Don't fall into the claptrap

5th October 2007 at 01:00
Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister in the 1960s and 1970s, once said a week is a long time in politics. He should have been a headteacher; every week is a montage of the sublime and the ridiculous. Take the past six days, for example...

On Monday, Leon's dad was seen heading towards my office. Leon, just six years old, had come to us from another school, which "couldn't wait to get rid of him" because he spent much of his time crawling under tables, spitting at teachers, hitting children and generally being obnoxious. I put him in a class with a teacher who had a talent with challenging children, and within weeks Leon had settled down and become genuinely fond of her. Initially, I spent a lot of time with him too, hearing him read, talking about his work, and showing him that our school was an exciting place to be... provided you didn't muck about.

That was a year ago, and these days, apart from Leon giving me a beaming smile in the corridor, I don't see very much of him or his father, who doesn't live with the family. So it was a surprise to hear he was coming along the corridor.

"I'm back at home now," he said, "and I just want to say I've never seen such a change in my son. He loves school, he loves his teachers, and I wish I'd been to a school like this. I want my youngest boy to come here too, and if he can't, I won't be sending him to school." Then, slightly embarrassed, off he went.

On Wednesday, I looked through the list of things that my school improvement partner (SIP) would be talking to me about on her first visit. All schools are now required to have SIPs, even if, like us, you're a high-achieving but rather maverick primary that doesn't thrive on unnecessary outside interference. The list included such riveting topics as performance management objectives, data analysis and progress hypotheses. It also featured two appalling grammatical errors. An intense feeling of gloom crept over me.

On Thursday, I was in Sainsbury's when a fellow shopper suddenly beamed at me.

"You won't remember me," she said.

"Of course I do," I said. "You're Naomi's mum. How's she doing?"

"Brilliantly. She did well at secondary school and she's just been accepted at Oxford. We're thrilled. And it's all down to you and the great start she had at your school."

I remembered how I'd turned Naomi down at first because we were oversubscribed and she didn't live nearby. But she had been having a tough time at another school and seemed a pleasant and enthusiastic child. I agreed to take her, and she quickly became a high-flier.

Then, on Friday morning, I found Karen's mother standing in the corridor, listening to the clarinets practising in the hall. "It's no wonder our children love coming to school," she said. "You do so many interesting things, the things that are really important music, art and drama. If you'd told me a year ago that Karen could learn to play the clarinet, I'd have laughed. But listen to her now."

Tidying my table before going home that evening, the SIP form slipped out of the tray and fell to the floor. I picked it up and flicked through it again: summary profiles, performance management, data analysis. And thinking about my week, another pair of words sprang to mind... irrelevant claptrap.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary in Southwark, London

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