Good Enough for Any SEF
As a school leader, you can spend an awful lot of time seeking 'evidence'. It's something that always seems to be required for the external eye so that you can be verified for your efforts. What we do know is that some of the best indicators of success should be living and breathing outside of your school provision, as a direct result of the things that you are doing on the inside. You may rarely discover just how much influence you can have on the health of your community.
It was teatime on a Friday and the working week had concluded. I wandered into my local, ready for a drink. The fellow next to me lets on and we begin to chat. It's a great feeling to know that you've clocked off and can talk to people about their week, their plans for the weekend or the football fixtures.
I'm a lot like my Dad, he can happily walk into any pub on his own and talk to the first person that he meets. There's something lovely about this. Whilst it's great to meet a friend or two, meeting and finding out about others is very rewarding. It's a joy to leave somewhere having met and talked to someone new. Particularly in your own community. When people talk about social networking, this is it in it's most significant form.
'My Dad is fascinated by new people and places. When I lived in London, he set off for a wander from my flat in Hackney. I advised him to turn right at the end of the street. This is where all the nice bars and cafe's are.
When he returned, he told me that he had turned left. He had spent an hour drinking coffee in the nearby Kurdish community centre.'
The chat turns to what we do for a living. I never steer this one, but it seems to go this way. I tell him that I'm a teacher, which is what I always say. Inevitably, he asks where I work. When I tell him, I see his reaction. It's typical and it's not his fault. Whenever I mention my school, the response tends to be one of intrigue and surprise, followed by remarks about how tough it must be.
It can be tough, but this is a friendly chat, and that would be a can of worms. He asks how long I've been there, and he's impressed by the duration.
'Only when you articulate to others what you do as a headteacher can you really begin to understand how complicated, challenging and ultimately profound your job can be. But you have to be very careful not to sensationalise, and to maintain respect, because whilst you may work in this community, you leave it every day to live elsewhere.''
I tell him how great the school is. How proud the community is and what we have achieved. This is very true. We have achieved so much but it's hard to express those measures and it's important to be self-aware enough to keep the conversation light. I love being a headteacher by day, and I can talk about education with anyone, but there's definitely a time and place.
He tells me that he knows all about the recent success of the school, and then it's my turn to be surprised. He says that he knows all about our troubled history and our change in fortunes.
He tells me that he knows this because he used to be the guy who came from the council, every Monday morning, to fix the smashed windows.
Now that's got to be good enough for any self-evaluation.
The WIN / WIN
Ok so this story is a little anecdotal, but that's how people communicate and interact, and so it has to have value. When others talk favourably about what you do with each other, this is the most significant indicator of success that you can possibly achieve. It's far more important and influential that you talking about your own successes. Your school community will not view success in statistical thresholds or framework descriptors as you do. To be very fair to the inspection process, this is sometimes what they do hear when they talk to families, and if you're lucky, they have even been know to quote this in the final inspection report.
If you can commit to a school and to a community for a long period of time, and you can do a good job, then the hidden, positive reverberations will grow. If you were to consider it a ten year plan, and with sixty children in a cohort, then that would be six-hundred children leaving your care to contribute positively to their own community.
The school's reputation and the reputation of the community can be the same thing. Reputation is very important and when you sign up as a Headteacher, this is something that you will only begin to understand. Your fortunes will directly influence what people think about you, even though they may never have met you. I love this challenge. I find the prospect of challenging and changing wider pre-conceptions about a school in a tough area, that may suffer from bad press and stigma, extremely motivating. There's nothing better than seeing someone out of your school door with a very different, much improved opinion, from when they arrived. And that even includes inspectors.
Sometimes the verification of your success and journey of improvement will be incidental. It may be a chat or a letter, or some press that reinforces that you are moving in the right direction. When we achieved good inspection outcomes, I was told by a parent in the area that the house prices had gone up. I knew people with the toughest reputations, who would never park on the yellow zig-zags at the front of the school. In the last ten years at the school, we never once had any vandalism, theft or damage and yet statistically, our catchment was the most deprived in the town. In fact, families moved in from other areas or commuted to attend our school and we spent most years over-subscribed because of this.