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Letter from a headteacher on his/her final day

(29 Posts)
Elegran Mon 29-Oct-18 10:19:52

An open letter to Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney from a headteacher who is leaving the profession. I have copied and pasted it in full for those who don't like following links, but included a link to the URL, which has some interesting comments from readers, too.

* October 21, 2018 Paddy's Daddy Publishing
Good Teaching is What Truly Matters – A final word from a resigning headteacher.

Today we have a moving and raw letter from a Headteacher on his/her final day. *

Dear Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney

I am writing this letter on my final day as a Scottish, Primary Headteacher.

After nearly 14 years in the profession, and more years than I care to remember, working with children and young people, I made the decision to leave teaching for good.

In common with many recent letter writers, the burden has become too much.

I entered teaching after several years working in schools, and with partners, supporting children’s education. I had experienced firsthand the hours which dedicated staff put in to ensure that they can do their best for the young people in their establishments. Therefore, I was under no illusions about the effort needed to be good at this job.

I entered formal teaching practice at a time when CfE was in its infancy, not yet fully formed. It was also a time when 5 to 14 was embedded in Scottish schools and teachers felt that they knew what was expected of them.

If you were lucky, like me, you had a headteacher who would allow you enough flexibility to do a good job, in terms of meeting the needs of the learners in your class.

Inclusive education most certainly existed, but there was some support in terms of part time placements within a base, support teachers regularly in school and opportunities to learn from experts about how best to support individual needs. Paperwork was at a manageable level.

Then came the excitement of CfE and the promise to ‘declutter the curriculum’ allowing schools to tailor the delivery to take account of local interests, differences in communities and even allow for some personalisation and choice, progression, breadth, depth, etc.

Who could really argue with the principles of curriculum design? Learning and Teaching Scotland supported schools and local authorities to begin the implementation process.

Then came, unpacking the curriculum, what did the Es and Os mean, how could you ensure progression over the 3 years of a level?

Building the Curriculum documents were developed and learning pathways created. Learning across the curriculum, responsibility of all, and so on, the jargon began to flow from the centre, within schools and at authority level.

Development Officers from Literacy and Numeracy to Sustainability were there to ensure everyone was clear about what this new curriculum could deliver.

In between publications, schools were looking at pedagogy:

Assessment is for Learning approaches needed to be embedded. Tapestry courses were attended, Dylan William books read, Teacher Learning Community meetings attended, learning rounds undertaken.

And, bit by bit, Inclusion matters raise their head more formally. Support begins to dwindle, teacher leadership becomes the norm -we must be empowered to take control in our classrooms, we can meet the needs of all learners (GIRFEC).

But it didn’t stop there, we needed to look at planning and planners: 4 feature, interdisciplinary, cross curricular, additional support plans, childs plan, IEP.

It was becoming an ‘Industry!’

LTS became Education Scotland.

Then at some point, the SALS (significant aspects of learning) were introduced, and as we got to grips with these, the Benchmarks followed.

During this time, I was swept along with this machine. I enjoyed the relative calm before the storm, honing my skills, becoming more familiar with all of the above and supporting others within my community to do the same.

I was also working my way up the career ladder as Acting PT, Development Office, Principal Teacher and then, through the Flexible Route to Headship, I became a Headteacher.

Riding on the crest of a wave, I was delighted to be leading the way in school improvement ensuring I consulted pupils, parents, staff and the wider community on what was needed to make our school the best it could be.

Preparing for Inspection, Learning Trios, Cluster Learning Communities and networks formed. Having read Fulan, etc. I knew what had to be done to create a culture of improvement.

Slowly but surely the realisation that I was being expected to do more and more, with less and less, dawned.

‘Don’t worry,’ we were told, Teachers need to start doing more for themselves. Too long they have relied on headteachers doing it for them.

They should be writing the ASPs, the Single Agency Assessments making sure they are Getting it Right for Every Child, leading working parties, developing the curriculum, enhancing pupil experiences, tracking wider achievements, understanding assessment data and how to use this to track and monitor, raise attainment …

Then came the Pupil Equity Fund, this would be just what we needed to close the poverty related attainment gap! (Had teachers not tried to do this before?) and the proposed Head Teacher’s Charter with statements about ‘parents demanding,’ ‘accountability,’ etc, etc.

During all of this time, I have tried to do my best. I have worked a 60+ week without thought of overtime payments.

I attend residential excursions, do many business miles to Social Work meetings, HT meetings, up and down to ASDA (other supermarkets are available) in order to stock up on essential supplies or to buy treats for the ‘Gold Award’ winners.

Would I ever dream of claiming expenses, of course not – and neither do most of you. Because it’s never been about the money, the hours or the credit for trying to do a good job. It’s always been about knowing that I have made a difference, supporting children, and sometimes families, to do their best.


I too have a family, I too have to think about my health and happiness and when that is threatened by over work and the lack of respect from our politicians, like Mr Swinney who has suggested that we do not know what we want or need, the time has come to make a stand.

In my very small way, this has come through my resignation.

My colleagues understand that my integrity will no longer allow me to continue in a profession where we are being forced by our political masters to constantly flit from initiative to initiative with no time to support staff to develop and embed what truly makes a difference:

Good Teaching is what truly matters Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney.

When will you put a stop to this INDUSTRY and respect us enough to let us do our job properly, as 99.9% of us have always tried to do?

Your job should be to support educational professionals to regain the trust of the public and to ensure that schools become places respected by their local community and education is once again valued for what it does in supporting children and young people into a brighter future.

I don’t expect a reply from you or Mr Swinney, others have tried and got nowhere, but please please sit up and listen before it is too late!

Yours sincerely,

A now Ex Headteacher

GrandyC Thu 15-Nov-18 06:14:56

I was a headteacher. It was a 'marmite' job. When the opportunity to finish at 53 presented itself, I took the decision to leave. My role was challenging enough, but to see talented and committed staff exhausted, demoralised, jumping hoops because it was what Ofsted would be looking for on their next visit, after 33 years, 11 as HT, I decided to call it a day.
I always felt it was my role to release my teachers of the burdens of paperwork so that they could get on and do what they were good at - teach. That was becoming harder as each year went by.
We were a happy school. We had fabulous end of term concerts, great days out, projects to encourage resilience in us all, community events. But if your results dip, or a parents complains, or a new method of assessment becomes compulsory, the real meaning of teaching gets lost.
I agree with everything you say in your letter, but only fellow colleagues like myself will listen.
Keep posting your views. I wrote a novel to get the message out as I was weary of writing to the government. Anything, because, after all, it in the interests of future generations of children.
Thanks for sharing your letter.

gillybob Thu 15-Nov-18 07:12:42

Not sure if the HT is a he or a she ( I suppose it doesn’t matter) nor does it say how old the teacher is (which does) . There are teachers in my DGC’s primary who have left, (taken early retirement) only to come back as a supply teacher . A similar thing happens in the NHS with nurses . My DGC’s H/T is retiring at Christmas . She is 55.

hillwalker70 Thu 15-Nov-18 07:31:46

Thank you so much for posting this, all so familiar. Both my girls are Primary School Teachers in small village schools, both work 10 or 11 hour days and use their own money for books etc, as small Primary’s are so underfunded compared to academy’s. They both love teaching and are good at their jobs so will continue but family life gets complicated, hence my greater involvement with g.children. Head Teachers are leaving in droves.

EllanVannin Thu 15-Nov-18 08:30:16

How did all these " Of/f " organisations come about ?
( Oftel/Ofwat/Ofgem and all the other ofs-------more non-jobs for the interfering busybodies in government ?

Elegran Thu 15-Nov-18 09:01:02

Gilly A supply teacher doesn't have the responsibility that a head teacher or "even" a class or subject teacher does. He/she can do the day's work and go home and forget the job and the children. If one temporary assignment is extra stressful, there is always the hope that the next will be better. Class teachers have everything else as well as the day's teaching, and a headteacher does all that was in that letter and more, and carries all the cans for his staff too. The wonder is that all teachers haven't retired left and come back as supply.

Elegran Thu 15-Nov-18 09:02:24

GrandyC It wasn't my letter, I read it online and it struck a few chords.

Buffybee Thu 15-Nov-18 11:04:50

This is so sad. So much bureaucracy dragging people down.
Not just in the teaching profession but also nursing.
So much paperwork and box ticking and the actual job suffers.
When will the "powers that be" sit up and take notice?

Jane10 Thu 15-Nov-18 11:52:47

Much of the box ticking is fear of litigation sad

EllanVannin Thu 15-Nov-18 11:56:08

I know what " off " I'd use to these people in Oftel/Ofwat/Ofgem etc !!

gillybob Thu 15-Nov-18 12:31:10

The wonder is that all teachers haven't retired left and come back as supply.

The cynic in me thinks that if they find teaching too stressful the payoff/pension must help them get over it and enjoy the job again. Bank staff take a lot of money from the already stretched budgets of the NHS and Education. Maybe if they knew they couldn't come back as supply/bank they would stay in the job and retire in line with most other people.

Luckygirl Thu 15-Nov-18 12:35:06

Basically there is far too much government interference in schools, micromanaging what is taught day by day and how it is monitored and judged.

They need to b****r off and let teachers teach. There should be a general aim for the end of the primary years and within that the teachers should work on what is right for their individual pupils and the community setting.

Unless you have been inside the system you can have absolutely no idea about the farcical levels of the targets that are set, and the time that teachers waste providing data rather than actually teaching. I have no idea how they do it - I would be a wreck after a week.

Once upon a time the school inspectors (who pre-dated OfSted) not only made a judgement as to how a school was doing, they also provided SUPPORT and resources to help a school with areas where they were struggling. OfSted just flies in, makes a judgement and leaves the school to deal with that - if the judgement is not ideal, then the school loses pupils to other schools, and staff are reluctant to apply for posts there, thus creating a downward spiral, rather than seeking to make things better.

Some of the targets are a complete farce, especially in tiny rural schools. If you have only 3 pupils in a SATs year, one has special needs and cannot possibly reach the required standard, another feels unwell that day and misses the target by a whisker, and one passes - what goes out is a judgement that 2/3 of the children are failing!!! And if you have say 5 children in a year group and the target set is to get 66% then one child would have to be chopped up to reach the required 3.3 children passing. Honestly, I kid you not, these are the sorts of farcical targets that are set. Any hope of getting the target setters to take this on board falls on deaf ears - it is all a joke, and would be funny if it were not for the toll it takes on teachers and pupils.

eazybee Thu 15-Nov-18 12:47:39

I read this post properly today, and realised it was from yet another failed fast-track Headteacher. Thirteen years experience; no wonder he/she couldn't cope.

Seen too many fast -trackers promoted above their strength because they are enthusiastic, full of ideas and jargon, work very hard but have no idea how to cope with change when they are not the ones initiating it.
Inadequate variety of teaching experience, inability to adapt, few coping strategies and not nearly enough time at the chalkface.

Jane10 Thu 15-Nov-18 12:47:45

There's an interesting documentary on BBC (I think) about an academy group of schools. The financial aspect is pretty awful. I'd like to hear from some of you retired teachers. Is it an accurate picture?

Elegran Thu 15-Nov-18 12:56:16

Gilly Your opinions of teachers are well-known! but if you could retire from your current job and come back only responsible for that day and could ignore everything else, would you insist on staying? Supply teachers are the agency nurses of teaching.

Mamissimo Thu 15-Nov-18 13:01:48

I’m a retired deputy principal and the daughter of teachers; my own 2 DDs followed into the profession. I have supported them and watched with enormous sadness as they both crumbled with stress and opted to abandon school leadership and return to classroom teaching with no management responsibility.

They were good managers, but the bureaucracy and fiscal challenges were too much and their physical health was being harmed.

I could no longer recommend the profession as a career because no one could cope with forty years of such pressure!

gillybob Thu 15-Nov-18 13:13:52

Gilly Your opinions of teachers are well-known!

and what would they be Elegran ? I very much resent that comment. I actually have a very high opinion of "most" teachers. But a fairly low one of my 10 year old DGD's class teacher . Is that what you have based your comment on?
Do you expect me to say "all teachers are amazing" ? because they are not. My DGD's is rubbish.

Supply teachers are the agency nurses of teaching

I mentioned that up thread and they too suck money form an overstretched budget. Taking early retirement and coming back doing the same job. hmm

Also I will add that the tax payers do not pay my salary or contribute to a pension for me, so not sure how you can compare .

gillybob Thu 15-Nov-18 13:14:27

from not form.

Elegran Thu 15-Nov-18 13:42:08

I based my comment on your own comments about teachers, Gilly, and I can't recall where you have said that you "actually have a very high opinion of "most" teachers." If you find my assumtion offensive, then reflect on the many teachers on here who have posted how they or a member of their family has had to leave the profession before they are destroyed by it - or rather by trying to teach children who don't see the point of knuckling down to learn, with parents who storm the classroom if their child is "picked on" by having to pay attention, while having the goalposts moved every year or two by the interference of "experts" changing the rules and adding extra layers of bureaucracy. Might not they find it offensive to hear that if they find the job stressful the pension must reconcile them? (Plus, they can't get that pension until their normal retirement age)

hillwalker70 Thu 15-Nov-18 13:46:14

Lucky girl and Mammiso, totally agree with you.

gillybob Thu 15-Nov-18 14:25:52

I can't recall where you have said that you "actually have a very high opinion of "most" teachers."

So if I have not stated something on this forum it is not the case Elegran confused ? There are plenty other things I have not stated. where shall I start?

You may/may not recall a few months ago when I posted that my DGD did not like her teacher I was absolutely inundated with nasty comments from ex/retired teachers or those with teacher children. Some of the comments were so nasty (one even threatened to out my granddaughters teacher) I asked HQ to remove the thread which they did .

It is now very apparent that no-one can disagree with a teacher. They are all perfect. I vowed never to comment on anything remotely to do with education or teachers and foolishly I have broken that.

It won't happen again. I also have no intention of "reflecting" on anything thank you.

Telly Thu 15-Nov-18 15:05:04

Doing more with less is common across the public sector, not just teaching. No one likes being monitored, but expectations have changed. I do think that by and large teachers have reasonable terms and conditions. Excellent holidays too!!!

Elegran Thu 15-Nov-18 16:03:47

Well Gilly, if you never posted it, how the hairoil do you expect me to know it? I have many talents 😇 but mind reading isn't one of them.

Those nasty comments you got were unnecessary and I would not have added to them, nor to the one when you were listing the aggravations of your own work, which told you (more or less) that if you didn't like what you did for a living you should pack it in and get a job. Sniping at someone else's difficulties and minimising them is never pretty.

gillybob Thu 15-Nov-18 17:15:23

I posted it on this very thread Elegran ! You said I can’t recall where you have said that you actually have a high opinion of “most” teachers I said it at 13.13 this very day .

Elegran Thu 15-Nov-18 18:37:03

In answer to me saying your opinions were well-known (at 12:56)