Kenneth Noland, Beginning, 1958
September and teachers settle into the school halls of the land for HTs’ call to arms. I can’t speak for others, but mine was absolutely gripping. Then we remind each other of routines and expectations, spend time in departments and, whoosh, the hordes descend. Two hours bonding with the form tutor, assembly, timetables, routines and expectations then lessons start after break and we’re off. See you in 195 days.
If you’re in year 7 all this is a bit of a blur. Everything is new and, while exciting, very little makes sense. Where’s the next lesson? The nearest toilet? It’s a long time since breakfast: where’s lunch? And the next lesson? What do I need for PE? How does my planner work? What’s my log-in? Which door do I go through to get to music? Really? Do I know you? Are you in my tutor group? What, registration again?
New year 12s have to seem a bit cooler. They can’t bucket about the place like turbocharged squirrels. They develop a mooch, a sort of quick saunter, and ask for advice judiciously where they can’t be overheard, all the while wondering if their chosen outfit really expresses what they intended. Some can’t quite pluck up courage to spend time in the sixth form rooms at break and still occupy the yard. The weather usually forces them indoors.
The start of the year is curtain-up on the preceding 6 months’ planning and rehearsal: recruitment, staffing, exams, cleaning and tidying, bright ideas and missives from the government. This summer, precious little on the exam results in the press (hooray hooray) but lots about academies and free schools, again. A rallying-call from the Secretary of State arrives simultaneously with Ofsted’s report on KS3, neutrally entitled ‘KS3: The Wasted Years?’ Why, thank you, Sir.
I talk to a highly effective and perpetually cheerful colleague who reflects on the pace of activity as we start the year, how it takes a few days to get to peak speed, even for the best of us. Another says: we get it, we really get it, but the pace is daunting. I stop a year 8 youth who appears to have doubled in height over the summer. Perhaps his parents stand him in compost every night. He’s proud to be taller than me, but we agree that he could literally aim higher. His little mate is downcast, but it’ll come.
Like growing a teenager, some things take time and can’t be forced. Schools have focused on KS4 because that’s where the national focus is. Loopholes allowed some to adapt procedures to influence outcomes without putting the leg work into learning. Now, the pressure is in a better place, but it’s still oddly expressed. If I was HMCI or the SoS – an outcome as likely as growing 6 inches over the summer, curses – this is what I’d say.
Over the last 20 years or so we were really worried that lots of young people left school without the qualifications they needed to prosper. We devised systems so that school leaders had to focus on this. We combined that with macho rhetoric about school leadership, and a hero-head cult that, in retrospect, was unfortunate. It’s taken us a while to redevelop the qualifications and performance measures to our satisfaction, but we’re very nearly done. Unfortunately, the KS4 focus of the past led pressured secondary schools to undervalue consolidating the excellent work of primary schools. Our report demonstrates this, and we are sorry. Now we intend to support schools to make KS3 the best it can be and we will inspect for this - not this year, but from September 2016.