These endless treatments are making us sick

10th September 2004 at 01:00
It seems to be an annual announcement: every year during the summer term we hear about the new intervention programme we've qualified for. Sounds wonderful. We've been singled out, again, for adviser support, additional training and money. But not so fast. For each programme that we are "invited" to access, read additional meeting time, additional expectations of staff commitment, constant audits and investigations, observations and analysis. And more and more changes.

Last year, when I wrote about the national leadership programme my school was to be involved with ("Sounding off", TES, October 31), I was concerned that this extra dose of medicine would sap energy and demoralise staff. I was not disappointed. At the end, schools could report innovations and developments they had implemented. On further questioning, some admitted that the changes would have been implemented anyway - they'd already been proposed as part of their development plan.

So what had the leadership programme brought them? Some advice and ideas, but, significantly, extra funding to provide time to administer them. So is this not a good thing? Should we not rejoice that we qualify for so much support? Shouldn't we be pleased that our poor Panda performance guarantees us an enviable level of attention and intervention?

Of course the money is welcome. But at what cost to our curriculum? To our self-esteem? Although we are only a junior school, our children have not yet experienced an unaltered four-year programme. We've never been able to let any changes run for longer than two years. Our Sats results mean an annual cycle of further recommendations which leave us jaded and demoralised.

I often wonder how we'd have fared if we'd been in a less challenging catchment. We've had years when we've struggled to recruit the necessary staff with appropriate qualifications and skill. Our "circumstances" mean that we do not always attract a variety of applications and we deal regularly with family and social crises in a way that some schools do not have to. We feel that no genuine allowance is made for this and, if we draw attention to these issues, we are accused of looking for excuses.

And now to my ever-increasing glossary of terms. ISP ("intensifying support programme") is the follow-up intervention for schools that have been through the leadership programme but are still not achieving the results they should. Colleagues in a neighbouring authority who piloted ISP tell me that there are benefits. But they had extra funding from Excellence in Cities.

As we are in a pocket of deprivation in an otherwise leafy authority, this privilege won't be available to us. We are told that the programme will include a half-termly cycle of PDMs (professional development meetings), during which we will draw up yet more action RAPs (raising attainment plans) and agree our "non-negotiables". I wonder where this places our broad and balanced curriculum when the focus is literacy and numeracy and a band of children just below level 4.

I'm confused. I thought the new buzz word was "personalisation" and that inclusion was back on the agenda. Not more of the same hardcore literacy and numeracy objectives. It's a mirage - for us. For some schools, a vibrant and diverse personalised curriculum awaits. For us, treatment continues. Perhaps we will become immune. Either that, or once more I'll empty my in-tray and spy another programme to diagnose, cauterise or cure.

Suzanne Brown

Suzanne Brown is head of Queen's C of E junior school in Nuneaton, Warwickshire

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