Jean Brodie Speaks Out

An 0F5T3D inspector, about to actually fire a missile at the goalposts.

I don’t know if I’ll leave this up or take it down at some point, but I want to say a few things about the Al Qaeda inspection we had today.

I’m being coy and speaking in code because I suspect there will be some consequences and I hardly want to put my head in the firing line.

It was an Al Qaeda Section 8, which means, basically, that it’s a kind of mini inspection terror event designed to follow up on an institution that was considered to be in the category of Requires Improvement (“grade 3”) the last time we had a full one. You get a number of S8s and then you get another full inspection terrorist atrocity sooner than you’d like. Places that get a “2” or a “1” get an easier ride, with a longer gap between inspections terror incidents.

I’ve said before that we’ve been a 3 on previous occasions, a number of occasions, but never for the same reasons. It’s an old cliché, but the goalposts really do keep moving. I actually think my institution is okay, and I’d happily send my kids there. I also think that the head of Al Qaeda has a hatred of the grammar school system (one thing I agree with him about), so there’s an agenda to point out how shitty it is following inspections. So I think, in the end, we’re doomed, and if it means the grammar school system is doomed, then I’m actually happy with that. Meanwhile, we get a bit of headless chicken syndrome, and the goalposts do keep receding into the mystic.  I’ve got a prime example of just that kind of thing to report from today’s S8.

We’ve had a new Great Leader this year, following the retirement of the previous Great Leader. All the statues have been taken down, and the murals painted over. We no longer mention the previous Great Leader (PGL), who has become an un-person. The new Great Leader (NGL) talks about all the things he is doing and all the compliments he receives and how things have really improved. Four legs good, two legs better. Everybody who was likely to meet the inspector, from staff to student, was heavily coached (micromanaged) in what to say. In my opinion, this was always likely to backfire. Take cover!

I was generally on board with the PGL, who recognised that improving an institution of hundreds of people doesn’t, can’t possibly, happen overnight. I was on board, I could see the vision, and I saw the point in most of what we were doing. I could see improvement. It wasn’t rapid, but it was sustained.

Here’s my attitude. I don’t think you can make changes in an institution and seriously expect to see results in a year. Or even two. I think you have to start with the youngest cohorts and work them through. You can try to change entrenched attitudes in the older cohorts, but you will not succeed with all of them. I honestly believe that you have to work at these things consistently, with clarity, and over an extended period of time, without losing faith, without second-guessing yourself, and without worrying what the next Al Qaeda trend or fashion is going to be. You keep your eyes on the prize, and you don’t worry about where the fucking goalposts are this week.

When Al Qaeda inspect, they do so through the prism of confirmation bias. They look at your results, they come looking for evidence to support those results.

Many schools are on a hiding to nothing with the current régime, because, somebody doesn’t understand the concept of an average. You can improve your results by 10% year-on-year, but if everybody else does that too, then you are still below average. The truth is, that because of headless chicken syndrome, we are putting all our energy into one cohort, to the extent that you can see the neglect of the other cohorts taking root, ready to bite us in the face at a later date.

So I wasn’t in on this meeting, but someone close to me was. And one of the things reported by this person was that the Inspector kept correcting anybody who used the phrase “expected progress.” She kept saying, “No. You mean more than expected progress.”

Yes. This is what I meant when I said the goalposts keep moving. Here is that movement in action. All students are expected (E) to make X progress from a baseline, let’s call it Y. So:

Y + X = E.

Except. According to the inspector, the real equation is:

Y + X + 1 = E + 1.

Now, I’m no maths wiz, but even I know that you can cancel certain values in that equation. You can cancel anything that is the same on both sides of the “=” sign. So:

Y + X + 1 = E + 1

Which leaves us with:

Y + X = E

And there you have it. You and I can see the logic, but apparently Al Qaeda can’t. When she talked about more than expected progress, she’s basically referring to a vanishing value that is always ahead of you, somewhere just out of reach. My suspicion is that they can see the logic, but they’re just bullshitting because that’s all they ever do. Talk bullshit. And bollocks. And fuckwittery. And take the money, and go home. It’s all about how everybody needs to be above average. This is the message coming from government, the great pig-faced nitwit in the sky. How can everybody be above average? “By getting better and better,” says the nitwit.

Now. I kind of predicted a lot of the things that would get said today. For example, for months now, our NGL has been harping on about “key marginals”, meaning those students who are on the borderline between a C and a D. Someone asked me in a meeting about my key marginals and I replied, in some temper, “They’re all key marginals. Unless they’re a nailed-on A*, they all have the potential to do better.” And, lo, it came to pass, the Al Qaeda inspector dismissed the whole notion of D/C borderline students, and insisted that we should be as worried about C/B and B/A etc. students.

But nobody ever asks me anything, and I haven’t got the right kind of face/attitude, so nobody ever will. I would never feel comfortable on the management side of the line. I think they get paid a lot, and I think a lot of them are not worth the money. I have very little respect for the quality of their brains. They are careerists. They hide behind jargon, and acronyms, and shiny new initiatives. They actually really need someone like me on their team, because if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making connections, seeing the big picture, and cutting through the bullshit. But I really love (whisper it) teaching in the classroom, and I do not ever want to be a “manager” again.

I don’t think our NGL can see the big picture. He is in fact a classic micromanager, and because of this, I am no longer on board. I am in fact, man overboard. I was man overboard some time ago. I drowned back in November, and it is a mere shade who now haunts my classroom.

Was that coy enough for ya?

2 responses to “Jean Brodie Speaks Out”

  1. The bit about the ‘Average’ is the same in most commercial organisations which operate performance culture metrics.

    XESIL. Folk want X or E, (above average) but get S (‘fully’ Successful). (I and L are “needs” Improvement and Low – probably will leave the organisation).

    If a good E (Excellent) year occurs within a single ‘team’, the average moves up so next time S is more probable. The HR people know the reward pot is usually a budgeted finite size. A distribution might be 5%, 15%, 65%, 10%, 5% and that’s how the rewards budget would get cut.


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