I read with interest and dismay about Llantarnam School being in special measures and wonder where did it all go wrong? Surely the educational choices of management over the years have led to this insecurity of both pupils and staff. This did not just happen overnight and those in authority must have been aware of the failings, just looking at recent data should have sent alarm bells ringing. Where were the Local Authority advisers? Where was the support of the teachers, head and governors in the previous years to stop this slide from happening?
Perhaps I write with rose-coloured glasses but as a product of Llantarnam school and its then wonderful teachers I am disappointed by the educationists within the system as they let this happen. It has always been in the Croesy is a much better school – left over from the old grammar system – battle despite being the first comprehensive. This immediately makes the learners and I suspect teachers feel it they are second best – yet they can shine as I know.
Recently I applied to help and support the Welsh assembly via their system leaders but lost out in the first stages so at that point immediately wondered what they were looking for. I might not be the best candidate but I can offer having being asked twice to help to successfully turn around a school in special measures with not dissimilar problems to Llantarnam. In the past I helped other school out of difficulties and departments improve practice all successfully and with praise from LA and HMI. Currently I work part-time with my husband and his translation company but have kept helping schools with good practice on my free days as well as directing, organising and developing the Primary Language Awards of which I ensured Welsh was an inclusion and its own category. NB Entries are currently open for schools to enter and each category winner receives £500 of langauge resources. www.languageawards.com
Yet having such experiences meant I didn’t even get an interview, maybe they feel my other work is a conflict of interest but it my mind it clearly isn’t, for me its a daily reminder of the difficulties learners have in school with literacy and my first experiences as a teacher. How many other educationalist have first hand experience of successfully turning around schools and still want to achieve it for others… I suspect not many. I made the decision years ago not to become a head but preferring instead to offer support to those school labelled as unsatisfactory. The reason being that either OFSTED or ESTYN quite rightly made their judgements but no one then wanted to help. LA staff whose job it should have been just pulled away and began pointing the finger whilst school staff and pupils were left demoralised like ‘billy no mates’.
When at Llantarnam I was inspired by my teachers from my form tutor Mr Harrison who also played cricket, and Terry Cobner who played a bit of rugby through to my history teacher who became a pastoral leader later in her career, geography teacher who later became a head. I was even blessed with one term of Ken Jones teaching me and the class poetry…I dont think many of my class liked poetry but he said he liked my poems and writing so hopefully he will be looking down on thsi and smiling and saying as he did then …if you think it write it… and I remember it fondly. I was the first to get a GOLD Duke of Edinburgh award and although at the time in sixth form not knowing what I wanted to achieve I was allowed to do woodwork and Mr Jarvis my 5th form form tutor tested me on wiring a plug, changing a washer and similar things. I was only ever nurtured on the unconventional things I liked like the discus in PE and not liking food technology.
It will be no surprise then that in later life after getting annoyed because the boys wouldn’t let me saw the piece of wood they always wanted to help…love them, my dad always let me use wood but watched like a hawk and if I wanted to use metal not understanding my interest in welding but my grandfather letting me play in the shed I trained to become one of the first design technology teachers wood, metal, plastic, control and textiles. Not an easy feat as even in teacher training at Croesy, Bettws and Llantarnam I kept getting offers to do food technology whilst I was confident to do what felt right education wise, I was never a great speaker and this is still something that everyday I struggle with and didn’t get my NQT job at Llantarnam because I got very tongue-tied. It takes a while for people to get used to me but through a mix of my mentoring and my willingness and ability to achieve especially where there is a struggle involved and the willingness to show practically what the theory means in the classroom means that over time I have become respected within my field of support.
I wish the new person overseeing it from Croydon well and will read with interest the developments in the next months. I only hope that they do not underestimate the desperation of staff not sure they are doing a good job and the risk of them leaving, parents taking children out to another school leading to a more falling role means that it is a task that will take years rather than months to improve. What it needs is a clear vision, a charged up and interested staff that can get help without feeling they are inadequate and positive experiences by the pupils which will feed interest and success vibes into the parents and community.
And finally to the Welsh Government, Torfaen LA and the schools governors before you start being negative about all the practice remember:
- there are some really good ones that need pulling through and building on
- each child every day is their first it cannot be regained further down the line they must get the best education that the teacher can give that day
- From a management point of view ‘no one gets up to do a bad job, but circumstances and policies in the day to day running lead to the best not always being achieved’.
- If you look out to find the worst and always talk about that and not balance it with the successes it will always be a failing school for all within it.