It’s GCSE results day and we’d like to add our congratulations and best wishes for those who are pleased with their results – and express our sympathy for those who are less happy. Please remember these results are NOT the be-all and end-all, and that disappointment today can be overcome in the future. Above all don’t allow yourself to feel categorised or branded by the results. We say this to both students and their teachers . . . and headteachers.
We also say to students – academic success or failure at 16+ is simply an indicator of where you are NOW on your journey to becoming the person you’re meant to be. For all those who stumble at this stage – think also about the ways in which you are already successful and the qualities that will keep you on track towards your eventual destination.
Spare a thought also for those who take responsibility as the heads of schools and who are rarely thanked or given credit for their efforts to help everyone succeed – no matter what their ability or potential. For some headteachers the results may be truly catastrophic and quite possibly career threatening or even ending – such is our insane system of “accountability” which relies almost entirely on data and the academic attainment of their students.
Consider this article from the Guardian:
Secret headteacher: ‘After Thursday’s GCSE results, will I still have a job?’
This year I’ve no idea what my students will get in their GCSE exams. I am sick with worry and I fear for the future
This year I have absolutely no idea what my students will get in their GCSEs – neither as a teacher of a GCSE class nor the head of 180 children in that year. We have done four sets of mocks, compulsory after-school revision sessions, Easter school, Saturday school, parents’ revision evenings, and afternoons and mornings. There simply is nothing more my staff could have done – they have put on brilliant lessons, great teaching, lots of feedback, precision analysis.
But we still haven’t got a clue because of changes to grade boundaries made at whim, structural changes to questions and papers, and some frankly ridiculous questions this year – which initiated a ton of amusing memes. Then there are serious concerns about the quality of markers, many of whom are inexperienced or overworked, or both. I had a recent case in which a former member of staff with a grudge was appointed as a moderator to my school. Is it any surprise if headteachers are terrified?
One of my good friends was sacked from his position of headteacher in a large academy chain after only two years. His results were better than mine and the gap between his estimates and the reality was smaller – but the gap suggested to his academy chain bosses that he didn’t know what he was doing. He has three children, is brilliant, and hasn’t secured a permanent job since.
I’m lucky – I have very supportive bosses, they understand the context of disadvantage in our school and they appreciate that building real change takes time and patience. But with a bad set of results, I will come under the watchful eye of our regional schools commissioner, local authority, the Department for Education and Ofsted. Successive poor results would rock my self-confidence – I worry most about losing the trust of my bosses, my senior team and the teachers who bust a gut every day.
Our children start year 7 well below expected standards (I expect they started primary school well below expected standards too) and things just get tougher for them. More than 40% of them are on our special needs register, 60% receive free school meals, 20% live in a home where none of the adults has ever worked and 12% have an attendance to school of 25% or less.
I have little faith in the system now. I’ve been suffering from anxiety since October. I’ve been lying awake in the small hours trying to figure out what else we could do. When I wake up it is often the first thing I think about. My stress-related psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome have never been worse and I’ve had more migraines in the past 12 months than in the past 10 years.
My blood pressure shot up so high just before Christmas that it wasn’t on any of the charts, and I thought the doctor was going to handcuff me to his chair to stop me going into work. And that’s just the physical effects; it does not include the damage to my marriage, and the relationship I have with my children or other friends and family. My mum asked me if I just couldn’t get a job at one of those “normal quiet schools”. I’m not sure they exist any more.
When I meet up with local colleagues, some of them are looking pretty awful and are full of tales of woe. My Twitter colleagues who are heads are dropping off my timeline. Not only are we all facing uncertainty about exams, we’re juggling this with reduced budgets, redundancies, trying to recruit when there are genuine problems out there – compounded in some geographical areas – and that’s on top of the basic day job.
We need to stop pretending every child is the same whatever their background and that we can achieve the same outcomes at the same time. Just like drivers, sometimes kids need more than one go at a test. Some children will never attain grade Cs in maths and English, no matter how many times they try. This should not make them or their schools failures.
It does NOT make them a failure, any more than it makes their school or their headteacher a failure. I’ve met senior inspectors who say they can simply sense when a school is a good school within the first hour of being inside it. I’ve also met inspectors who go into schools armed with a laptop who don’t even want to look around the school – they simply need a table where they can plug in, turn on, and bring up the data that’s already determined whether the school is succeeding or failing.
“We need to stop pretending every child is the same.” Let’s ask ourselves why we ever started – or why we ever went along with this silly pretence. We’re delighted for all those whose GCSE results were pleasing today. The world should be shocked by what the system is doing to people like this secret headteacher.
Good luck to everyone who works in a school and who strives long and hard to make their school as good as they possibly can. If you’re suffering today, or tomorrow, or the next day, please don’t suffer in silence. At the very least become a secret headteacher or a secret teacher and let the rest of the world know about your life, your work, your career, and your personal wellbeing.