Why I want Ofsted to inspect our school

Ofsted. Six little letters that strike fear into the heart of everyone working in education. My children’s school, Weyfield Primary Academy, was last inspected in January 2013 and was judged to be ‘Good’ across the board after a transformational year where our socks were well and truly pulled up from being ‘inadequate’. At the time, every parent, teacher and staff member was over the moon – hence this overexcited blog post at the time. (You can read the actual report here )

Most parents want their child to go to a ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ school, right? So why on Earth have I and several other parents written to Ofsted in the past couple of weeks asking them to reinspect the school with a view to downgrading our Good rating? I don’t know if there’s any precedent for this, it’s so counter-intuitive. So let me try and explain my personal thinking.

Sorry about the missed apostrophe...

Sorry about the missed apostrophe…

The fact is that our ‘current’ Ofsted report is a historical document. It is an account of our school at another time entirely and I believe – as do many other parents – that it is now seriously misleading for prospective parents. The day after we were inspected, the academy group TKAT took over our school, and it has gone into sharp decline. Schools can change frighteningly quickly – and not just for the better – when they become academies.

We now have concerns about all four areas covered in an Ofsted report:

  • The leadership and management. You know this already: just 18 months after that glowing report, the much-missed Simon Wood, our head who was so good that Ofsted’s lead inspector described the school as ‘magical’ left suddenly in January this year. We also lost our fab deputy, and many other senior teachers have since left or resigned. (TKAT, by all accounts, is not a favourite organisation of teachers and heads, who seem to leave in droves, often under mysterious circumstances, whenever the trust goes into a school). The new head Neil McDonough, who started at Easter, is a consultant who is  in school three days a week. He’s still settling in, and as I said in my last post we will fully support him and his team, but the fact is that the current Ofsted report is not about TKAT’s management or his leadership.
  • The behaviour and safety of pupils. A small but very disruptive group of children in Year 6 have been pretty much out of control since January. There have been worrying reports of bullying and appalling behaviour. Rules have been routinely broken and not enforced. Some challenging children are apparently no longer being properly supported.
  • The quality of teaching. The teachers who are still at the school and were part of the previous head’s team are great, but they are now being spread  thin on the ground and I gather there is over-reliance on temporary staff. I am not convinced that the most able children are being pushed or supported adequately, since so much time is taken up dealing with the more challenging children. I hear staff morale is still low.
  • The achievement of pupils. We were on track for significantly improved SATs this year, up from being officially ‘below floor’ – ie one of the worst in the country – but I would not be surprised if they end up not being quite as stellar as anticipated. A number of children in Year 6 were due to take the advanced Level 6 SATs papers – the first time in the school’s history that this would have happened – but in the end none of them sat the papers, without parents being informed or consulted. This does not seem to be serving the most able children in the school – what happened to our ‘reach for the stars’ ethos? I do wonder if this decision was taken to avoid the risk of the children taking the papers but not achieving this level after all the disruption at the school, as this would negatively impact our SATs and reflect badly on TKAT. This possibility is deeply worrying.

I know that being ‘Ofstedded’ is a hideous and deeply stressful experience for heads, deputies and teachers in schools. And because I think our remaining teaching team is fab and has been through an awful lot in the past six months, I kind of don’t want them to have to deal with inspectors again so soon. But I believe, in the end, it will be in the best interests of the school.

A new Ofsted inspection would draw a line under the past six months and give the new leadership team, and parents, a true picture of where we are now, and what our journey from here needs to look like. Coasting on an old report that reflects a completely different set of staff, ideas, values, actions and plans doesn’t do anyone any favours. Our previous head was first inspected two weeks after he arrived, and it was the best thing that could have happened, as the follow-up 12 months later, just before TKAT arrived, demonstrated just how far and fast we had come.

When any new leader comes into an organisation, there is fall-out among the current team, and people leave. Some people won’t like, accept or respect the new boss or their ideas or style; some will be loyal to the old regime; some will not meet the needs or standards of the new leader. For others, it’s simply an opportune time to move on. It’s hard to lead a team that isn’t ‘yours’. When our previous head arrived, a lot of people left by mutual consent and a lot of new faces arrived. The same is true now. We’re losing a worrying number of talented teachers, who will be missed, but our new head needs to build his own team to move the school forward according to his own vision. Whatever page we are on, all the staff need to be on the same one, for the sake of their own enthusiasm, commitment  and job satisfaction, and for the sake of the children.

Neil has already made at least one brilliant appointment: our deputy head Mei Lim. She arrived just over two weeks ago via the Teach First programme to get the highest-calibre graduates into education, and already it’s clear that she will be a significant factor in getting the school back on track. She’s super-bright, approachable, a great communicator and clearly knows her stuff. My kids are a bit in love her already – as DD said, ‘she’s just like Mr Wood – she is really strict when she needs to be, but the rest of the time she is really friendly’. She already seems to know the names of all the staff and children, and is highly visible on the front gate every morning and afternoon. And she has good shoes. We have high hopes of Mei: she may yet turn out to be our silver lining.

There’s some confusion over whether Ofsted still inspects individual schools once they become academies, if they are not in special measures, or if they only inspect all the schools in a chain. Our local MP is writing to Ofsted to find out under what circumstances Ofsted might be likely to inspect either just Weyfield or all TKAT’s 39 schools. Recent blitzes of the E-Act academy chain (where a number of failing schools were taken away from the trust) and the Birmingham ‘Trojan Horse’ schools  affair indicate that the way academy chains run their schools is certainly on the inspection agenda. There’s little evidence that parents can have enough influence to ‘trigger’ an inspection, but with all the bad press, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if one was on the cards anyway.

I have championed and defended Weyfield for a long time, and have no personal complaint against the school or anyone in it.  My smalls are fortunately still perfectly OK, happy, safe and engaged in their Year 1 and Year 3 classes. But my children are the most important things in the world to me, and there has been such a lot of upheaval that I am concerned that the school may not actually be currently delivering them a ‘Good’ education, or is a place where they can achieve their potential. Much as I love my kids being at an officially ‘Good’ school, if we’re honest, the current Ofsted report is not an accurate, up-to-date reflection of where we are today.

I would be absolutely delighted if Ofsted came in and confirmed we were still a different sort of Good. The new leadership team seems convinced that their  three-year plan and vision for the school, outlined last week and sent home today, means that we can still reach Outstanding. Although as one dad said last week, ‘I’d rather the school got back to Good and was still magical, than reached Outstanding and was dull’. Mei Lim responded confidently at a parents meeting last week that being creative and outstanding aren’t mutually exclusive. I really, really hope she’s right, and that we eventually get there after our major setback. In the meantime, I still think it’s time that an inspector called…

In which Pinchy swims for bloody hours

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to blog about this. I’ll probably work it out while I’m writing. Last month, I did my Biggest Ever physical challenge: I swam 5K for Sport Relief. Yes, I know! Me! The doyenne of exercise-avoidance!

Five kilometres, I can tell you, is a bloody long way. It is, in fact, 200 (count ‘em) lengths of the Surrey Sports Park pool. It seems even longer when you can only do a ‘majestic’ (ahem) breast stroke and have never done more than happily bob around a holiday swimming pool for 40 years prior to taking on this challenge.

I’m being slightly disingenuous, of course: I didn’t just get in the pool on the day and hope for the best. I had been training for it since September, along with my two co-swimmers, my dear friend S and her oldest buddy A. Well, when I say training, it was more like swimming up and down for a bit twice a week, and then going for a natter, a cuppa and a panini because we were ‘famished’. At first, anyway. We were all comfortably swimming a mile – 64 lengths – by November, although that was taking me an hour. And then I sort of… stalled. I didn’t really get in the pool much during December and January. Or February. I started to seriously think about pulling out of the swim. I hadn’t started fundraising and was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task for a non-swimmer.

Come to think of it, I was overwhelmed by much over the winter. It’s true that you only realise when you emerge from a tunnel how dark and cold it was in there, and how long it has been since you felt the warm sun on your face. Sitting here now, feeling broadly OK, I can’t quite believe what a struggle those wet, overcast months were, in all ways. It was probably a combination of seasonal glumness, a stressful time re finances, my natural tendency towards depression, and big bad life-changing stuff going on for friends who I love fiercely. Plus I was working almost every evening to meet deadlines and very involved with our school campaign after our head teacher left suddenly. (See my previous five posts for the full story!)

This period of General Rubbishness, pre-swim, was topped off nicely by a week in Egypt. Our first family holiday abroad for three years, and the first since I finished my cancer treatment. We took the kids out of school for a week and could still only afford it by hiving off a bit of the money we’d borrowed for a basic refurb of our decrepit kitchen, combined with DH’s first bonus for a few years. In other words, we were quite desperate for a holiday. The kiddies were looking forward to it so hard I thought they would burst before we hit Sharm. We were going to have an amazing time!

There is a small but important life lesson here about ‘non-attachment to outcomes’: the more you want things to be a certain way, the less likely they are to meet your expectations.  I’m always quoting Alain de Botton on travel – something very true he once said along the lines of ‘the trouble with holidays is that you take yourself with you’. The trouble with Egypt was that I took my tearful, short-fused, exhausted self there and expected to be transformed instantly by the sunshine, sea views and all-inclusive package  into the easy-going, cheerful version of myself. What actually happened was that I sat on the lounger with cause-less tears running behind my shades while our delightful and beautiful children had an amazing week in the pool. My Kindle died, both our phones were stolen from our hotel room, necessitating far too much interaction for DH with hotel security and management, reps, and Egyptian police stations, plus there was the worst torrential rainstorm Sharm had seen for decades. My energy was in such a shit place, frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if I manifested all of the above, like a frickin’ witch.

I was planning to swim loads while we were there. I didn’t. I did snorkel on a coral reef with beautiful fish, like Actual Finding Nemo, though, and that lifted my spirits a little. When we returned, it was only a fortnight to the Big Swim and I had only covered less than a third of the distance in my training sessions. So I went Forrest Gump. I got in the pool and just swam, for 80 lengths. Then a couple of days later I swam 100. Then 120. And finally, on the Monday before Sport Relief Swimathon Saturday, I ringfenced three hours and swam 180 lengths. At that point, and not at any point before, I knew I could do it. S mentioned that last year’s Swimathon times were on the website. I made the mistake of looking and realised that I really was going to be one of the slowest in the entire country – no-one in my age group had done 5k nearly as slowly as my predicted time of 3hrs 20 minutes. The only women who had done that sort of time were (I kid you not) called things like Doris and Ethel, which I pejoratively assumed meant that I was as slow as a Very Old Lady.

That week, as I wondered again why I was doing this, the Sport Relief programme about Davina McCall’s far more crazy challenge to cycle, run and swim 500 miles from Edinburgh to London, was on telly. The documentary followed Davina on her trip to Africa before taking on the challenge. As she sat with the little girl whose days consisted not of school and games and fun with friends but the monotony of breaking rocks and breathing dust with her mother, hour after hour after hour, for pennies, I cried. I realised that the money I had already raised at that point would send two little girls like her to school for a year. THAT was the point. And I cried again the next morning when I tried to explain to DD when she asked why I was swimming so far. There was my motivation. To give little girls, just like my bright and funny and precious seven year old daughter, a chance at a better life.

Nevertheless, I still had to do the damn thing. I didn’t sleep the night before the swim. I woke up in a terrible mood, really jittery and anxious. S had an upset tummy and A had her back strapped up. It was not looking good. The worst thing was waiting all day: the event wasn’t due to start until 6pm after the  start time moved from 5pm. I went slightly ballistic, and pointed out to the organiser that this would mean I would be in the pool until nearly 9.30pm, meaning my children couldn’t be there at the finish line and our plans for a takeaway and champagne with my M&D, who were up for the weekend to cheer me on, would be buggered. After she realised quite how slow I was (and that she’d probably need to give me the keys to lock up…) she asked if I’d like to start an hour early, in my own special lane. Like a special person. FFS. My sister texted, accurately: ‘We are not a family of athletes, Pinch’. I graciously accepted, of course.

So we arrived at the pool. DD and DS had secretly made me a poster saying ‘Go Mummy Go!’ I got into my cossie. Put my goggles on. Still shaking. My lovely friend B arrived en route to her date night just to see me off. Good luck countdown texts arrived from other dear friends. Team Pinchy was cheering on the sidelines. I got into the water, put my bottles of sporty drink stuff raided from DH’s cycling larder on the edge, and started. I was not entirely in a lane of my own – there was also a small child, who swam the entire 200 lengths in less than two hours, and a series of elderly gentlemen doing the 5k as a relay, who also finished well ahead of me. It took me a good 40 lengths to get into any sort of stride. If one can be shaking while ploughing up and down a pool, that was I. I stopped briefly every 20 lengths for a quick gulp of drink, and to check in with the very patient lady counting for me. Every length took one minute, for the first couple of hours. Then, as everyone else in my lane finished and I had it to myself, I actually got quicker. I was coming in under target! photo 2

My family and S’s arrived to cheer us all on for the finish. The last 20 lengths were punishing: I was breaking new ground, and by that time my right arm was very painful. It’s the one that I had all the lymph nodes removed from; my movement is slightly limited on that side and it does get very uncomfortable at the top and in the armpit if I overdo it, risking lymphodoema and cellulitis ( I’ve only had this once, and it was royally crap).

Then, suddenly, it was the two hundredth length. My darling husband and babies stood at the end of the pool shouting ‘COME ON PINCHY!’, and I was trying to swim 25 metres while doing an odd mixture of sobbing and laughing. And then it was over. My official time was 3hrs 8mins. I’ve just checked and I was the 3,680th person to finish in the country. Whoop! Because I had started an hour early, I was actually out of the pool a few minutes before my much speedier swimming buddies, and was able to cheer them on at the finish. We had done it! Between the three of us we’ve raised a couple of grand so far, I think – you can still donate on my page at https://my.sportrelief.com/sponsor/majapawinskasims - I’m a few quid shy of £700 so all donations very welcome!

There was elation and achiness and lots of hugs. And we all got a medal, much to the smalls’ delight. Then champagne and a massive fat well-deserved Thai takeaway at home, followed by a bath in oil provided in my lovely school mum friend E’s ‘survival pack’ (along with bananas and jelly babies).

I woke up the next morning, terribly glad it was all over (although slightly surprised I had not turned into a size 6 sylph overnight). And at that moment, I began to feel better. Lighter and brighter. I had a health kinesiology session with my very dear friend Magic Emily, which helped shift things further and sorted out the achy lymph-free arm. And I have felt a little bit more myself every day since. I haven’t completely shaken off the Gloom, but I’m getting there. And that’s prolly why it took me so long to blog.

I’m never, ever swimming 5K again. But I quite fancy a different sort of physical fundraising challenge. I’m thinking trekking Peru for Breast Cancer Care next. Machu Picchu, anyone?

 

New head teacher, new chapter?

There are few things more awe-inspiring than a trot round the Houses of Parliament. The oldest parliament in the world! Stunning ‘perpendicular gothic’ architecture! All the pomp and ceremony and hush and history and whispers in paneled corridors! I know there’s a good argument for the country to be run from a more modern, accessible, functional, light and open building, but I have to say, I love the place. And last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a meeting in the Commons which may turn out to be a pivotal moment in the twisty-turny story of our primary school.

Pinchy woz ere

Pinchy woz ere

The academy chain that took over our school in February 2013,  TKAT,  had requested a meeting with Guildford’s MP, Anne Milton:  unwavering supporter of the school, writer of many, many letters asking awkward questions about what exactly TKAT were doing at the school and how they managed to lose an outstanding head teacher, and total laser brain. Anne Milton’s office called and asked if I’d like to come along, as a representative of the Weyfield Primary Academy parents. Ooh, this’ll be fun, I thought. I’d never met TKAT’s CEO Karen Roberts and was interested to hear what she had to say.

Cue slightly awkward moment at Portcullis House last Thursday when TKAT’s communications director Amanda Godfrey spotted me in reception and came over to say hello. I don’t think they were expecting me to be there. We were all – including a guy from the Department for Education invited by TKAT – taken down the underground passage to the Commons, through the various imposing halls and lobbies to a packed tea room where our little party arranged itself around a small table and took tea. All terribly civilised.

I don’t think I’m breaking any confidences to say that the meeting was focused on how we – as a school and a community – move forward from here, and how TKAT can try to put right the breakdown in trust between them and us as parents and staff. The DfE guy told Anne, when she asked how Weyfield could get out of TKAT, that there’s no way out of an academy funding agreement unless by mutual consent.

The main discussion, however, was how crucial the new senior leadership team will be in getting the school back on track. Because despite having no applications for the post when it was advertised in February, TKAT have managed to find us a new head teacher, Neil McDonough, who starts work after Easter.

The letter home from our new chair of governors, fellow blogger Clare Collins said:

‘Neil is a hugely experienced head and is also an Ofsted lead inspector. He is currently an executive head for three primary schools in Kent; prior to this he undertook an interim headship of a school in special measures and saw it removed from this category within a year, with leadership being judged as ‘good’… As governors we are clear that our vision for Weyfield is to foster the “Weyfield Way”, ensuring that high standards are achieved and maintained, and that this must be supported by top quality provision for both the children and the staff. Neil knows Weyfield as, over the last two terms, he has carried out some consultancy work in the school, and we are delighted that this introduction to the school has led to this appointment.’

We’ve since asked TKAT some more detailed questions about his appointment. It turns out he will only be working three days a week in the summer term as he has other commitments (he is currently running a consultancy, Make My School Better), and four days a week from September. How you can effectively run a very challenging school and not be there full-time, I don’t know, but there you are. Welcome to Gove’s brave new world of education.

He’s got a challenge on his hands: staff morale is extremely low, a whole sheaf of senior staff are leaving at Easter, and there’s no deputy yet in post. Some of the anonymous testimonials we have gathered from staff tell a very sorry tale of the current state of affairs at the school, with a rapid decline in behaviour and a perturbing lack of leadership and direction. Most urgently, some of the Year 6 children appear to be out of control. I am hearing stories of toilets being deliberately blocked, walking out of classrooms, graffiti, disrupting lessons, swearing at and threatening staff, and the reintroduction of an exclusion room. Back to the bad old days of two years ago, in other words. Not good for a cohort under great pressure to perform in their upcoming SATs.

The tea party at the House of Commons concluded with Anne Milton (who chaired the meeting quite beautifully) saying she’d be keen to meet the new head before he takes up post, and Karen Roberts looking me in the eye and promising me that TKAT really did want to keep Weyfield and was absolutely committed to putting things right and being more transparent and open and communicating better with us.

Only time will tell, obviously. I am still of the view – as is our MP - that Weyfield should have been allowed to join a local academy partner, the Guildford Education Partnership led by George Abbot secondary school. It will take a lot of evidence in the months ahead to convince us TKAT are in any way good for our school rather than actively damaging it.

But during the meeting – and this is why I said at the start that it might have been a crucial moment – I began to suspect Anne is also right about something else. Namely that now, with the appointment of our new head, is an appropriate time for Weyfield to try and move forward from the past three months of shock and grieving the loss of our tiny-bit-special former head, Simon Wood.

We’re no longer on that particular giddy and joyous journey from failing to Outstanding, and the children, staff and parents all miss him. But I fervently hope that after this significant stumble, we will soon be striding along another road that leads to the same end. I have no choice but to hope, and to try and make a positive contribution to that process: at least one of my children will be at the school for another five years.

There’s little point being obstructive, shouty and militant for the sake of it, since we’re never getting Simon back. (He starts work for another academy chain, Reach2, next month and we wish him the best of luck in his new role.) Equally, of course, we will not simply lie down quietly and be passive when dealing with an academy chain that still has huge question marks over aspects of its processes, transparency, management style, values, accountability and governance.

As parents, I believe we need to walk the only sensible line between the two extremes: acceptance that we are where we are, it is what it is, and while we will give the new head all our support in his endeavours to get the school back on track, we will continue to keep a very close eye on developments, and won’t hesitate to speak up if we feel our children’s education is being compromised in any way.

Because the purpose of education isn’t achieving good SATS results, Ofsted ratings, and gathering data: it’s all about the kids. About their aspirations and progress and happiness. About them deserving to have an education that enables each and every child, regardless of background and circumstance, to fulfil their potential. About them feeling respected and cared for so they respect and care in turn. If our new head truly gets that, and TKAT start understanding it too, we might just have a chance. I am an eternal optimist… I’ll look forward to meeting Neil McDonough soon, and hearing his plans to make our school sparkle again.

Oh, I almost forgot: the BEST bit of my trip to the Palace of Westminster was actually after the meeting. Anne Milton very kindly signed me in to the public gallery – the cool open bit over the Labour benches, not the bit behind a glass wall – and I sat there very happily, in proper awe of my surroundings, trying not to look at Nick Clegg’s crotch as he slouched on the Conservative front bench (I was surprised how many of them were tapping away on phones and tablets. I swear I saw one of them playing Candy Crush). Sat on the iconic green leather benches, I was lucky enough to hear most of the MPs’ wonderful tributes to the last great socialist, Tony Benn. Now there was a man who unfailingly spoke up for what he believed to be right, and those without a voice, and yet worked within the system without compromising his principles. Whatever your politics, he was an example to us all.

 

 

A tale of two Valentines

It was the school Valentine’s Disco last week. It’s one of the smaller annual events in the PTFA calendar: the kiddies get to dress up and have a boogie/slide across the hall on their knees while us merry band of helpers serve hotdogs for four hours. I love being part of the committee and being involved with events at school: it’s my community and I am very fond of everyone in our small-but-growing tribe of active parents. But this year was weird, to say the least.lets dance

The kids had a great time, but for the adults, this Valentine’s Disco was rather poignant. You see, a year ago on Valentine’s Day, just hours before the disco, Ofsted’s report on our school was published. It was the day we officially became a ‘Good’ school, jumping up two grades from requiring improvement across the board, to being described as ‘magical’, after acquiring a rather fab new head teacher just 12 months previously. It was one of the best days ever, for everyone working at the school and with a vested interest in its progress and improvement. I wrote a blog post that very day: we were all giddy with excitement and the atmosphere that evening, as we poured endless cups of orange squash for small people sweaty from jumping around to Gangnam Style, was utterly joyous.

What a difference a year makes. This year, things weren’t so good. Since we were forced into academisation with The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) last February, things have gone from the sublime to the sadly ridiculous. We shockingly lost that amazing head teacher, Simon Wood, on the first day of this term, and now our wonderful deputy is off too. The letter home on the day of the disco from our brilliant chair of governors gently explained that there had been no applications for the vacant head’s post and our interim head – a TKAT executive – will be continuing part-time until the end of the summer term.

In the past few weeks, that sense of joy seems to have been sucked out of our happy school, like the Dementors descending on Hogwarts. It might have just been the onions, but there were many hugs and tears in the kitchen on the evening of the disco, as it dawned on us how different things had been on the same occasion a year previously.

No-one can quite believe it has come to this. This isn’t how the story was meant to unfold. From being the proud ship Weyfield Primary, freshly painted, confident and embarking on an incredible journey, it now feels more like we are battered, weathering stormy seas, completely off course, and our captain’s walked the plank after pirates boarded the vessel (I’m stretching the maritime metaphor here, but you get the gist).

We miss acutely how our school used to be, when it felt like we had strong, energetic, dynamic, creative leadership, when everyone was working incredibly hard, with great cheer, for a common goal, and we were already starting to feel like being Outstanding was a possibility – unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

The teaching and support staff are doing an incredible job in the circumstances, but if I – merely an involved parent – am feeling what can only be described as grief, then goodness knows what it’s like for them. It must be so hard keeping buggering on. They are such a dedicated, committed team, and they care deeply about the children, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some felt unable to continue under the TKAT regime.

My two, in Year 1 and Year 3, are still happy, and really engaged in this term’s topic, but even they say that school just doesn’t feel the same. I gather in some cases behaviour is slipping back to the bad old days, and some of Year 6 in particular have become  disillusioned. Our SATs were on track for dramatic improvement this year, but I wonder if that will turn out to be the case come the summer. I also wonder whether we would maintain our ‘Good’ rating if Ofsted came in to inspect the school now. The quality of teaching isn’t in question, but that sense of magic and wonder and excitement that was so praised by the inspectors  - not to mention the leadership – is fading.

The point of being instructed by the Department for Education that you have to become a sponsored academy is to improve a failing school, but since we were actually already ‘Good’ just before TKAT took over, I can’t see how they are adding value. What exactly are we getting for the slice they take off the top of our budget from the DfE? If anything, the collateral damage of our head leaving will impact the success of the school and the children’s prospects. [TKAT can carry on bleating that he resigned and took another job all they like, but consider this: in the business world, you manage high-performing talent - exceptional individuals who by their nature tend to be mavericks, innovators and change-makers  - extremely carefully. You cherish them, because they are rare and valuable, and try to hang onto them at all costs. You don't just accept their resignation, unless you're the sort of organisation that prefers home-grown yes-men, of course.]

And it’s here that our sadness turns to anger. How on earth have we gone from the success of a year ago to the doldrums we find ourselves in now? What is happening at Weyfield is surely not Michael Gove’s vision for his pet academies project.

Something is not right with this picture. And something must be done.

A core group of parents has formed; we are doing our research, taking advice, and we fully plan to effect change. We are all over Facebook and Twitter rallying the troops and keeping other parents informed. We are gathering together our supporters, from all stakeholder groups; Weyfield’s very own Order of the Phoenix is taking shape.

Our first line of attack is the media: we had the front page of the Surrey Advertiser three weeks in a row, plus other stories every week since. We’ve also been in the Guardian twice so far (here and here), and education correspondent Warwick Mansell wrote a brilliantly detailed blog post on how academy chains are managing their heads, based on our story for the National Association of Head Teachers. The journalists covering our story are doing a very good job of revealing what sort of organisation TKAT is; no wonder we didn’t get any applicants for the headship.

We’re also working closely with our local MP Anne Milton – who has been incredibly supportive and helpful – and asking questions and demanding answers of everyone from the school and the academy trust, to the Department for Education and the highest levels of government.

The bottom line is: we want TKAT out of our school. We want to be released from our seven-year contract with them, and to find a more suitable partner who truly shares the values exemplified by ‘The Weyfield Way’. The fact that there is no direct precedent for this is irrelevant: Weyfield IS the precedent. We should never have been forced into academising with them in the first place: we’ve slipped through a gap in the system, and we are exploring every avenue to find a way out, with several promising leads.

If TKAT thought we would quieten down and drift off after we realised Simon wasn’t coming back, it must now be dawning on them that they were very much mistaken. They are learning we have a strong parent voice, that we are intelligent and articulate, that we are not going away, and that we will not let them get away with anything we are unhappy with. Censoring the minutes of the first parents’ meeting on 9 January, for example: during the process of transcribing the recording of the meeting, TKAT asked for the comments from an NUT rep to be omitted from the record. This is clearly neither transparent nor acceptable – the NUT were understandably livid – and after pressure from parents, we now have a full transcript. They are making noises about listening and working together – they ran two sessions to ask for parents’ input into the kind of person we wanted as a new head, for instance – but I have to say, the consensus among parents (and staff, we suspect) is that they have handled things so badly, we just don’t trust them.

If you only drop your kids off at school, pick them up at the end of the day, and assume/hope they are safe and learning what they need to learn in between times, you might not get why I’ve got such strong feelings about all of this, and have become so involved. But because of what’s happened at our school, I’m starting to understand what’s happening to education in this country, and it’s not pretty.

I was never that much of a political creature before, bar shouting at Question Time every week, but this issue has politicised me. Because it’s not just about how and by whom schools are managed, or about how we measure progress and attainment. It’s not just about the wisdom of the academies project, or Voldegove’s obsession with facts, test results and league tables. It’s about our children. Not just what and how they learn, but also about their well-being, safety, prospects, ambitions and happiness. The whole child, in other words. Too often, the children are missing from this debate. And on our local level, we just don’t feel that our children are being well-served by the academy trust we find ourselves with.

We’re all painfully aware of how much things can change – for good and for bad – in a year; I wonder where we will be by the 2015 Valentine’s Disco. Will we still be with TKAT? Will we even have a permanent head teacher by then? How many other staff will have left? My dearest hope is that whatever transpires, by this time next year the joy is back in the school. Between hotdog shifts, I hope we’ll all be dancing madly to ‘Happy’ with the kids, and really feeling like our ship is back on course.

The disappearing head: the next chapter

I know you’ve all been dying to know: so what happened next, after our amazing head teacher disappeared on the first day of term?

The last couple of weeks have been a proper rollercoaster, to say the least. The first few days after we got that letter home saying Simon Wood had left, it was like Weyfield Primary Academy was in mourning. There were lots of tears from staff and parents that we tried not to let the children see. Not having a chance to say goodbye was the worst thing for everyone, especially the children. It was like a light had gone out.

In the days before the planned meeting for parents to meet our new interim head and ask questions of our academy group, TKAT, feelings were running high. At the meeting, they didn’t even send anyone operational who had been involved with the school or the senior leadership team: we got their brand new communications director, who stuck to her script and simply refused to answer a single question relating to Simon’s departure, which totally wound up a full room of emotional parents. She made it clear that he would not be returning as head teacher, but did say that he would be visiting the following week to say goodbye to the children.

When asked a question about how TKAT usually managed high-performing talent within the organisation, she came out with the stunning line ‘we grow our own talent’. Ouch.

Year 6 parents were particularly concerned about the impact on the children and the pressure on them to turn our SATs results around without the support they had been receiving from Simon and our wonderful deputy head (who will be going on secondment to another local school soon), and with the further upheaval of the appointment of another permanent head teacher. One parent pointed out that there are something like 20 primary head vacancies in the Guildford area and it was going to be difficult to find someone as exceptional as Simon.

Then a parent quite legitimately asked a question about whether there had been any police involvement, given Simon’s sudden and mysterious departure. The playground is fertile ground for rumour, after all. She hesitated just a little too long before eventually saying there had been no police involvement. Allowing some rather unpleasant rumours and questions hanging in the air was an unforgiveable thing to do to the reputation of a man who had done nothing but good for the school and the children, and a number of parents requested strongly that TKAT issue a statement to parents making it clear that there was no allegation of personal or professional misconduct on Simon’s part relating to his resignation. She flatly refused. As someone who has worked with PR and communications professionals for all my working life, I was astonished. We all get that there are legal constraints about what you can and can’t say when someone leaves an organisation, but this was appalling crisis management.

At the end of the heated two-hour meeting – which was recorded and minuted – 90% of the parents present voted that they had no confidence, having heard everything she had to say, in the way TKAT was managing the school. It just didn’t feel like we were on the same side.

By the end of the week, the Reinstate Simon Facebook page – which neither Simon nor any member of staff did anything to encourage, and did not contribute to – had 464 likes. And then the media coverage started: the lead front page story in the Surrey Advertiser that week, and the week after. Our MP, Anne Milton, has been simply amazing and has restored my faith in politicians. She tweeted that she was ‘doing everything I can to help’, wrote very firm letters to TKAT and the schools minister, and did a long, thoughtful interview on BBC Surrey radio in support of Simon and the school.

The momentum built. Parents picketed outside the school with placards, and were interviewed on BBC Surrey and our local radio station Eagle FM. This very blog was featured in the Guardian education diary. Teachers, heads and parents from across the UK and the world expressed an interest in the story.

Then on Thursday 16th January, the school had a visitor. Simon Wood returned for the afternoon and spent time in every classroom saying goodbye to the children. Everyone was thrilled to see him, and after school, despite the pouring rain (did I spot a head teachers’ union umbrella?!) he was mobbed by parents wishing him well. I kept an eye out for Goveian snipers on the roof…

We got one answer: he told us he will be starting a new job in April, but not as a head teacher. Here’s his letter to Anne Milton MP sent on the same day as his visit to school:

‘I am delighted to be able to now share the news that I shall, in April, be joining REAch2 – the largest primary only academy chain in the country. I will join them as an Executive Principal, with the remit of supporting schools in challenging circumstances; securing rapid improvement, and particularly focusing on curriculum innovation. This post would not even have been one I would have considered had I not learnt so much from Weyfield and its community – both in and out of school. I am indebted to Weyfield for this experience which has proved to be life-changing for so many of us. The chance I have been given now in sharing elements of ‘The Weyfield Way’, and potentially influencing, at present, some 12,000 children is really exciting, and one that the Weyfield community can be so proud of having been instrumental in creating. Without the pupils, and families’ engagement, along with the staff team’s innovation, determination and creativity none of this would be possible. It is only right to say that I shall not be returning to Weyfield as Head and, understandably, the campaign to ‘reinstate’ me now needs to refocus its energies on ensuring that ‘The Weyfield Way’ continues; providing pupils and families with life-affirming, life-changing and aspirational experiences and opportunities, always.’

I could not be more proud that our head has been snapped up to be a Superhead. TKAT clearly didn’t know what talent they had (or did, and we have a case of tall poppy syndrome) and I hope his new bosses will appreciate a truly inspirational educationalist.

That evening, it felt something like closure for all of us, of the part of the story in which we had a giddy, extraordinary two years of being led by someone rather special. I think a lot of us felt a bit flat, and sad, knowing for certain that things would never go back to how they were.

TKAT must have hated Simon being back in school and treated like a celeb by everyone, though, because the following day we got another letter home:

‘Dear Parents and Carers. As you are aware Simon was in school yesterday to enable the children to say their farewells. I am now in a position to inform you that towards the end of the Autumn Term Simon applied for and accepted a promotional post with another organisation. Simon tendered his resignation on the morning of 19 December 2013 and his notice would have expired on 30 April 2014. His resignation had not been requested by TKAT and he did not give a reason for his resignation. TKAT proposed that rather than working his notice period he cease working at the School at the end of the autumn term and Simon agreed. I wanted to follow up the meeting held on 9th January to allay fears that were raised at the meeting. I can reassure parents that Simon’s departure was not in any way connected to child protection issues. No such issues have ever been raised about Simon during his time at Weyfield. I trust that we can now move forward and focus on continuing the development of the ‘Weyfield Way’. Yours sincerely Karen Roberts Chief Executive The Kemnal Academies Trust.’

At least she finally cleared up the child protection red herring – a full week after parents asked TKAT to – but many parents and staff are unhappy about the tone of the letter. A woman who to the best of my knowledge has never even visited our school has made it sound like our head was hunting around for a promotion and simply abandoned us. But we know that he was committed to Weyfield’s children and had a seven year plan to take the school to Outstanding. And we know he would never have considered another post except in extremis. And for an organisation that had previously refused to make any further statement about his departure, they suddenly seemed suspiciously keen to tell us every chronological detail.

Reach2 is the answer to the question of where Simon Wood has gone, but not the why, and TKAT’s statement is certainly not the full story. There are still serious questions to be asked about TKAT’s rapid expansion and its management of head teachers who are not ‘home grown’, especially since we now know that they boast of having ‘removed’ 26 of the heads from their 40 academies. (See for yourself in TKAT’s evidence to the Education Select Committee) You can kind of see how this might happen when a school is failing and that’s why they have become a sponsored academy, but by the time TKAT took over we were rated as Good already, and I wonder if they’ve never really known what to do with us.

There’s another twist in the tale: last week, hidden away on the letters page of the Surrey Advertiser, there was a long letter from a former governor at Weyfield who had been involved with appointing Simon and resigned the day TKAT took over. The letter goes into full and frank detail of what happened pre-takeover, and makes it clear that the school was trying to partner with a local academy group but were bullied and threatened by TKAT and the DfE into signing the contract. I imagine the relationship between our leadership team and TKAT was strained even before they took over.

I should at this point make it clear that none of this is about our interim head David Linsell. At the meeting he didn’t do a bad job of introducing himself given the tough crowd. He told us he had left his previous school to join TKAT as a regional director, had had no idea he would be coming to us until the day before the end of term, and was only going to be with us for four days a week until a new head is appointed. He is experienced, has been very visible outside school almost every day at drop-off and pick-up, and says he is starting to fall in love with the place. He’s also handled the local media with dignity and openness.

Speaking of which, there were two points at which TKAT had the chance to avoid much of this negative media coverage and bad feeling. If Simon had been allowed to be in school on the first day of term to tell everyone he was leaving and hand over to the interim head, it would have been a lot easier on the children and we would have had to accept that it was his decision. Failing that, if they had resisted sending out that rather cold letter last Friday after Simon had visited the school and told us about his new job, we might just thought: end of an era, these things happen, we’ll miss him, but life goes on.

But whatever happened between Simon Wood and TKAT, the deadly ineptitude with which the academy group has handled his departure at every turn means that they have  totally lost our trust. Our focus now must be on finding a new academy partner for the school. There’s a new Facebook page, there will be more stories in the media, and we will continue to campaign for TKAT to be removed and Weyfield returned to its community.

I don’t think there’s any precedent for this. We have asked TKAT to send us their complaints procedure and then we will go to the DfE (How to Complain about Academies).

But there is one silver lining. What a community Weyfield has become! It’s ironic that Simon leaving has achieved this, with parents who had never spoken to each other before now feeling like they have a common cause. That’s some legacy. We’ve got some answers – at least we know he isn’t being tortured in some Goviet gulag with all TKAT’s other missing heads – but other questions remain. The Weyfield story continues…

The mysterious case of the disappearing head teacher

You know that amazing head teacher I keep going on about? The one at my children’s school in Guildford, Weyfield Primary Academy? The one I wrote this gushing tribute to before Christmas, as he approached his two year anniversary with us? Well, when we turned up at school for the start of term yesterday, Simon Wood had disappeared.

DD was the first to spot it. ‘Mummy, someone is parked in Mr Wood’s space. Are we so early he isn’t here yet?’ Sharp, that one. Then we noticed that rather than the traditional celebratory start to term (where everyone lines up excitedly in the front playground and there is a big reveal of the term’s theme as the children are led through a transformed reception into a whole-school ‘Stunning Start’ assembly), we were quietly told to go to classrooms as normal. Mmn, I thought, sticking my deerstalker hat on, there are deductions to be made here. The teachers looked stricken. Some had clearly been crying. No-one was there to welcome us. Had somebody died? Because it felt like a bereavement, truly.

'The game is afoot!'

‘The game is afoot!’

When we picked the children up from school, they were all clutching a letter home, which was received with shock. With political blandness, it said this: ‘We are very sad to have to tell you that after two years at Weyfield Primary Academy Simon Wood has decided to resign from his post of Head. He will not be returning to the school this term but will be pursuing other educational opportunities and we wish him well in these’.

Gosh. So that’s why there was a big fat elephant in the playground that morning.

The letter went on to introduce an interim head teacher, a guy who has only led secondary schools before. Apparently he broke the news to the children in assembly yesterday morning that Mr Wood had gone. My two said they had been tearful when they were told the news, and had felt sad all day. They were confused, and both of them asked me why he had left. I honestly didn’t know what to say, because we hadn’t been given any real explanation.

But before we had even got out of the school gates, the emotion in the playground was tangibly changing as parents digested the letter, from shock and confusion, through sadness, and straight through to anger.

No-one was buying it.

Because whatever you thought of Simon Wood – and not everyone was as much of an overt fan as me and the rest of his cheerleaders – every parent and every child at 3pm yesterday immediately understood one thing: he would never, ever have voluntarily left without saying goodbye to the children.

We all know that he genuinely loved the kids, loved our school, and would never have deliberately disappeared without trace. He was a man of great personal and professional integrity, who was dedicated to Weyfield, and the official line that he had ‘decided to resign’ just didn’t ring true. The ‘personal message’ from him in the letter home was one short paragraph that, though lovely, sounded like it had been heavily edited. It just didn’t sound like his usual exuberant tone of voice. We smelled something distinctly fishy, and the distinctly fishy thing that we smelled was foul play by the academy group who took over the running of the school last February, The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT).

Needless to say, Twitter and Facebook went crazy immediately – search for @siwood73 and you will see the dozens and dozens of messages of support for him, and the level of bad feeling towards a silent, unresponsive @kemnalacademies. By teatime, someone had set up a Facebook page, ‘Reinstate Simon Wood as Weyfield Head‘, which now has 440 likes, and counting. Many parents contacted our local newspaper, the Surrey Advertiser, whose chief reporter Nick Edmondson has  written a number of positive stories about the school since Simon became head. Others contacted our local MP, Anne Milton, who wrote Simon a wonderful letter on 17 December praising all he had done for the children in her constituency. Still others tried to call and email TKAT.

In the letter home we were told there would be a meeting for parents at 6.30pm tomorrow night – Thursday – at school, ostensibly to talk to our interim head about his plans. But what we all want is someone senior from TKAT to be there to answer our questions about what happened to a head teacher who had transformed our school from failing to ‘Good’ in just 12 months. Ofsted even described the school as ‘magical’. The day after the Ofsted, TKAT took over, and a year later we have lost our inspirational, creative leader. We were forced into academisation while the school was still failing, and by the time Simon and his team had turned it around, it was too late to pull out – apparently there is no mechanism for leaving an academy group once you have signed the seven year contract. All sounds rather Soviet, no?

The timing seems suspicious, too. Simon’s last day was Friday 20th December, not that anyone else knew it at the time. This was just one week after our SATs results came out. As expected by everyone, they were through the floor. It seems fairly obvious that it takes time to turn academic results around, and Simon’s priorities for his first 18 months had been on sorting out behaviour and getting children in the right frame of mind and environment for learning. This summer, we know that our Year 6′s will provide the final piece of the jigsaw and produce great results for the league tables. TKAT will no doubt take the credit. But education is about much more than data; Simon always understood that it was about ‘the whole child’. And you can see, can’t you, that if you worked for an organisation that values data as much as education secretary Michael Gove (the instigator of the whole academies project), then there might be what you might call a ‘values mis-match’ with someone who was more interested in what was best for the children.

On TKAT’s website it says this: ‘At the heart of TKAT are the students and their right to have an outstanding education in order to give them the best life chances. The foundation of the TKAT model is based on school to school support to ensure that the very best standards of teaching and learning are developed and that schools are equipped to enable all staff and students to make outstanding progress’.

In my experience as a parent at the school, I have seen no evidence of this. In fact I have seen very little evidence of TKAT’s existence at all, since they are based in Kent, rarely visit the school, and certainly don’t know or understand the children and the community. They have met with parents at the school once, just after they took over. I remember very clearly they sought to reassure us that they wouldn’t interfere and they only had power to remove the head. We all laughed, because who on earth would want to get rid of such a successful, inspiring leader who was adored and respected by everyone in the school?

Personally, I think it would be best if they simply let us go. They clearly have no interest in the school – other than it being their foothold into expansion into Surrey – and don’t appear to care about the children, so why not allow our governing body to find another academy group to work with that is more sympathetic to our needs and values? Tomorrow night, rather than being a braying mob, I think as parents and staff we should simply, quietly, and with dignity, pass a vote of no confidence in TKAT and request that they release us from the contract. If they even turn up, that is.

I don’t know if we’ll ever solve the mysterious case of the disappearing head teacher.  I also doubt that we will get Simon Wood back as head under TKAT. After all, if I were him, I’d want to work for someone who shared my values and vision. What I do think we need to do is hold TKAT to account, and show them just how strongly we object to them meddling with our school and a community that felt it was on a journey to something very special under Simon Wood’s leadership. I gather that he’s something like the sixth head out of TKAT’s 38 academies to ‘leave’ in the past few months. This time, they have messed with the wrong school.

Probably the best headteacher in the world…

After a couple of crazy, wonderful end-of-term weeks of a successful PTFA Christmas Fayre, four performances of a brave, giddy, utterly delightful whole-school pantomime, and Christmas parties and staff bake-offs galore, it seems a fitting time to look back on how far we have come as a school in the two years since our fabulous head teacher, Simon Wood, joined Weyfield Primary Academy in Guildford. IMG_4418

It’s difficult to know where to start, in reflecting on the positive impact he has had on Weyfield as a school, a teaching team, a community, and – above all – more than 360 children. I think I speak for the majority of parents when I say that, quite simply, he has transformed the school.

As regular readers will know, when my daughter was given a place in reception at Weyfield in 2010, we were distraught. It had certainly not been one of our three choices. It was broadly perceived by the rest of Guildford as essentially a no-go area – it was seen as a dumping ground for the poor, the vulnerable, and the most challenging. Many of the children had very low levels of aspiration and achievement, and there was appalling behaviour from some pupils and parents. The wonderful teachers were trying their best, but Weyfield was struggling in all ways, and was in desperate need of strong leadership.

And then at the beginning of January 2012, when I was still trying to move my daughter to another school and avoid my son having to join Weyfield as well, Simon arrived. I know I’m not alone among parents and staff in saying that it was no less dramatic than a bright ray of sunshine piercing stormy clouds. Change was immediate and rapid. The first few weeks were like a rollercoaster as he cracked down on persistent and severe behavioural problems among a disruptive minority, revitalised the teaching team, and brought in sweeping changes. It wasn’t just that he had an iron fist in a velvet glove; he also arrived with a seemingly inexhaustible bag of fantastic ideas. The school began, tangibly, to feel different. Creativity soared. The teachers were noticeably happier, despite the hard work, and felt supported. More children started to flourish. There was a real buzz around the school.

There were little things that other schools might take for granted. We started competing with other schools on the sporting field more seriously, and actually winning. It might be true to say that Weyfield’s children hadn’t felt like winners before. And the school had a musical life for the first time. Hearing the children singing together, as never before, at the Christmas performances in 2012 after such an incredible year of change was an emotional experience. When Miss Duggan, our angel-voiced teaching assistant, led the whole school in a chorus of ‘One Night, One Moment’, many of us were in tears, because it felt so poignant. One moment, and everything changed for Weyfield: the day Mr Wood arrived.

Those of us who had been ambivalent about our children being at the school actually started to feel enthusiastic about being involved in such an exciting journey. I risked everything and took a punt on Weyfield, turning down a place at the ‘Outstanding’ primary within walking distance of our house. So did others. Things were looking up. Heads at more ‘desirable’ schools in Guildford started visiting to see what we were doing and took ideas back to their own communities. The whispers began: ‘Weyfield is changing, what Simon Wood and his team are doing there is amazing, it’s the most creative school in Guildford, it’s so innovative and exciting’. People with children at ‘better’ schools expressed envy at the trips and activities my smalls were involved in, how well they were doing and how engaged and excited they were every single day. The more recalcitrant parents gradually came on-side; now even those who were the most vicious towards him at first have come round and are among his most fiercely loyal supporters.

During his first year at the school, for instance, Simon made sure that every single child in the school, regardless of their ability to pay, was taken on a trip to London. Most of them had never been, and they all took so much from it. We’ve sung with the best school choirs in the country, swept the board at international art competitions, and every child is fully engaged in the whole-school topic every term. One term, the amazing school team turned the entrance with everyone walking through a giant wardrobe to get into school. Why? Because a proportion of the children had never been read to at bedtime, and had not experienced the magic of fairy tales and children’s stories. He gave them that gift. And this term, the work all year groups have done on ‘Water Water Everywhere’ has been astonishing – the high standard of Titanic artwork, creations and poems has astounded every visitor to the school. The children all respect each other, and support each other, across year groups. The school feels like a real community, and a rather special place.

Because from the first moment, it has always been about the children. He knows every child and family in the school – and I mean he properly knows them, not just their names – and has an instinctive understanding of what each and every child needs, and of the very particular – one might almost say unique – challenges of a school community like Weyfield. The student population changes constantly. More than 80 children don’t have English as a first language. An unusually high proportion of children for such an affluent city are entitled to free school meals. Many of the children have chaotic family lives. A number are never even given breakfast. And he cares enough about each and every one of them that he has personally intervened on many occasions to protect his children. For some of the children, he is the first person in their lives – certainly the first adult male – who has set firm but fair boundaries that are non-negotiable. For some, he has been the first person to see, and show them, their own shining spark, treat them with respect and trust, and encourage them. After a tough start, he has won that respect and trust back in spades. When he arrived, not one child in Year 6 aspired to go to university. Now, thanks to fantastic teaching and leadership, everyone, regardless of background, is on track to fully achieving their potential, and becoming well-rounded young people with healthy self-esteem and respect for others.

In February 2013, Ofsted proved that he had done what many cynics regarded as impossible: in just one year, he had galvanised the team and children so much that they had turned around a failing school that was threatened with closure, into a school that was not only ‘Good’ in all areas, but also described as ‘magical’. Magical! It really is, but I can’t imagine many primary schools are praised in such terms by the inspectors. Simon promised when he arrived that he would lead us to outstanding; our journey had begun, and it was universally acknowledged that without him, it would never have been possible. I understand this year’s Year 6’s are on track to reverse years of underachievement in the league tables and put the final piece of the jigsaw in place.

Because he’s not just a good head teacher who wants another outstanding rating under his belt. He’s an exceptional, inspiring leader who has managed to gain the love and respect of every child and every staff member in the school, precisely because it’s not about him. He has no ego, he genuinely only cares about the children. About them reaching their potential and improving their prospects. Making them feel safe, and protected. Creating moments of pure joy. Broadening their social and cultural world view. Encouraging them to fly.

And many of this has been at risk to himself. It can’t have been an easy ride, and I know how hard he and his team have worked to move us so far, so fast. But then he’s the kind of head who inspires his team to work incredibly hard for the children’s benefit, and to achieve their own potential as teachers and leaders in their own right. One of the riskier things he did was take every child to the seaside last summer, with an army of extra helpers and our own lifeguards. Parents – and staff – were nervous. But he pulled it off and it was one of the most extraordinary days of my life. The majority of the children had never been to the beach; as I held the hand of a little girl in Year 1 as she paddled in the sea for the first time, I knew that the Weyfield team had made a happy memory for her.

Highlights of this term have included a really well-attended family Reading Breakfast, the introduction of Gugafit for all to try and become the fittest school in Guildford, the whole of Key Stage 2 attending the Primary Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (where the children’s behaviour was described as ‘exemplary’) and the return of our community Fireworks Extravaganza.

As you know, in the two years since Simon joined our school, I have become a vocal supporter and advocate of Weyfield. I am proud that my children have the Weyfield logo on their sweatshirts. Parents can hold their heads up high: the reputation of the school in Guildford has changed so dramatically that for the first time ever, this year there was a waiting list to get a place in Early Years, where the provision is now regarded as among the best in the area. It really does feel like a little miracle has happened in our corner of Guildford. We are so grateful and our head is so appreciated.

Simon’s far too modest to say this himself, but it is no exaggeration to say that in just two years, he has changed forever the lives of those Weyfield children who are among the most vulnerable and challenging in the country, who desperately need consistency of support. He’s given them the best start, and every chance of success. Imagine what an impact he and his team could have if he is here for another few years.

Right, must go: time to help the kiddies write their cards! Have a fantastic Christmas, and a very merry New Year. May 2014 be full of all good things.