We're taking a few knocks on the road to recovery

13th February 2009 at 00:00

Four months have passed since that fateful day when Ofsted put our school in the "notice to improve" category. Time flies when you are working flat out to ensure that the inspectors come to a very different judgment when they return in September.

We have had to pick ourselves up, ignore our bruises and get on with the job - and most would agree that we are doing this cheerfully and without moaning about the unfairness of it all. Well, not too much moaning.

The good news is that we have recovered our strength, our self-esteem and our sense of humour. But it has to be said that there continue to be numerous knock-backs that still take us by surprise.

Some of the indignations affect the school in a direct, obvious way. As well as having to explain the inspectors' judgment to everyone we work with, we have not been allowed to take on beginning teachers and have had to re-apply for our status as a specialist humanities school. We try to deal with these setbacks with a wry smile.

Recently, we had a visiting teacher on a four-day placement here as part of their preparation to take a new type of national professional qualification for headship (NPQH). At the end of the first day of his visit, he received an email saying he could not continue the placement as our school had not been graded as outstanding or good. We were the same school now as we had been before Ofsted found us lacking - but then rules are rules. Thankfully, following heated exchanges our visitor was allowed to continue his placement.

Another knock-back we have suffered is that the number of families picking us as their first choice when their children finish primary school has dropped considerably for the first time in 13 years. I suppose this is one of the expected results of a negative inspection, but it's painful nonetheless.

Other indignities have been more subtle. The first came only a few days after the inspection (it's amazing how word gets out) when I had an unsolicited email from someone to say they were sorry I could no longer take part in the important meeting I had agreed to attend. Had they decided I was no longer suitable to represent my colleagues at such an important discussion, or had they just thought I would be too dispirited or too busy? I hope it was the latter, but who knows?

It was certainly difficult to keep my dignity when I went through my performance review with my governors, but a sense of humour and support from a fab school improvement partner saw me through that particularly difficult experience. Indeed, the worst thing about it was not anything my governors said or did, but purely my own feelings.

Deciding when and how to inform headteacher colleagues about our damning report was difficult. But they had to be told before the rumour mill set to work. I decided to do the deed by email as it would save time and get a consistent message across. Many responded with suitable words of sympathy and support. Others did not. Perhaps they did not know what to say.

While I received hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls from strangers, or people I have met once or twice, there was a resounding silence from some I had considered good friends or close colleagues. I have reflected on this over the past months to try to work out why. Were they embarrassed? Did they not know what to say?

I discussed this with a friend who compared such behaviour to the way people had reacted when she lost her husband. She found individuals (even some she and her husband were close to) avoided her after his death and rarely make contact now. I can understand this reaction, but it doesn't help.

Another strange experience was when I bumped into a head I know quite well at a conference. She said hello, but avoided me for the rest of the day.

Almost worse than being ignored is when some of our more insensitive colleagues put their foot right in it. You know the ones - those who constantly harp on about how wonderful their school is and what wonderful leaders they are. At a recent gathering, I ran into one such colleague who, over the course of a 10-minute conversation (a one-way one), used the word "outstanding" in terms of his school and himself about 20 times.

Was this a deliberate put-down? I don't think so - just someone who has little self-awareness or emotional intelligence. But perhaps I am being oversensitive.

Similarly, the previously frequent phone calls from headhunters looking for someone suitable to apply for posts in the new academies soon dried up. While I was never actually interested, it was nice to be asked.

I could go on, but I need to dwell on the positive, not the negative. We are on the fastest improvement journey of our lives. It's exhausting, but exhilarating.

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

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today