I was browsing TES for headship adverts recently, because it's interesting to look at what schools ask for in their leaders. My eye was drawn to one in particular because I happen to know that the school is in trouble. The governors had done a good job of selling its positive attributes, although reading between the lines it was obvious there is a lot of work to be done. Rather like writing a reference, what you leave out is far more important than what you put in. But then I looked at the list of documents that made up the application pack, and one title intrigued me so much that I downloaded it.
If anything was guaranteed to put a prospective applicant off, this was it. Twenty pages long, it was a plan for raising standards at the school, and had obviously been compiled by an audit team who thought this might be a helpful way to attract candidates. Every page was a tedious mass of data, percentages and targets, all wrapped in the edu-speak that these strange people thrive on and which drives saner heads absolutely nuts.
I tried to fathom the wealth of abbreviations. EYFS? Yep, that's early years foundation stage. And I was fine on KS1 and KS2, but CLL, ARE, PSRN and PSED? Perhaps it's my fault for not keeping up, because it still takes me half an hour to send a message on a mobile. And heaven knows what a RAP meeting is - unless it's one across the knuckles for whoever wrote this stuff.
Supposedly informative sentences are anything but. "PN expressed concern about FFTD targets but SMT positive Y6 3C's may make LV4. Outcomes at KS1 0.4 APS below NA so CVA may be good." Did the person who wrote this stuff work for SMERSH, I wondered? Because I would need a Lektor to translate all 20 pages. Maybe trainee heads have riveting lectures that teach them how to handle this foreign language when they study at the NCSL (I know that one, by the way). Or, God forbid, perhaps they actually enjoy it.
If you were taking over a school in difficulty, would you really need to know all this? Wouldn't you want to get the staff together and offer strong, friendly and, above all, supportive leadership? Wouldn't you want to enthuse, excite and bring out the very best in them? Wouldn't you want to get the parents in and tell them things were changing, but that you would be depending on their help and support, too? And having got the staff and parents on side, wouldn't you want to make your classrooms into environments children would be excited to experience, because all young children love learning and it really isn't that hard to fire their enthusiasm. And none of that involves saying to a teacher: "Sorry Mrs Jenkins, your percentiles are all over the place and 0.45 down on your last predicted quadrant percentages, so pull your socks up because every L4 not achieved is a blot on my CV and you'll be up for a RAP review."
Interestingly, the same local authority advertising this vacancy has invited a guest speaker to a conference for headteachers. The guest speaker will talk about the importance of teachers feeling ownership of their school. He maintains that a really successful school can only grow from teachers who love going there, and who feel they have a real stake in it because they are truly valued.
I couldn't agree more. Which is why a Raising Attainment Plan shouldn't be in the application pack.
Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.