I haven’t written a single blog this year so I’m fighting the gnawing feeling that to publish this one is more than a tad self-indulgent (particularly one that has somehow tipped over the 1500-word mark). But in so many ways it’s never felt quite so necessary to have a historical record of 12 months. So, it’s written and it’s here and I’m hoping that when I look back in a year’s time I’m struck by how significantly life has moved on.
As always with a Nurture blog, it’s apposite to start by reviewing the blog of 2020. Last year’s first goal was to ‘stop the saw-tooth of results and sustain improvements’. What I couldn’t possibly have predicted was the impact of Covid-19, the cancelling of exams, and the process of CAGs. Or ‘CAGs+’ as it should be called (AKA ‘add a bit on for a few kids’ based on some indecipherable algorithm). I can at least hold my head up that at all levels our school conducted the process with integrity; the grades inputted by us were securely in line with our trend of improvement: -0.55 -0.33, -0.20.
Of course, these are just numbers. Ones that don’t account for our whole cohort and are now not even externally verified ones. But three years in to leadership of Key Stage 4 to have that steady numerical trend – particularly in these most uncertain of times – roots me further to evidence-informed leadership. I find returning to research, reflection, rationale, and reason when the world is at its most chaotic wholly grounding.
One term in to 2020-21 we’re now sat on our best predictions yet for Year 11 and the energy and determination within the cohort is palpable. Predicting what will happen this summer is a fool’s game and I’ve not quite come to terms with not being in post to lead our community through it, but I have faith we have the right support and challenge in place for pupils, teachers, and leaders alike. And I’m by no means egotistical enough to think that my absence will significantly weaken the collective determination and sense of endeavour.
My second goal for 2020 was to help organise a cracking Team English National Conference.
Clearly, TENC20 wasn’t the event we’d been expecting. However, the virtual conference it became was arguably bigger (not limited to a sports hall), better (with keynotes by Ofsted’s National Lead for English and Bennie Kara’s powerful keynote speech), and undoubtedly cheaper (at zero cost to teachers) than the one we had planned. Fingers, toes, and other bits crossed that TENC21 will see the English teaching community descend on Derby in a glorious union of nerdiness.
Lockdown did at least support my third goal of ‘growing loads and loads of vegetables’. I even nailed tomato growing thanks to the newly sunny positioning of my greenhouse. I’ve also tentatively started painting. These activities haven’t got quite got the buzz of a music festival or wrestling show, but for the most part I am at peace with the quieter, lighter pursuits we’ve had at our disposal this year.
Last year, I also wrote about the new places I’d been to, from Sintra to Seoul. Well, aside from a quick trip to the Jurassic coast of Dorset, lockdown and Tier 3 have ensured that the only new places we’ve discovered are within a 5-mile radius of our house. But what new places they have been. Over the months of spring and summer, we met the babies of the shaggy haired highland cattle one field over, witnessed blankets of bluebells and daisies, climbed the ruins of a hidden 14th century Norman castle, located a woodland fairy tree, and spied a shy fox in the bowels of a mighty fir tree. On the inside of my wedding ring is inscribed the word ‘Adventure’ and this year has been proof positive that memorable exploits don’t have to involve a 14-hour flight or temperatures in the 40s.
3 positives about 2020
As I hit publish on this blog nearly 500k people in the UK have been vaccinated against Covid-19. That as a species we have the ability to identify, formulate, and mass produce biological responses to viruses in just a smattering of months boggles my tiny little mind. Almost as much so as the ability of doctors to make our daughter in a petri dish.
That the scientists who create these phenomena were once pupils sat in classrooms like the ones we teach in day in day out, learning the building blocks on which their expertise is based, blows my mind. I don’t personally have a faith. This is my God and my magic.
I think we all intuitively recognise that teachers are in the people business. Relationships are our bread and butter. What can be less easy to see are the invisible web-like strands that traverse our school buildings connecting them with those beyond our grounds: family homes, mosques, food banks, community centres, Sure Start centres, places of work. This year has thrown a light on these networks in a way that has made them shimmer and sparkle.
Whether it’s been a smile and ‘Hello’ on a lockdown-sanctioned walk around the block or chatting on doorsteps during a laptop drop-off or the local community radio station taking in our pupils’ completed work packs, never have I felt more connected to the people around my home or our school.
My in-laws have endured the nastiness of this virus and I know it’s not something to be taken lightly. But, for now, those that I love most are healthy.
Being alive and having health enough to enjoy that fact is a fundamental pleasure I wish for all.
3 wishes for 2021
1. That our daughter arrives safe and healthy
As she wriggles away in my belly (no doubt trying to master her first solo Canadian Destroyer) I still find it hard to believe I’m on the final countdown to becoming a mum.
Edu-Twitter can be a hotbed of hubris no doubt, but there are many brilliant people I’ve met through it. Some of these people have become friends who have seen me through the heartbreak, excitement and hormonal rollercoaster it’s taken to get to this point. Shout out to my DM family, Team Gin (@Xris32 @AviewAskew), and especially to @HeyMrsHallahan’s whose birthday it is and whose maternity jeans I am still wearing.
I’ve got more than a niggling suspicion that our lives are about to change in a million tiny ways that I cannot anticipate so I’m revelling in blissful ignorance and focusing on the celebratory gin after the labour.
2. To be a more vocal advocate for pupils in areas of disadvantage and from disadvantaged groups
I’ve always shied away from writing at length about the context of my school: this has undoubtedly been a significant factor in my blogging drying up. As I’ve said before, I find it hard to locate the words that will do my pupils and our community justice. It’s not my place to speak for other or to try to articulate experiences that are not my own.
However, I’m increasingly of the belief that in my position of privilege I do have a duty as an advocate and to be effective as one I have to find a way to bring the realities of so many people in Britain to a wider audience.
So this year, with the space (perhaps) of maternity leave, I’d like to find a way to put pen to paper and share the daily joys and persistent challenges of working in a school like mine.
3. To successfully complete my NPQH
18 months ago, optimistically starting out on the Ambition Institute Future Leaders course the world was undoubtedly a different place. Had I known what I know now would I have even started?
I’m not going to lie, online residentials haven’t got quite the same appeal as real life ones with an evening in the bar at the end of them. And writing up projects and placements with pelvic girdle pain and a tiny foot kicking your bladder isn’t an entirely straightforward proposition. Add in conducting school placements in Tier 3 and managing projects that a year ago weren’t on the furthest reaches of your school improvement plan (Saturday school, anyone?) and it’s been testing to say the least.
So, would I have started it? I’d like to think so, yes. Ambition’s motto ‘Keep getting better’ still resonates even if the ways I expected to ‘get better’ haven’t been the ones I thought were my areas of greatest need: I’ve learned lessons in my own values, patience and tolerance, and persistent optimism as much as in finance or HR.
With two write-ups and a handful of sessions to go, the final certification would be validation that I’m continuing to inch forward on my journey to one day become a Headteacher. The longer term impact is perhaps yet to be seen and I suspect it’ll be more subtle in effect than direct application of any of the declarative knowledge embedded along the way. If I can keep returning to the two Dixons Academies questions introduced to us in our opening residential then I reckon it’ll have done its job:
What lasting impression do you want to leave on the world?
Was I better today than yesterday?