I am very proud to have taught at Beverley Grammar School for thirty six years including fourteen years on the Senior Team followed by five years as Headteacher. During that long career I taught with numerous brilliant colleagues who I respect and admire as educators and friends.
I have also taught thousands of students and they have taught me. It has been a privilege working with such fervent, interesting students. I have fond memories and miss them all. I can honestly say that I never disliked a student although some were trying! They made my working life worthwhile.
When I first started at Beverley Grammar School it was in the process of changing from a Grammar to Comprehensive school. I believe in comprehensive education and I feel that I have proved it can work far better than any selective system. My heart will always be in that caring community that was Beverley Grammar School.
Haim Ginott inspired me. I implore every teacher and educator to read his work. He was a Jew who survived the horrors of a concentration camp. He saw the gas chambers that were designed by qualified engineers and children who were murdered in cruel experiments by highly skilled doctors.
He, like me, was more than suspicious of education.
He believed that the primary purpose of education should not be to instil knowledge but to encourage kindness, empathy and compassion. In this way the world might be free of highly educated monsters and psychopaths like the Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao.
I agree with him one hundred percent.
Teaching about maths, reading, writing and how to pass exams is pointless if we are not teaching our children to be caring human beings.
That should be the first aim of any teacher.
Leadership is about empowerment. If a leader doesn’t enable their staff to take risks and grow they aren’t worth their salt. A good leader should encourage all their staff to reach their potential.
A school is like an ocean liner. It builds up a head of steam and gets carried along by its own momentum. It cannot stop or change course abruptly. You have to guide it and plan each change of course well in advance. It takes all the ‘sailors’ working as a team for it to run smoothly.
Headship is like a race down a steep snow run on an old tin tray. You have limited control and your journey is perilously at the mercy of events and obstructions that cannot all be foreseen.
Yet a Head sets the tone for everything that happens in the school.
The art of Headship is to sell your vision so that the whole community is pulling in the same direction.
Paradoxically a Head is largely impotent. As a Head you have far-reaching responsibilities but limited power. There are good things about this. Many Heads proceed to Headship out of a desire for power, control and money. They are ambitious and can be overbearing, ruthless, and self-centred. At least the system limits their desire to exert a regime of fear and control
A Head has limited control over poor teaching. The kids may deserve better but there are no quick fixes. Headteachers are prevented from exercising much power by a series of legal requirements. These can be frustrating but on the whole having restraints is better than having a tyrannical Headteacher. A Head therefore has to eliminate poor teaching through example and by supporting and leading their staff.
You always find when you reach the top that you’re actually in the middle. A Head is in the middle of everything pulled by the governors, staff, students, government, local authority and parents, you soon find you are not ‘in charge’. You have to juggle everything to keep all the balls in the air.
It is said that the fact that someone wants to be a politician should automatically ban them from standing; the same thing is true of Headships. Those that think they know what they are doing are usually the worst. If a Head starts Headship by asking for more power or money it is likely that they are doing the job for the wrong reasons.
The only reason to become a Head is a passion for trying to make the world a better place. Education is the only way of achieving this. After all, education has to be better than war, religious hatred and sectarian violence.
. Education is all things to all men/women. To politicians it is a way of maintaining social order, reinforcing class or enabling mobility and addressing the economic needs of the country. To many it is purely about careers while to others it is about expanding minds, opening horizons and creating wonder. I’m very much in the wonder and awe camp. I am also of the repairing damaged kids persuasion. All my students were equally important and equally valuable. I hope I succeeded in making some of their lives better. That’s what I set out to do. Their chosen career and economic value was secondary to their self-esteem and happiness.
Before starting this I checked on ‘Rate my Teacher’, a scurrilous website that has given a voice to some rather dubious individuals, but one which reflects how some others see you. It offers a modicum of objectivity. It was a little unsettling to see oneself described as an obese penguin from the CIA but on the other side there was also the recognition of the care and respect. It showed a career that was not entirely wasted.
I worked in Education for thirty six years and prior to that I was largely a victim of it for twenty plus years. My experience of schooling gave me the impetus to get involved and change it. My disgust at the education minister and the Tory attempt to belittle all the achievements of recent decades and drag education back to the appalling 1950s is my main reason for writing this. Children should be valued as human beings and not seen as mere economic units for the employment market. Education that is not developing all aspects of human empathy, and creativity as well as expanding minds is wrong. Most leading fascists have been highly educated – after a fashion. It was their empathy, compassion and warmth of spirit that was allowed to atrophy. Any education system that fosters elitism and the smug arrogance that stems from it should be resisted by all caring people. A system that ignores the promotion of human feeling and sound moral and ethical values in order to focus on exam league tables and economic performance is flawed. The society created would be cold and bitter.
I have fought against that limited view of education all my life.
I have fought for the warmth and light.
In my teaching experience I have known students with lower intelligence, destined for poor grades and lowly jobs, but possessing a range of qualities that left me humbled. I have known highly intelligent individuals, destined for top jobs, who were mean spirited and likely to create misery. My job was to bring out the best in both and my hope is that both types left school better equipped to make a positive contribution to society.
Education is a nebulous thing. We are building the future and the future is not only concerned with careers and wealth; it is also about families, societies, relationships and supporting those less fortunate. How to build a better world should be our curriculum. How we repair damaged children should be our imperative. How we foster positive human values should be our main aim. Teaching and learning, exam results and league tables are almost superfluous in the face of such paramount challenges.
This is why I believe the most important subject, and the most difficult to teach, is PSHE (Personal social and health education). All too often it is poorly delivered, pushed to the shadows and taught by reluctant exponents who happen to have some free space in their timetable. This is a travesty. PSHE is about life, about preparing students for a better world, dealing with the big issues of responsibility, respect, tolerance and empathy. PSHE, like the pastoral system, is about guidance, interaction and development of those qualities that raise the sensibilities. It should be given centre stage, pride of place and only taught by the very best of teachers with the most advanced skills. Anything less is short-changing the future. A school lacking a vibrant PSHE programme is like a robot with no heart. It is pointless.
The only way to address the world’s problems is through good education.
As a probationary teacher I set about taking on the hierarchy of the school and changing the beast that was the current school. It was poor and not meeting the needs of all of its students. I wanted a revolution. You don’t have to be in senior management to have a power base to promote positive change. I fought for change and managed to bring in a number of improvements. However, after twenty years of influential input from a lowly position, I realised that the best way of changing the system was to do it from the top and seized my opportunity to move into senior management.
I did things my way. I did not follow the rules. I was the sand in the Vaseline. The senior team found me a major problem. I refused to compromise. I did it the way I felt was right for the students and my own philosophy. And this method was highly successful. In the whole of my time in teaching I did not have a single report or inspection putting me below excellent. On the school’s first Ofsted inspection, in which it achieved ‘Satisfactory’, all my areas were Outstanding. Over the next three Ofsted inspections, two as Deputy Head and one as Head, all my areas of responsibility were deemed ‘Outstanding’. Being a maverick, and not following the rules, does not necessarily mean you cannot gain recognition. Risk taking is a big part of the game. Covering your back is a weakness and a flaw. Doing what is right, even in defiance of the orders from above, is an imperative. You have to follow your conscience.
Duke Ellington supposedly said that there were only two kinds of music: good and bad. The same is true of education. Bad education is destructive to minds, spirits and society. It should be banished even when it produces perceived results. My own maths teacher in secondary school always achieved a 100% pass rate with his classes. I passed maths from his class. Yet nobody was more successful at destroying a subject. To a man we came out of there hating Maths.
I have always questioned the education system. It seems crazy to put people together grouped by age. That never happens in normal social interaction. This is asking for trouble, particularly during teenage years when hormones are rampant and brains are melting and becoming rewired. It reinforces lots of negative behaviour patterns. It is almost as bad as grouping people according to ability, but not quite. I think we need to bring our best minds to bear to find a better way forward.
The present Tory Government of 2014 is bereft of ideas. What is proposed, a plunge back to the dark days of the 1950s emotionally challenged society, would be a disaster. We have to come up with something better than that. We have a wealth of psychology and sociology to fall back on. Politicians have the wrong agendas. They are ruled by their own political dogma. They always make a mess of it.
I only served five years as a Head. This is something I now regret. I was never personally ambitious and was severely lacking in self-confidence when it came to formal situations. One thing that was obvious was that there were going to be many formal situations and they came with the post. I ducked it for too long and was content with deputy headship. Consequently I came to Headship too late. As a Head I became used to the formal situations and overcame my anxiety attacks. One thing I have learned from life is that you should always push yourself and try to extend your reach. To not do so is perhaps to leave yourself with an unfulfilled life. You never know what you could have achieved.
I guess I’ll never know. I would have liked to have served as a Head for longer and really set my philosophy into full operation. The school was motoring. The cherished beliefs, that I had spent thirty six years establishing, were bearing fruit. The atmosphere inside the school was warm, friendly and buzzing with energy. We were a positive, can-do, all inclusive community. There was a lot of love.
If you review the full panoply of responsibilities involved with Headship, as with many other jobs, it becomes obvious that it is not possible to carry out the whole role effectively. You are responsible for everything twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. You have to know every rule and regulation inside out. You are expected to represent yourself in the most exacting of circumstances without legal representation. To achieve this you would need to be in ten places at once, have a myriad of skills, be super intelligent and be able to read and hold in your memory a mass of legal documentation sufficient to fill a library. As with all such roles you learn to prioritise, deal with the pressing, delegate and relax in the knowledge that you are always exposed and could flounder at any moment from circumstances largely beyond your control. The stress is enormous. I was threatened with prison three times during my short stint. You can go two ways. You can become anal and try to nail everything down, creating a bureaucratic mediocrity or you can hold on tight, guide the tin tray over the bumps and away from the trees, experience a spectacular journey and enjoy the adrenaline rush.
Outstanding can only come as a result of going for it and reaching as far as your spirit will allow. All the checklists in the world cannot create a single spark of originality or flash of genius. Inspiration comes from passion.
Headship is a lonely place but it can be exhilarating when you have the support of the community you have helped create. Sometimes it all comes together and is transcendental. Those are the moments we live for.
As far as I am concerned mediocrity should never be an option.
What follows are my views on education and the mechanics of how the school came to become Outstanding while prospering as a friendly, supportive community in which everyone was loved and valued. I have sprinkled it with illustrative anecdotes from my own experience. This is about how to become Outstanding.
I believe with all my heart that we can mend broken kids, soften the arrogant and aggressive, and use education to change the world into a tolerant, peaceful place that works in harmony with nature.
When education is practiced properly it soars. It should work to take humanity out of the morass of war, poverty, environmental destruction and religious intolerance into a new age.
This is no idle dream of a helpless romantic idealist. This book is about good education.
Good education requires great Headteachers.
Chris Goodwin 16.11.2012/14
I spent thirty six years as a secondary school teacher in Yorkshire with one year in Los Angeles teaching in Norwalk.
Of that time 14 years were spent in the Senior Team and five years as a Headteacher. I brought my own philosophy to bear. I valued each child and believed that our task was not only to enable them to reach their potential academically but to develop as creative, thoughtful, caring, empathic, questioning individuals. In the process I guided my school to three successive Outstanding Ofsted Inspections and created a community that was supportive and happy.
This is the story. It is not an education book.
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