I missed the sunbathing… a letter to the Daily Telegraph

I am writing to perhaps correct some of the misconceptions portrayed in your article, from Tuesday 21st July, entitled ‘The teachers who didn’t rise to the challenge should give their pay rise to the unsung heroes’.

I have taught for 23 years and been a Headteacher for 11 and have never had to work harder than we have since the 20th March, when schools were closed nationally. Our school is in the top 10% nationally at GCSE and A level consistently and is graded outstanding by Ofsted

To give you a taste of what this has included I thought I should share the following;

We have spent hundreds of hours working on centred assessed grades for A level and GCSE to ensure that that it was done consistently and fairly to do our students justice. This was a complex and challenging task and each individual grade was signed off by Headteachers personally.

We have contacted every family each 2-3 weeks to check on their pastoral welfare. This was supplemented by pastoral groups meeting online and us evaluating the needs of each of the 1250 students in our care and inviting the highest priority and those at risk into school as vulnerable students. We also gave every student the opportunity to come in for a welfare meeting and walk with their tutor before the end of term.

We set up the school to allow for safe social distancing and for students and staff to return from 1st June. This included teaching staff cleaning, shifting unneeded furniture and painting classrooms at half term.

I led staff induction for two and a half weeks to prepare them to return to school after half term. We then went on to teach every student two weeks of intensive A level lsssons followed by three weeks of GCSE lessons for all Year 10 students. Attendance has never been higher.

We have written risk assessments to adapt to an everchanging DfE expectation and guidance much of which lays the responsibility at the door of each school to make decisions on what is best to do. We often have had to try and make sense of this advice in supporting and reassuring families, students and staff. At no point has any member of staff refused to support what we have been doing.

We have taught live lessons online through video conferencing and provided support for every student to engage them in learning everyday since the start of lockdown.

We have also faced our fair share of challenging situations. One of our students faced an extended period, with both his parents as NHS workers, in Intensive Care. He was left alone, as an only child, so I personally checked on his welfare as he stayed with a family friend waiting for his mother to be discharged from ITU after over 90 days on a ventilator.

I also sat and held the hand of one of our students, aged 18, who took his life during lockdown having not been able to access the right support for his mental health needs. I will never forget taking his friends to his bedside whilst he lay in ITU. Equally the support needed for his 13 year old sister and single mother will called upon every day in the future. I am sure we will be there to love them unconditionally.

I have copied in two of my heroes who have inspired me during the lockdown period. Geoff Barton, from the Association of School and College Leaders, has led with such integrity and wisdom and has been an unrelenting support for schools nationally in making sense of the challenges we have faced. If you need a clear view of what schools have truly done he will give you a very good perspective.

My other hero is my brother who is also a Headteacher. He has led his secondary school alongside 3 primary schools and done so with great energy and passion to simply do what is right for every child. He is married to a wonderful GP who I have every love and respect for in all she has done including her care for care homes locally.

It is likely that the pay increase proposed will be coming from existing school budgets so will not be depriving any other public servants. I feel it is disingenuous to create a false division in this way.

So, in essence, to suggest that teachers have been ‘sunbathing’ since 20th March seems far from the reality for us and many other schools I work closely with. As a reputable paper I would have hoped that there would be a more balanced perspective to recognise this rather than looking to divide those who have all simply tried to do their best.

Compelled to action -#blacklivesmatter

This is it… I have not found the time to write in this blog for so long but have had a restless night and this has compelled me to do so.

Last night when we got home from an afternoon out with family I settled down to watch the much talked about documentary film 13th. It felt like a prelude and introduction to put a context to the world we now live in through the eyes of history in the USA.

At the heart of my faith, as a Catholic and Christian, is the firm belief that God has created all of us equal and in “His image”. We recognise we are diverse, different and unique and need to celebrate this and not use it to divide us. When I look for God amongst us it is looking forwards and around me that I find Christ walking by our side not looking into the clouds or awaiting some Divine apparition.

My most formative experiences in life were ones where I was challenged to recognise this basic equality and I am grateful to my parents and family for nurturing this.

  • I was blessed by being introduced to seeing the person not the disability at a young age as my parents invited young people to our home from Chailey Heritage Foundation.
  • As a teenager I was encouraged by a Priest at school to go on the Lourdes pilgrimage with the diocese and found my firmest friends for life and the value of a living faith. This taught me to see beyond the age, illness or disability.
  • I was able to spend a gap year in Zimbabwe, working in a very privileged school, but also learning so much from African culture and generosity. The poorest people always offering such joy and generosity and sharing in the little they have.
  • More recently Uganda has stolen a piece of my heart through working with Uganda Hands for Hope. We have taken students there to be gifted the deepest education as they work with the children in the school and recognise their privilege and responsibility to take their place in the world.

The aim of the above is not to give a potted life history but solely to make sense of some of my responses to this amazing, yet challenging, documentary.

At the end of the film I found myself deeply disturbed and at times short of breath and I am not sure I have had this response to a film ever before. In essence it was due to the realisation of how people of colour can feel, not only in the United States but here too.

As the film reflected on the history of the slave trade and imprisonment it would be too simple to lay the blame at the American door but that would be failing to look closely in the mirror.

As a British people we have much to answer for in the unending empire building and colonisation deep in our history.

We have cities and infrastructures still built on the profits of the slave trade and the oppression of people. So the issue of race underlies all of this and is relevant for all of us to engage with.

As a teenager I was outraged by the apartheid of South Africa and the sense of injustice but it feels like although these divisions are less prominent in our political systems they still remain deeply embedded in society.

I have always promised that education needs to be a power for change and a power for good. I believe it is a privileged position for us to be in so we need to use this moment as an opportunity to initiate deep rooted change.

This lies at the heart of Christian faith. Faith is not about the practice of what we choose to do on a Sunday morning but how we live our lives. Jesus taught us to simply love and forgive one another.

So let’s do this and remember that #blacklivesmatter is not solely an issue of race but a deeper issue about our basic humanity.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of site to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.

Luke 14:18

Are my children worth less?

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Did I get into teaching to do what I am doing today? I am travelling up to Westminster to help our children and our schools have a voice. We teach them to stand up for justice, we teach them to speak out if something is wrong, we teach them to stand confident and tall. So now it needs to be our turn.

I am privileged to lead a school which will be probably recognised as being in the top ten percent nationally when looking at the GCSE and A level results this year and we are graded as an “outstanding school”. We are proud of all that we achieve and how our students flourish but it is not down to bountiful resources and funding. It is simply down to the relentless dedication and commitment of staff who work in our school and go above and beyond every day to do right by the students they serve. My own children go the school and I need to speak out for them and for your children too all over the country.

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I did not get into teaching to have to cut budgets in every department. I did not get into teaching to have to save nearly £400,000 through the anguish of redundancies in the last year alone. I did not get into teaching to have to stand side by side with one thousand Headteachers from all over the country saying our children are not worthless. 

Nobody is suggesting money should be taken from one school and given to another. Simply, give  schools the funding we need to do the best every day for our children, my own children. For nearly three years we have been in discussion, dialogue and debate with politicians yet in real terms nothing has changed. The recommended pay increases for teachers are welcomed but there is no clarity of how this will be funded and implemented. The recently increased pension contributions will value the contribution that teachers make to society yet we have no clue how we will afford the extra £350,000 that this will cost when we have made all the “efficiency savings” we can.

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For me it is not just another political discussion or debate – it is ethical. I am compelled by my own faith to speak out for our school, our students, our staff, our future but ultimately my own children and yours too. They do not deserve second best in an education where they only get one chance. 

I got into teaching to make a difference each and every day and I love what I do but enough is enough. We all need to speak with one voice and ensure that schools are funded fairly. If we fail to educate children in our society what future do we have in facing the big issues of Brexit, conflict or division? Let’s tell everyone we can that our children deserve the best opportunities for their lives and ultimately the future of society.

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Rob Carter is Headteacher at St Paul’s Catholic College. He is also a National Leader of Education and the school supports educational development nationally and locally including supporting underperforming schools.

The WorthLess? Campaign is a national campaign led by Headteachers to ensure that there is fair funding for education for all schools. 1000 Headteachers are meeting in Westminster and going to No.11 Downing Street to campaign for fair funding for all schools.

Better Together

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Overcoming the challenges we face in education

As leaders we face some of the most significant challenges seen in education. We are at a pivotal time to shape the educational landscape and direction that provides the opportunity to influence a generation far broader reaching then our own temporary custody within individual schools.

The two most significant challenges we face are those provided by the uncertainties of school funding and the need to ensure a deep-rooted focus on recruitment and retention. The question remains what can we do to address these areas that has an impact in all our schools and will we be in a stronger position standing individually or through working in collaboration?

Recruitment and retention – the quality of education is defined not by the amount of time in the classroom or the size of the class but most importantly by the quality of instruction. The defining factor remains the quality of learning, teaching and leadership to ensure progress and that every child makes the most of their potential. Through working together we have the opportunity to develop strategies for professional learning from the “cradle to grave” and ensure that our schools actively track, engage and provide opportunities for talent management and succession planning at all levels.

Financial uncertainty – the one thing that is clear is that there will be continued change and uncertainty within educational finances. We will face these in isolation with potentially catastrophic effects in that some schools may cease to exist or we have the opportunity to ask ourselves what we can do differently or more effectively by working together. This may include contracts, services, capital development, income generation and staffing.

Underlying this is a commitment to looking to embed and develop the school-led system so that there is a strength of voice when we stand together. Currently there is a risk that we are susceptible to political winds of change and we need to overcome this through helping shape our own destiny. We are challenged to establish a way of working in “accountable collaboration” underpinned by peer review, joint curriculum development and defining a shared strategy, vision and direction.
It is here that we have to take a leap of faith, to have the strength and moral conviction to find a path through the challenges that lie ahead. We simply owe it to ourselves, our students and the school communities we serve to find new ways of working together with creativity, commitment and a shared vision and direction. I am sure that if we invest the time and energy to get this right working in a multi-academy trust can achieve this vision and direction.

So it is time to face the challenges and uncertainties head on and discover new ways to solve these challenges standing stronger and better together. Are you ready for the journey?

Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen 

I’ve known Deborah long enough to say that when she wants something – she can get it done. Let’s support her on her journey!

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For me my life didn’t change at 4pm on an idle Tuesday, it was 7pm on an idle Thursday just before Christmas 2016……


I’m the perfect example of a text book hypochondriac, one that immediately think dizziness means a brain tumour, a cough means lung cancer, and blood in the stools means Bowel cancer. However years of CBT has meant that I’ve learnt to rationalise every ailment – including the last year of a change in bowel habbits that I put down to too much wine, a new job and stress of trying to be that full time working ‘super mum’.


If only for once someone believed me earlier that I wasn’t ‘crying wolf’ – when in my normal nervous GP ‘question time’ I tell the doctor I think I have bowel cancer – I’m actually laughed at – not once but 3 times over the course of 6 months!…

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Fed as a leader…

Leadership Concept

Some thoughts and notes from the recent conference on leadership in Birmingham. A few questions to consider.

  • What feeds, develops and challenges you as a leader?
  • How are you committed to continuing to grow and learn?
  • What will you to have a relentless focus on simplicity and improvement?

We can’t have a diet of junk food and need to be broad and balanced in what we eat and drink. Perhaps we need the same exercise and commitment in our leadership development. So thanks to those that shared in the journey and I hope we can all find a meaningful way to share the experience when we return to the pace of life in school.

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One of Seven

A thoughtful Easter reflection so poignant in the world this week and today on Good Friday.

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Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Matt 27:46

What a week it’s been.


I’m writing this on Tuesday night with a heavy heart after the terrorist attacks in Brussels today.

There’s a somber tone to the world. One of despair. One of hurt. One of fear.


And I can’t seem to shake the fact that this tragedy occurred right as we’re about to enter the Easter Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. — The pinnacle of our faith. Paradoxcallythe most sorrowful, and yet most joyful occasions.

But today, there is a palpable sadness, blanketed over the global community. Which reminded me of the darkness that covered the earth at noon on Good Friday, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, right before He died.

Good Friday. The day when He hung on the tree.


While He was upon the…

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Do you want to be a mechanic or a surgeon?

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Like many of those preparing for the dawn of a new term I am eagerly anticipating getting back into the routine of school life. As part of this most schools kick off the school year with some pre-season training (or an INSET day or two!). My youngest daughter was easily convinced for a while that this in fact was an INSECT day where teachers would be set free to explore the world around them…

So what could be happening during this time? I hope most schools worth their salt do a few key things…

  1. Celebrate the successes of the summer – personally (weddings, engagements) and professionally (results and triumphs)
  2. Take time to welcome new staff and welcome back the trusty team
  3. Invest in developing one another by learning in some way actively

If none of this happens at your school and you are sitting around listening to presentations ask “how could this be better use of our time?” and suggest some solutions.

I do think the routines of life are useful for us all on a very basic level and this is definitely the case in our family life. We love time together but equally benefit from the contrast and rhythm of school – in essence I look forward to going back and secretly I think my children do too…

As part of our learning as a staff I want to prompt some reflection on learning and how we can understand what is going on at a deeper level.

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Would we send our car to a mechanic who knew nothing about how engines work or we be happy to be operated on by a brain surgeon who hadn’t been to medical school?

I am fairly confident, that on different levels, the answer to these questions would be a resounding no.

So why should be any different for anyone working in education to know nothing about how the brain works and functions?

“How brains are built”

“Optimising the Performance of the Human Mind”

“Opera Singer sings during Brain Surgery”

“The learning brain”

“How playing an instrument benefits the brain”

“The human brain”

So maybe this year we should use this time to “set people free to explore the world around them” just like my daughter once thought! Welcome back and have a great year ahead…

On a mission? A modern discipleship…

My message at the end of our school year.

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our mission

This week our theme in school is “responsibility” – the Gospel reading talks about how Jesus called the disciples together and sent them out in pairs taking nothing with them in the challenge to live their lives of faith and spread the Good News.

What does this tell us as we come to the end of the school year and for the summer ahead?

  1. Let us travel light – perhaps we are weighed down by all that we want and own. The challenge is to cherish the moments, memories and people we are with not the gifts or possessions we bring back from our travels. We can sometimes live a “virtual reality” taking pictures and videos from our phones rather than seeing life in full technicolour. I remember being lucky enough to be in the Olympic Stadium the night Mo Farah won the 5000m Gold Medal at London 2012. How…

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Back in the old days… do you remember??

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summer-chairsDo you remember the old days? I must be feeling a little older as sometimes I find myself looking back and seeing the past with rose-tinted spectacles… for us all it may be a time of carefree childhood, a point when we were madly in love or a sense of satisfaction and joy in our professional lives – I think elite athletes may talk about “flow” or this may be like Ken Robinson’s “element“.

As a teacher I have this view of “life in the summer term” when I was first teaching. It was a time when you could get to do the things you had been desperate to focus on all year, you got space to think…. ultimately it felt like you had the most precious gift – “time”. I also remember it as always being sunny so perhaps it is not a memory based in great realism!

This…

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