I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.
I have a rough sense of what I want to say and I have tried, several times, to start to formulate it but I have failed.
Here, then, some unformulated
Last year I did the Scottish Into Headship course with the view to becoming a school leader. I loved the course and developed a sense of the leader I would like to be. Since doing the course, I have taken on the role of Acting Head of Secondary in the Joint Campus where I was appointed four years ago as Deputy Head of Pupil Support.
Prior to that I had been Head of Support Department and a Head of Languages Faculty in a school in the Outer Hebrides. Prior to that I had been a mum to tinies and prior to that I had taught, in various roles in schools in England.
What I want, or need, to say now, is that I don’t think most schools work.
I don’t think they can, unless we commit to a fundamental shift in what they are about.
Although they are first and foremost about teaching and facilitating learning, we also have to be honest and admit that they are about caring for and looking after the most precious things in other adults’ lives.
The care of children.
Childcare. Right up to when those big children are 16 or even 18.
And if our schools put other things at a stake above caring for children, we are getting something wrong.
We can pretend and make excuses that getting pupils to pass exams and achieve all sorts of other things that can be assessed is part of caring for them.
But I don’t really believe that it is.
I am not sure that I have ever really understood this until now.
Until now that I am in a situation where my own two children are in the school where I am a leader. And where I see every one of their peers as another child in need of care. Of love.
I currently have the privilege of working in a 3 to 18 through school.
And much as it is all it can and should be, my virtual tour of this school which is not but could be mine may give you a sense of what I feel to be wrong.
“Ah welcome, welcome to our pre-5 unit, Mrs Leader. Here we will do our best for three year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye. Yes, fifteen other lovelies will share the attention of our two wonderful nursery nurses but she will be fine. No no, they aren’t teachers but they both studied childcare at college.
Yes, she’ll be loved and cared for and we are a hug-friendly provider (see the notice on the door and our attachment-informed policies). Well, yes, only two pairs of arms and two laps to go round but we are training them to be ready for school so we don’t want to encourage them to be clingy. At three, we need to foster independence and a more formal relationship with care-givers.
Sharing attention is an important part of growing up and becoming an independent learner, after all.
And through here is our first year class. Yes! Twenty-five in here, some fours and some fives! We are nearly over-subscribed!
One teacher, one classroom assistant and Betty, who is split between this class and the one next door because each has a pupil with a special educational need. No, no,not a teacher. Not an autism specialist.
Yes, you may recognise Betty from her other part time job in the co-op.
Here we will do our best for five year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.
Yes, isn’t the uniform lovely! Confirming to a dress code is an early step towards learning about the world of work.
And how time flies and already here they are in the last class of primary, ready to spread their wings and join big school. Well, apart from the ones who aren’t. And then of course there are those who really were ready two years ago. But we have to keep them together on their age groups because…. well, how else would it work?
No, Mrs Smith is a temporary teacher because Mr Brown left to concentrate on his writing. I know, such a shame.
Mrs Smith can only do three days for us so the rest of the time is shared between other staff. It is quite okay though as it will get the children used to having several teachers; they will have up to 18 in secondary!
Here we will do our best for eleven year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.
And now we move round to the secondary department.
Yes, isn’t it busy! Oh yes, the canteen is the hub. Too noisy? No, no. There’s nothing teenagers like more than this type of environment.
Supervision? Well, a couple of teachers do lunch duty and the older pupils look out for the younger ones.
Yes, classrooms do look a lot like they did when we were at school, don’t they? All facing the front! All doing as they are told! You remember being taught by Mrs Reece? No, I bet you never answered her back! It never did you any harm though, did it?
Yes, thirty-three thirteen year olds!! In one room. All those hormones and sensitive, imaginative, rebellious teenage brains! Yes, it takes a lot of skill but our teachers are very experienced and our results are fantastic!
Here we will do our best for fourteen year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.
And finally to our most senior class. Oh, no teacher in the room here. We must have needed to put him with a junior class due to staff shortages today.
Luckily they are all excellent at independent study, though. We encourage them to be so from an early age.
Lucy, tell our guest what you are working on there. French? Excellent. And you are going to study it at university? Brilliant.
You think you know this lady from somewhere?
You live in the same house?
Breakfast and dinner and the odd weekend outing?
But she gave you away to the care of someone else when you were three?
Well, Mrs Leader. The end of our tour for today.
I do hope you will choose us.”
Let’s be honest.
What are we doing?
One adult in a room caring for 20, 30, 33 of those most precious things?
This is not just about class size or individual teachers. It is about purpose and values and our fundamental understanding of what education and schools are for.
Top of my list of values as a school leader. But maybe not compatible with a system that pretends it is about something else?