Sir Michael Wilshaw was famously grumpy about many things. But what particularly irked the former chief inspector were reality TV shows about teaching, such as the Educating series and Tough Young Teachers. He thought they brought teaching into disrepute and focused on “the sensational, at the cost of presenting a balanced picture of what goes in our schools”.
But two stories this week involving stars from Educating Yorkshire and Educating Greater Manchester present exactly that: a balanced picture of what goes on.
The first conjures up everything that is so wonderful about teaching: the transformative beauty and joy of it all, and the lasting effect of a teacher who changed someone’s life.
The nation was captivated when a young Musharaf Asghar (pictured) overcame his stammer in Educating Yorkshire. The hair on the back of everyone’s neck stood on end, as English teacher Matthew Burton created a The King’s Speech moment in an ordinary secondary school. Six years on, Musharaf praises the teacher who believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself. “It’s so important to have someone who gives you that extra push when you feel like you have nothing else,” he says. “I will always forever be thankful for his support and love” (bit.ly/BurtonDreams).
The second story provides a glimpse of education’s uglier side. Drew Povey, the stern but charismatic, authoritarian star of Educating Greater Manchester, has resigned over allegations that his school, Harrop Fold in Salford, has been “off-rolling” (informally excluding) students and coding attendance “incorrectly” (bit.ly/EdManchester).
Investigation into 'off-rolling'
Mr Povey, who had been suspended since the start of an investigation in July, insists that he is “fundamentally opposed to off-rolling and condemns it as a practice”, adding that he has stepped down only to allow “some semblance of normality” to return to the school. Whatever the outcome in this particular school, exclusions are high on the news agenda, after both Ofsted and the education secretary have spoken about them. They split the education community in true binary fashion and, as always, the answer probably sits somewhere in the middle.
Most people would not deny that staff and pupils need to be protected from those who are violent and pose a danger. Most would also not deny that children who behave badly are troubled and need help. And the vast majority of heads will go to great lengths not to exclude – often at the expense of their overall results and their sanity. Mr Povey may well have done nothing wrong, but that does not prevent one from understanding why some schools might find it tempting to get rid of troublesome pupils. But it’s wrong. One can blame the cuts and everything else for forcing heads to act that way, but we wouldn’t accept that sort of excuse from a child so why would we from an adult?
In education, we are ever hopeful, always looking for the silver bullet, the exemplar school, the shiny system that’s cracked it, that shows everyone how it can be done. But, like everything else in life, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Success, when it comes, is mostly down to a combination of great, motivated staff, an inspiring and confident leader and a lot of bloody hard work. No one would ever say that working in a school was easy and most teachers trudge on, doing the best they can for everyone in their charge, spurred on by their own little magical “Mushy” moments.
The owner of that big “Mushy” moment has gone one step further and taken on what another Educating star, Vic Goddard, calls “the greatest job in the world”: headship (in Burton’s case, of Thornhill Community Academy). Two weeks into the job, he says on Twitter: “I am LOVING IT SO MUCH” and “we have two rules: be nice, and work hard. Simple. (But I am also very tired.)”
And that just about sums it up.