I am writing this blog in election week, hunched over my headteacher’s desk, surrounded by the ephemera of a busy school day: a pile of maths marking; a sheaf of phone message slips; certificates to be given out tomorrow for ‘Bankside Best’ effort, excellence and perseverance; a SEF that needs updating in the light of our last round of monitoring and evaluation/performance management (all indicators continue to be both upwards and onwards – thank you for asking); 22 class sets of top, middle and bottom sample end-of-year reports to be checked and proof-read by the end of the week; the school finance director’s papers stacked more neatly in preparation for the resources sub-committee; the glue-y remnants of some lunchtime card making with year 4 girls (glitter and sequins everywhere – apologies to our lovely cleaners – a sparkling testimony to the triumph of bling over restrained good taste). And at least 15 incoming email alerts have pinged into my intray since I resolved to sit down and find a moment, in a busy week, to reflect on the principles of being a member of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust Schools Alliance.
And this has been a busier week than usual – for all of us. After I have written this blog, and before you have read it, three very important things will have happened on Thursday, May 7th. Events that have given me opportunity to consider what my key values are as a headteacher and, as a relative newcomer to CPRT, how these define us as an Alliance school, particularly in relation to the Trust’s priorities of equity, voice and community.
The first May 7th event was of course one of national importance: the General Election. The second: the inaugural meeting of our north east area partnership CPRT reading group, based on Carol Robinson’s recent CPRT report on ‘Children’s Voice’. This will be an exciting opportunity to spread the good news about CPRT and to embark on a project, potentially across 43 Leeds primary schools, developing ‘rights respecting schools’ to support social, emotional and mental health inclusion based on the research reviewed in her report. Watch this space to see how this will create more choices and involve new voices in developing our landscape of school leadership in Leeds over the next year. The third, more local still: the return of our school council trip to the Houses of Parliament.
From national to parochial, the consequences of these events will reverberate in school over the coming weeks and months; a time to be mindful of the importance of creating effective conditions for learning at all levels, whatever the national climate for education may be, and continue to work hard to invest all our resources to create strong social capital and inclusive school practice, which is what being part of CPRT means to me.
And of course I believe that the most important resource to be invested in the future of our nation, whatever political shape this may be taking as you read this, is our children. At Bankside Primary we aim to ‘put down strong roots for success’; to be a learning community where pupils are ‘loud and proud’ and where we passionately want ‘every child to have a voice’ shaping their future and those of others. Indeed it was one of our school councillors, in the school mock-elections leading up to the trip to the Houses of Parliament, who came up with the hustings slogan ‘voices for choices’ that inspired me to write this blog. Sadly, I cannot predict at this moment if her crowd-pleasing catchphrase will have led to victory, but I can reflect that none of her more adult political brethren seemed as focussed on embracing the voices and choices of children in the national hurly-burly of soap-boxing and manifesto-mongering around education. Policies appear to focus more on school processes than on pedagogy, with little or no mention of the role of children in helping to shape their own educational futures. But, in spite of their absence in the electioneering this year, the centrality of children’s voices in the creation of first class education will never diminish, as I believe our school community exemplifies.
In our last Ofsted we achieved an ‘outstanding’ judgement for our early years provision, in spite of 90% of our children arriving at school at well below age-related expectations (and this in a primary school of over 700 children). This reflects the impact of our work at foundation level embedding the principles of Reggio Emilia – an Italian educational philosophy based on the ‘image of the child, and of human beings, as possessing strong potentials for development and as a subject of rights learning and growing in relationships with others’. We are a school which aims to create opportunities for constructional, rather than instructional, learning through a constant range of ‘provocations’ – or talk triggers – which promote conversations and learning ideas, to be included in our more general curriculum planning. Look at our website, where children have a voice to share their learning and express their views. In particular, the video created by the school council for a Leeds Film Festival, called ‘Children’s Rights’, is a testimony to their ambition for other children and a showcase for their voices. If you do nothing else in this week of change find 3’20” minutes to remind yourself of the power of the voice and views of children by watching it.
Creating voices and choices to forge strong communities of learning and love attracted us to joining CPRT six months ago. Robin Alexander, with an ironic nod in the direction of George Osborne, talked of creating a ‘northern powerhouse’ of CPRT schools in this part of England. We have, as befits our enterprising spirit, a proud history of being educational innovators: William E Forster, MP for Bradford, was the driving hand behind the 1870 Education Act, which defined the future of national state education in England. Perhaps it was his particular brand of non-conformity, shared with many other of the great figures of the northern powerhouse of the nineteenth century, that made this the case. I am proud of that heritage and aspire to create a world where social coherence and personal accountability are the drivers for our school, rather than being servants to uniform conformity. I want the children at Bankside to be amazing, to be wonderful, to grow up in a morally purposeful world where they can use their voices to articulate their views and influence others, not to be sheep to be herded through a one-size-fits-all educational process. Politicians take note.
I started off with a snapshot of what it feels like to be a school leader in election week May 2015, as a reminder of how easy it is to for headteachers to be distracted from the bigger issues that should, and must, inform our choices as educationalists. I truly have the best job in the world, as a leader of children’s learning, working with a school team of over 90 adults – all themselves talented creators of learning who believe and understand that, in order to give our children an empowering and respectful education we must design our lessons with care and creativity to facilitate rich opportunities to promote choice and voice. And one further bonus; we do so with glitter and sparkle. As an NQT, I was inadvertently responsible for a blanket ban on all things shiny and sticky; in the eyes of the SMT, it made too much of a mess. Now I am a headteacher, I have a team of staff, including our lovely cleaners, who understand that ‘mess can create success’ and look for opportunities to embrace it. Amidst the flotsam of school life that has washed up on my headteacher’s desk today I welcome this chance to pause and celebrate our partnership with the Cambridge Primary Review Trust in order to give our children good choices and strong voices for educational success: at Bankside, in Leeds and in the whole of the UK a this time of potential and exciting – if possibly messy – change for us all.
Sarah Rutty is Head Teacher of Bankside Primary School in Leeds, part-time Adviser for Leeds City Council Children’s Services, a member of CPRT’s Schools Alliance, and Co-ordinator of CPRT’s newly-established Leeds/West Yorkshire network.
If you work in or near Leeds and wish to become involved in its CPRT network, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.