy on its newspaper mention. We had recently won a “best secondary school of the year” award through our regional newspaper and I assumed that was what it was about.
What a surreal moment when I realised we had been mentioned by the PM. Brilliant! Mentioned by a Conservative government: likely to infuriate many education partners and local politicians.
But iGCSE results are down: this could create a mini-storm.
Our school is in the top 0.5 per cent of schools in the country for social deprivation and the bottom 1 per cent for prior attainment.
The GCSE year group who just finished with us were a tiny, vulnerable, but inspiring year group. We knew our results would dip but they were down more than expected – from 59 per cent five A*-C grades including English and maths last year to 51 per cent this year. Progress remained good but after three years of rapid improvement a dip still feels like a drop, and a drop means you lose the cloak of invincibility when the inquisition arrives.
If we don’t champion our wonderful students, no one else will
Weeks moved by with the excitement of the new term when a fellow head phoned and asked me to call the new shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, a Manchester MP, as our academy was going to be criticised by the Conservative government in the final reading of the Education and Adoption Bill.
This seemed strange as we had been praised in the second reading. I phoned the new Labour education lead and soon realised that the success highlighted by the government meant we were about to be deconstructed by the opposition.
My senior team and I trebled the viewing figures for the Parliament Channel and watched our academy presented as an example of why the bill had misjudged the educational landscape.
A number of inaccurate comments were made. Were we a bastion of how an academy can transform a failing school? Hopefully, yes. Did we do this disconnected from our community and our city? No – Manchester City Council is one of our co-sponsors.
We are a local school in one of the most deprived areas of the country; 99 per cent of one of our year groups qualify for pupil premium.
We are seeking to survive the new world order of comparative outcomes in which GCSE grade increases are limited.
The loneliness of the urban leader in a system whose assessment regime is redesigned to disadvantage students is only compounded when, within a month, you move from a being a shining example of all that is right to an example of how all is not well.
Our students were so proud to be mentioned by the prime minister and our staff were hurt that we were misrepresented in the final reading of the bill. The whole tale makes the cliff edge of urban education leadership feel that bit steeper and I wonder what the carrot is to choose to lead in a vulnerable school in need of rapid transformation.
If we don’t champion our wonderful students, no one else will. We will link arms with them and form a bridge and cross precariously between the cliff edges.
Dips are inevitable in the new assessment world. Just don’t watch the Parliament Channel if you experience one.