Ed Ruscha, The Act of Letting a Person into Your Home, 1983
We have open mornings on Tuesdays and sometimes prospective parents come several times to have a look. They are taken round by enthusiastic year 8s who can extend a conducted tour to epic length, despite many classrooms being really quite similar. They tow the unsuspecting around this enormous public investment and wave an airy arm at landmarks of purely personal significance: ‘this is where I have English’, or ‘if you stand on the bridge here you can see how long the sandwich queue is’ or ‘I saw some people doing parkour here but I don’t know how you get picked for that’. These 12 year olds take us for granted and suppose that all schools are as new, beautiful and spacious as this, our second home. The parents and their 10 year-olds get to see us at work, warts and all, nothing to hide. This is common practice in comprehensive schools.
Last night was Governors and we powered through our agenda in 95 minutes, because of the amount of sub-committee and visiting work our team do. We talked about how best to represent our community and thought of some more ways to encourage a wider range of people to take part. Three members of the sixth form came to talk, and presented a better scheme for student representation. Another friendly professional from the local authority came to train governors in inspection skills.
Parent and student surveys, commercially commissioned, tell us that we are doing a fine job. The performance tables paint a healthy picture. Detailed national achievement analysis is covered in good green boxes with hardly any bad blue boxes. This half term I have drafted a new Behaviour Policy which staff and governors are currently looking over: we’ll meet with parents to talk about it after half term and include their views too. Yet the papers are full of advice for us. The secretary of state tells us that children should be punished by being made to run round a field (we don’t punish them with fitness) or write out lines (there’s proper work to be done in detention) or pick up litter (obviously). The former Behaviour Tsar’s advice is re-peddled: teachers should know children’s names (you don’t say), prepare their resources in advance (strewth) and use praise as well as reprimand (give me strength). Another politician describes public servants as having unaccountable power and tells us (reminds us, actually) that parents can trigger an inspection. There’s not a Head to whom this is news.
We are correctly, accountable, every hour of every day. To OFSTED, the Local Authority, governors, our communities, parents and one another. Teachers support and challenge one another in equal measure and a staffroom can be unforgiving to someone not pulling their weight. I’ve never met a representative of a teacher union who wants to keep the wrong people in classrooms or a lecturer in education who wanted to train teachers badly. We live like the man in Amos who ran from a lion but was met by a bear, who escaped to the house, rested a hand on the wall and was bitten by a snake. We observe, scrutinise and plan for improvement every breathing day and yet we’re castigated as if we were unprincipled oligarchs. How did this happen?
It is the children to whom we account and mustn’t let down. While we make account of ourselves the daily work goes on. Geography lessons are taught, basketball teams play, year 9 astronomers see Jupiter’s moons, next year’s timetable is written, drama, dance and music perform at the Cutty Sark (and appear on Woman’s Hour), ICT is tussled over, money is worried about and angry, distraught or confused young people are helped to make sense of the world.
We don’t need telling to be accountable. We don’t know any other way to live.