December 2015

The know zone

  • Preventative measures
    The new Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a significant responsibility on schools and colleges and leaders need to ensure they have plans in place to help carry out their duty, says Anna Cole. More
  • Outstanding performance
    Expecting parents to show up out of a sense of duty to your open event no longer cuts the mustard. Every classroom has to be an ‘experience’ and the head’s speech must be a show-stopper, says Carl Smith. More
  • Laws of attraction
    The government has pledged to train an extra 17,500 maths and physics teachers over the next five years. Here, ASCL members share their views on what would work best to make this happen. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Know your options
    Stephen Casey explains the new laws on freedom and choice in pensions and highlights what you can do to boost your pension at retirement. More
  • A common purpose
    Much of the philosophy of ASCL’s Blueprint applies to both independent and state schools so we should join forces to deliver it, says Barbara Stanley. More
  • Quick CPD wins
    Ten top tips to help you plan and refresh your continuing professional development (CPD) curriculum for staff. More
  • Providing direction for the next generation
    Careermap is a leading new website for 16–24 year-old’s looking for a pathway into apprenticeships and early careers. Since its launch earlier this year, the website is rapidly becoming the go-to place for young people seeking new opportunities in all career sectors. More
  • Professional Learning
    When describing your school’s professional learning, how many of these points can you say yes to? More
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Expecting parents to show up out of a sense of duty to your open event no longer cuts the mustard. Every classroom has to be an ‘experience’ and the head’s speech must be a show-stopper, says Carl Smith.

Outstanding performance

While it is true that today’s schools are more secure than your average cross-channel port – and that trying to enter one would make a good script for Mission Impossible 6 – the autumn term is still traditionally the season for the good ol’ fashioned open evening/morning/day/weekend/ all hours (delete as required).

Of course, simply scattering a few books around classrooms, dragging out the plastic skeleton from the biology cupboard (everyone has a skeleton in their cupboard somewhere) and repainting the toilets is rather passé these days. Every classroom has to be an ‘experience’ and the whole school must be turned into a version of Chessington World of Adventures Resort (other theme parks are available).

In the old days, a simple quarter-page advert in the local rag a week before the event would have them battering down the front door but now a whole term’s work must go into ’pulling in the punters’.

If you must insist on using old media, then size is everything. A quarter-page ad with a few simple details is code for ‘If we’re not requiring improvement already, we soon will be’, so you’ve got to go big. A whole-page advert makes a proper statement even if that statement is likely to be ‘I’ve blown the marketing budget in one go’.

Marketing budget, I hear you cry. I remember when we had one of those.

New media, on the other hand, is free. Twitter and Facebook cost nothing, assuming your reputation hasn’t already been decimated by a bitter ex-student who superimposed your head on to Kim Kardashian’s body and sent it round the world.

If you’re really avant garde, use Instagram or, heaven forbid, Snapchat – that way, you’ll really be down with the kids and they’ll come by the lorry load . . . or so the theory goes.

Please don’t forget the head’s speech, the big pitch, the moment to inspire. Every head dreams of hearing the words, “Wow, that head spoke so brilliantly I am sending all my children to this school with immediate effect and I’ll insist all my friends do the same.”

In reality, however, most parents pay more attention to the head boy’s speech, which was written by the head of performing arts during period 4. If they do notice you, it’s to comment on your suit (”I thought his trousers were a bit long”) or remark that you were “a bit boring”.

None of this will matter if you snatch the evaluation sheets before anyone else and filter out all negative references to your presentation à la Ofsted style in the days before the Parent View website, but even so.

Perhaps you prefer the open day approach with lines of parents entering your classrooms to watch your staff in mid-flow and get a more ‘authentic feel’ of the school. The problem with this is that most parents want to see behaviour of the type Ofsted would rate inadequate with hand-pressed children quietly working in rows or taking it in turns to answer questions to ridiculously hard mathematical questions and smile in a manner reminiscent of the Stepford Wives.

Teachers are unnerved by such things, having been taught that unless the children leave the room positively hyperventilating with excitement about the experience they have just had, they were clearly not fully engaged. The answer is always to play to your audience so, for one day only, the only kind of experience the children will get is a Victorian one with the promise of a video next lesson if they all play along.

Maybe, by the time you read this, you are already through this annual ordeal, unless you are one of the increasing numbers of schools who feel that two open evenings are required with an open morning thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps we should do away with the whole thing and take a leaf out of Big Brother by just putting a webcam in the main corridor and beaming the entire event live on the Internet? Reality schools . . . now there’s an idea.

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

Carl Smith is ASCL Branch Secretary for Rutland and Principal of Casterton College Rutland.