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'Let's take ownership of our schools'

We're at rock bottom – schools must put the children first and ditch pointless data, says veteran head Colin Harris

Making parents feel welcome in school is a key part of educational success, writes Colin Harris

We're at rock bottom – schools must put the children first and ditch pointless data, says veteran head Colin Harris

Has there ever been a better time for schools to grasp the nettle and start building the schools that our children truly deserve?

After you’ve stopped laughing, please hear me out.

We all know the problems that schools face and how the government seemingly feels about us. Some 2,000 headteachers don’t march down Whitehall for the sake of their health. Both they and their colleagues feel pummelled into submission by cuts and a system that offers them little or no support.

On top of this, they have to battle the disdain that they feel from Ofsted. Who can forget that classic quote from former HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw? "If anyone says to you that 'staff morale is at an all-time low', you know you are doing something right."

Sadly, many heads feel that this view is still held by too many in positions of power.

Is it any surprise that so many teachers and school leaders are fleeing the profession? That this has become a genuine recruitment and retention crisis can be in no doubt.

So here we are, nearing rock-bottom.

Build a 'culture of happiness' in schools

The positive side of being in such a precarious place is that we have nothing left to lose.

We cannot afford to lose any more teachers and we can’t afford for morale to be so poor. So it’s time for us to do something about it. 

In short, it is time for schools to re-evaluate.

It is time to take ownership of our schools and ensure they are there to meet the needs of our pupils, and not some faceless politician. Schools may struggle to tackle the pay rise, but they can tackle the workload issue and ensure teachers do have a work-life balance. Ditch all pointless data collection.

School leaders must go back to trusting and valuing our teachers and start building a democratic school culture, based on learning and reflection. Let's ditch forever the autocratic approach (including Sir Michael riding in à la Clint Eastwood).

Schools need to aim to do only what is right for the children, within a culture of happiness. In doing so, they will promote confidence and resilience and improve both pupils and teachers' wellbeing. We must do away with "capability" culture.

Humour, respect and positivity must be the watchwords of school leadership. Like doctors, we must be clear that, firstly, we do no harm.

Through embracing some of this approach, we can help heads and teachers to tackle the reality of life in 2018, and we might even be able to reclaim our school system.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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