Somewhere in London this weekend, a primary school head and her staff will have learned, via Twitter, that they have been reported to Ofsted. This communication choice of a peer of the realm also means that the whole school community will know that their school has been deemed, unofficially but very publicly, to be inadequate. The damaging impact of that, no matter what the truth may turn out to be or whether the head is experienced or has walked through the door in January, will last far beyond a Twitter spat. Yet throughout the weekend, Andrew Adonis has postured as a saviour of young people whilst utterly refusing to acknowledge how inappropriate and damaging his tactics have been. Despite the frustrated and often angry responses from across the profession, he has compounded his initial fulmination with a series of destructive tweet grenades.
The first one landed in my timeline on Friday, at a point when I was overtired from a week in front of screens, full of the frustrations and limitations of remote teaching and leadership. His tweet is as problematic in content as it is in tone, something which is addressed within the numerous responses it has received: the lack of specificity; the lack of evidence to support his judgements; and the lack of evidence to support his beliefs that whole days of live, online lessons are right and possible for every age group and context. Additionally, he seems to be far behind the debate and late to concerns the profession has been grappling with for weeks.
But it his chosen form of delivery which is the most damaging. He confidently asserts that he has a valid and serious concern about schools within the informal and limiting context of tweets; he then focuses on and quotes one head in particular. In doing so, he has ignored formal and fair processes, available in every school and national educational organisations, which are designed to investigate and decide the most appropriate actions and conclusions for any concern. If he has a serious concern, it deserves a serious response but one which lies within a fair process. Instead, he has utilised exactly the same method as those who use social media to berate, belittle and slander school staff in a context in which the objects of their bile are unable to put forward a response or to reveal the facts of a situation. He is the mad Mumsnet troll, from whom sensible parents quietly back away, but is persistent enough to spark the “no smoke without fire” queries to SLT. He is the complainant who thinks that process does not apply to him because he seems unable to entertain the idea that his opinion might not be the reality and so does not need to be subjected to scrutiny.
I started today with an exchange on Twitter about writers’ habits. The question asked was how and when do fellow educators find the time and discipline to write; it elicited several thoughtful responses. Whilst reading one strand, in which someone discussed their own early rise at 6am to write for two hours, I began thinking about Morrison who had spoken in interviews about getting up at 5am when her children were small to write whilst she simultaneously raised them alone and held down a job at Random House publishers; Barack Obama joked when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom about her having had to write whilst dealing with the mundane messes of motherhood. Yet the job was ground-breaking editing and publishing of black writers which changed the American literary landscape; the writing was Beloved.
Following news of her death this afternoon, I regretted having not mentioned her. Not because I wanted to raise a tweeter’s 6am with Morrison’s 5am or diminish the output of anyone against the brilliance of Morrison’s light but because she so often seems to be the answer. Greatest living writer; the great American novel; the best quotations about love; the best opening lines to novels; her name always has to be there. Beloved (1987) in particular, is a work of such originality, intelligence and importance that it can take your breath away, even after multiple readings. I’ve taught it and you can revise it by opening at any random page for an extract to discuss: on every page, you’ll find prose with poetic beauty, things you realised you’ve missed, even when you’ve read it carefully before, and insights into human behaviour which lay bare aspects other writers bury in euphemisms or don’t even notice.
This tweet from The Good Schools Guide today has galvanised me into this post, which is based on a question I have been pondering all academic year. Why is there a growing number of male heads in independent girls’ schools in the South-East and why am I bothered by this?
I’m a product and beneficiary of female-only spaces; I have also chosen to work in two girls’ schools amidst a career which has encompassed challenging co-ed comprehensives and high performing independent sector schools. Furthermore, the work of @WomenEd, as well as similar work by women in business (Mary Portas, Karren Brady, Sheryl Sandberg and Edwina Dunn, for example) has been invaluable in its support and encouragement throughout my 20+ years career. Therefore, I will absolutely assert that there is a need for female only spaces in society and that they contribute to tackling the gender inequalities which still persist through collaborative, productive networks. However, I do also accept that we live in a world in which the very definitions of gender, sex, male and female are changing and that there is a growing gap between young people’s understanding of these terms and those of many of the adults in their lives, including teachers, parents/carers and grandparents. It is against this backdrop that I have been pondering why I am troubled by the growing number of male heads in all girls’ schools in the independent sector. I will state, emphatically, that I am in no doubt about their individual abilities and this is in no way to malign the work they do, but it seems problematic that the statistics in this area are quietly altering with very little comment.
Girls’ schools have a strong history of empowerment and fighting to enable young women and girls to access the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts. When it is noted that it was not until the late nineteenth century that formal institutions and qualifications were established for female students, it highlights how young this wider participation in education is for women. For example, high profile schools like Roedean, Cheltenham Ladies’ College and North London Collegiate were established in the latter half of the nineteenth century, as were Oxbridge colleges like Girton; these were then followed by the University of London, which was the first to award degrees to female students in the 1869 (the London Nine’s 150th. anniversary has been celebrated since last year by Senate House).