Big Brother of the education world is keeping tabs on me

8th April 2011 at 01:00

We are being monitored. Somewhere in the offices of the Department for Education - perhaps right now - schools' results are being checked to see if they should be added to a list of those where too many pupils have failed to make three levels of progress in English and maths.

End up on that list and your school will need an action plan to show how it will improve. This desktop monitoring exercise by the DfE is a reminder that our every move is being watched, and that it is hard to evade the Big Brother of the education world.

So, when we are not filling out endless, soul-destroying responses to Government consultations and working relentlessly with our Year 11 pupils and our International Baccalaureate students in the sixth-form to squeeze every last possible grade out of their weary bodies, we have to make sure all our pupils are making the right, steady levels of progress.

The school is judged against floor targets for that progress and we have been told (or, arguably, threatened) that these targets will be reviewed frequently and are likely to be raised in the future. I feel even sorrier for our poor colleagues in primary schools, who stood up to the system and boycotted Sats tests last year, so are now being punished. Because the DfE cannot possibly trust their teachers' assessment, the baseline for those schools has been established using the previous year's figures.

I don't feel comfortable with this level of data scrutiny on my school, but there is no choice. If I sound just a little bit paranoid and hysterical, it's because of our chequered Ofsted history: an improving school (1998), a good school with outstanding features (2004), a notice to improve (2008), and then satisfactory (2009) means we have experienced both the highs and the lows, and we certainly prefer the highs. In fact, we have decided we want to be judged outstanding in our next Ofsted inspection, due in 2012.

Because of this new goal, we are doing even more to ensure we constantly review the data, tracking individual pupils as well as all the different groups using the "current attainment measures". The major technical hitch is that we don't know exactly which data will be used to make Ofsted judgments when the time comes for our next inspection.

Currently it changes according to the whim of the Secretary of State. There is no way of knowing what the measures will be so we analyse them all - repeatedly.

In fact, I now dream about data and wake up in cold sweats visualising RAISEonline graphs showing we have not converted enough pupils at the "4C" sub-level. And I know I am not alone.

In our bid to be judged outstanding, we need to be relentless and rigorous, robust and ruthless - the four Rs associated with outstanding schools. Easy! We are certainly relentless, robust and rigorous in our work. The question is, are we ruthless enough? If being ruthless means we trample over every other secondary school in our local area and achieve at their expense then, no, we are not. If it means we drop our inclusion agenda and stop supporting vulnerable pupils and families then no, we are not. If it means making every child take a language as well as history or geography no matter what their talent or interest just because the Secretary of State invented the EBac then, no, we are not ruthless enough for that, either.

Are we going to ride roughshod over our staff in our bid to become outstanding? I think not. Instead, we continue to support them in their role in every possible way. This does not mean we don't tackle underperformance. It just means we do it humanly. Ruthless leadership appears to describe a style that is devoid of all emotion or feeling, simply focused on the end game without consideration for the fall-out in between.

In some ways, such a robotic approach is fitting for an age when schools seem to be judged entirely on electronic data. Whether or not our school succeeds in its inspection ambitions for next year, we can be certain of one thing: someone at a computer will be watching us.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's secondary school in east London.

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