Chapter One – The please yourself dilemma
Tuesday, 13th February 2018
At the moment, I am flying just above Yerevan at approximately 39,000 feet. I am on my way to Mumbai [the financial jewel in the Indian colony of the Raj]. It is my brother-in-law’s wedding in a few days and I have left the workshop for my first holiday.
Friday, 8th January 2016
The woodworker is chatting to one of his rap buddies [Dr G], she’s not really but she is my friend.
DR G: It’s time you learned to please yourself.
Now, to those who know me best, pleasing myself may seem to come naturally but this is untrue. It is not untrue that they believe this; however, it is untrue that I do. I appear to. It’s one of my few talents: my ability to masquerade, to act, to pretend…to 'slap on a fake smile and plough through this shit one more time'.
I took heed of her advice and decided to please myself. I dropped work down to three days a week [thankfully, I have a wonderful wife who understood that I needed to] and I took up a hobby: a hobby that was to become a passion.
Wednesday, 10th May 2017
The woodworker is sitting and confessing to an old colleague.
TWW: I can't take the pain anymore: it's driving me insane.
OC: I would never have known you felt like this
During that meeting I had decided that I no longer had the capacity to do what I doing any longer. Capacity is the wrong word; a better word would be passion. I just no longer cared enough and when you work in the hectic special measures market of education – caring is all you have.
Friday, 19th May 2017
My phone rings during my morning walk. I glance down, read the name and almost reject it. A bass American drawl came over the airwaves. I could tell from the pitch that something was up.
OC: Hi sorry to disturb you on your day off.
There was almost a note of embarrassment in his voice.
OC: We've had the call
The call – in education parlance - is the call that headteachers all over the country dread: the call from OFSTED.
TWW: Do you want me in?
OC: If you can – see you later – I'm on my way in myself.
My mind whirled with the same thought: I KNEW I should've resigned; I fucking KNEW it!
Schools in the maintained sector [i.e. those that are funded from the public purse be they academies, free schools or schools under local authority control] are subject to school inspections. These inspections have taken many forms over the years but the most infamous is the OFSTED inspection. This is a slight misnomer as all inspections come under the purview of OFSTED. OFSTED is the Office for Standards in Education. It is the spectre that hangs over the head of every teacher and head teacher in the country – however confident they may be!
The reason why OFSTED holds such terror is simple. It is for one reason and one reason only. We all fear that when OFSTED finally arrive, when they step foot in our schools and finally observe the work that we do. WE-WILL-GET-FOUND-OUT. Most of us humble chalk-face folk labour under the impression that we don't really know what we are doing but we muddle along as best we can. This fear is compounded by the fact we feel that we are alone in feeling this way. We aren't - everyone feels this way – well almost everyone.
Now OFSTED inspections take many forms- they are named after various sections in the Education Act of XXXX
i. The Section 5 inspection
This is the bread and butter of school inspection and is the one that's known most commonly as the OFSTED inspection. This is the inspection that is carried out periodically depending how successful your school is deemed to be. Schools that are GOOD or OUTSTANDING do not need to be inspected too frequently as they are successful. As long as they stay successful [i.e. achievement remains GOOD or OUTSTANDING, their head teacher remains in place and there are no safeguarding issues] then these schools are generally left alone.
The proviso – in order that OFSTED can maintain a fair perspective, they must inspect a certain proportion of GOOD or OUTSTANDING schools; hence the dreaded lottery. The Woodworker has worked at one GOOD school and two OUTSTANDING ones – none has been subjected to the lottery.
There are notionally four overall grades that a school can get after a Section 5 inspection:
a. the holy grail, the one the only OUTSTANDING [Grade 1]
b. the consolation prize but one that most heads would yank your arm off for prior to the inspection – GOOD [Grade 2]
c. the bitter pill that is REQUIRING IMPROVEMENT [Grade 3], and finally
d. the absolute stinker - the grade that we all dread: INADEQUATE [Grade 4]
Now within the INADEQUATE grade there are two further sub-divisions: the inadequate where your school has been deemed to have SERIOUS WEAKNESSES and the absolute nut-cracker the one where your school is deemed to require SPECIAL MEASURES. Don't get me wrong both mean pretty much the same thing: YOUR SCHOOL IS CRAP. The difference is that OFSTED judge that the leadership in a SERIOUS WEAKNESS school has the capacity to dig it out on its own. A SPECIAL MEASURES school does not.
Since the 1st of September 2010 I have worked [pretty much exclusively] in special measures schools.