Lousy issue of reform comes to a head

11th July 2008 at 01:00
Do you remember the good old days when we could do things just because we thought it was a nice idea and would be "good" for the children? Lots of exciting opportunities were presented and we got involved

Do you remember the good old days when we could do things just because we thought it was a nice idea and would be "good" for the children? Lots of exciting opportunities were presented and we got involved. There was lots of fun, as well as lots of learning taking place (at least we thought there was).

Nowadays things are different. Like most headteachers, I am now obsessed with impact. If it moves, we measure it. If we can't say how it makes things better for pupils, then we don't do it. We now need to know precisely what outcome we are aiming for before we take any action.

The problem is it is very difficult to define the expected outcome and set clear short-term targets and milestones, because we don't honestly quite know what it was we were looking for in the first place.

For instance, when we first went down the road of workforce reforms (well before it was government policy), I had a notion that staff were my greatest resource. (How radical was that?) I thought that if I invested more in my support staff, it would help teachers to concentrate on teaching and pupils on learning, which would improve pupil behaviour (because all staff would be involved in managing it) and this would make us more efficient.

The impact of our actions over the years has been far greater than we could have imagined or anticipated. Little did I know that I was developing community capacity, building social capital and distributing leadership, thus ensuring sustainability.

I did not understand the full extent to which my staff would and could contribute to implementing the Every Child Matters agenda, or to improving the quality of out-of-school learning activities and youth services in our area. I really did not plan for the positive impact our support staff have on achieving community cohesion and improving parent participation in learning. I could go on.

My point is that when we set out on new developments we often don't know or understand the long-term possibilities of our actions. Therefore our struggle to set meaningful objectives and success criteria is about developing a completely different way of thinking.

I know in my heart and in my head that, while this is painful, it is good practice and is similar to the changes we have undergone in planning very clear lesson objectives and Assessment for Learning success criteria.

One particular consultant we work with is very good at saying, whenever I tell him about the very exciting things we are doing, "So what, Kenny? How is it impacting on learning?" I know he is not being negative; he is just trying to make me think. Writing the school's self-evaluation form has a similar effect on me. They both give me a headache but must be doing me some good (or so I tell myself).

I don't like to suffer alone and like to spread the pain among the staff so that we are all talking about impact all the time. It may be true to say that because we are still waiting for a call from Ofsted, this makes us more obsessed than most. However, I realised how far down the road we had gone when I received one particular email.

It was about pupils in my school who were known to have head lice. I immediately instructed the colleague who had sent this message to set up a database of lice-infested children and to produce a whole-school lice plan, plus an individual plan for each child concerned. This had to include the criteria for success.

Have we gone too far? How will it impact on learning? I think I need a holiday.

Kenny Frederick, Headteacher of George Green's Community School in Tower Hamlets, east London.

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