It is interesting to think about what we want from our local school ? What are the priorities ? What are the ‘musts’ ? What are the ‘would be nices’ ? It is certain that different students, staff, parents and community members will all have very different ideas, and coming up with a catch-all school will be impossible.

The Department for Education’s Performance Tables prioritise exam results, attendance and exclusions. These inform key judgements on any school and contexts fade somewhat into the background – a bit like comparing the resources / catchment of Manchester United with that of Walsall. The league table says one thing, the reality may be very different, but often the headline steals the show. These will still be important benchmarks – but probably not the be-all-and-end-all for every parent – so should they be the sole pursuit ?

Meanwhile, OFSTED are wanting something different as they consult on a new set of inspection criteria that now says curriculum (so what is taught) is a much greater priority. Many schools cut this back to make sure they delivered on the exam results – when jobs can depend on a Progress 8 exam score that OFSTED uses above everything then it is understandable if that becomes the priority. Evidentially, children suffer an injustice if they are not taught about wider life skills – whether it be careers, health, well-being or relationships – but what will the response be if they are well-versed on career routes but do not have the exam results to access the pathway ? Very much a case of look what you could have won.

Elsewhere, in Lichfield we benefit from three layers of government which all want different things. The District Council talks to us most about sports centres and how they can deliver their community provision at a cost-effective-rate – the school’s needs are not a priority as is it is out of their responsibility remit. The County Council, whose remit is education, are very supportive towards academy status – which takes us out of their remit – and have multiple offices working on priorities for us which often clash. One office wants high exam results, another wants to delay SEND provision as lack the resources to deliver – how do you square that circle ? Finally, our national representative, who has always been ready to get involved, has a party political stance to support, but has also stood up for fair funding for schools, so the national demands are a challenge too.

Local communities have very mixed demands as well. Those homes on the doorstep simply want a calm end to the day, without litter or blocked drives. Local businesses want trade, others want to help (and do so with great effect). Community centres, residential homes, public bodies, and even HS2, are keen to see the school get involved. Every requested interaction is an opportunity, and so there is a desire to seize every nettle, but there is a balance in the realpolitik of meeting other demands.

Likewise, parents want different things depending on their individual child. The performer’s parents can want multiple shows and a lead role in the cast. The sport-star’s parents can want regular competition and team selection. The musician’s parents can want bespoke tutoring and regular showcases. The SEND child’s parents can want intensive support in and out of the classroom and allowances made at each turn. The academic child’s parents want the same intensity in challenge and intellectual pursuit. All parents want great discipline high standards and their child to flourish – but the challenges of uniform, chasing attendance, pushing Saturday Schools, homework, and costs of trips or meals, do not receive the same universal support.

And we haven’t even got to the most important group that the school is there for in the first place…

We all have our own expectations from our school. We all have our own agenda. We all have our own ‘musts’. Even so, the reality is these cannot possibly be met in every case. The high levels of demand actually makes a school a fantastic place to work as there is always something new, always an individual success story to celebrate, and always a readiness to step forward and do something new.

Our job is very much to look to improve and to aim to meet every demand. Even so, it is also to be ready to stand our ground and make sure we do not lose sight of the needs of the wider school. We know our finite resources, we know what we can and cannot do, and we know that every individual’s story only fits into the greater narrative of the school.

Every school benefits if there is a wholesome recognition of the common good and a continual readiness to do our own bit. This is where all our priorities must lie.

Matt Allman
April 2019