Granny gets a face-lift

16th September 2011 at 01:00

So ... a new TES! I had seen the subtle hints that things were changing, and I made discreet enquiries, only to be told it was pretty hush-hush, but our favourite newspaper was to become a magazine, an upmarket one in a modern, dynamic format. I've watched with interest as the paper has changed over the years. As a young teacher, I never took much notice of it. Staffrooms of the schools I taught in invariably had a copy, but I found it a rather stuffy affair. Then Ted Wragg began writing, and I realised that here was somebody who really understood what teaching was all about. His columns were laced with delightful humour, and I began buying the paper more regularly.

I came to write for it myself after an argument with a local inspector in the early 1980s, soon after achieving headship. My school had children who could barely read, and we had designed a withdrawal system whereby the least able children spent time in an intense support group, honing basic skills to the point where they could succeed in their normal classrooms. It worked well, but the inspector hated it. The "real books" agenda was in full swing and anything smacking of formality was seriously frowned upon by the band-wagon jumpers and theorists. Interested to see what other teachers thought, I wrote a feature about our system for TES, and many readers wrote back saying they agreed, but were under great pressure from their schools and local authorities to conform to current fashion.

Spurred on by having my piece published, I began sending articles regularly on educational topics I felt strongly about. I would probably have continued doing just that, but in 2000 my school suffered an aggressive and unfair Ofsted inspection, causing an older member of staff to become seriously ill and others to become angry and disillusioned. True, I've never been a wilting violet, but our school has always been popular and successful and this inspection was grossly mishandled. I took up my pen and wrote passionately about it, hoping others, too, would challenge inspectors' judgments if they considered them ill-conceived. The response to the article was staggering. So much so, I was soon writing a follow-up, telling readers how we fought Ofsted, and why it was worth doing so.

Shortly afterwards, TES asked if I would write a fortnightly column. I turned the offer down because headship kept me incredibly busy, and anyway I wasn't sure if I could find enough things to write about.

The editor at the time persisted and I decided to have a go, with the proviso that my email address was put at the bottom of the column and that she would always tell me if my writing wasn't up to scratch. She was hesitant about the email address, saying I could be targeted by cranks, but in 12 years I've had just one abusive letter - which I pinned on the staffroom wall.

There were dozens of supportive ones though, and later on, over a great lunch and some bottles of wine, I was asked to write weekly in my hero Ted Wragg's back-page slot. An awesome responsibility, but one I accepted enthusiastically. How ironic that none of this would have happened if I hadn't had a dodgy Ofsted inspection.

So, welcome to the new TES, a publication I'm proud to be associated with. I wish its new format every success.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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