Focus on The Fluffy Stuff

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shutterstock Hand of mother handing flowers to child Flower Fluffy Outstanding School


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How do ‘Requires Improvement’ schools compare to ‘Outstanding’ schools? And in what level of detail?

I offer no solution here, but merely offer an observation.

“I did, I didn’t and I do work in an outstanding school; and I don’t mean Outstanding by Ofsted definition, I mean outstanding in terms of student and staff fulfilment.” (The Guardian)

Working with Outstanding:

An ex-colleague works in an outstanding school; I used to work there too. As one would expect, we continue to share many, many stories and naturally compare our day-to-day workload. I also have a particular vested interest in the school due to the ‘people’ that pop up in our conversations; colleagues that I used to work with.

When comparing the life of a teacher working in an Outstanding school, with another teacher working in a Requires Improvement school, there is a distinct difference in priority. It is clear that there is a need for RI schools to focus much more on pressing/challenging priorities, compared to an Outstanding school, who may have less urgent and important priorities to address.

This is not to say that Outstanding schools do not have less more urgent and less important priorities to consider. Of course they do. Teaching and leading any school is challenging for all of us. But what sparked this blogpost, was that my ex-colleague text me the following photograph yesterday morning before school started, with the following text message;

“(Headteacher’s) new addition to the school grounds; lovely.”

Red Flower Fluffy Outstanding School

I smiled to myself knowing much about the school and re-lived the memories of working in this Outstanding school, where colleagues working within it could focus on the fluffy stuff; the small tweaks in Outstanding schools that make them a nicer place to work; happier places for children and staff.

Working with Requires Improvement:

This is not to say that I do not have time to notice the small details in the school where I work, or to say that that as a leadership team, we do not focus on the small detail for fear of losing sight of the bigger picture. But, this photo made me stop and think. Do the teachers in our school notice the fluffy stuff?

Ofsted aside, currently I am work in an outstanding school, but this is not yet recognised by OfSTED and their definitions. We were judged by our data and the timing of the inspection in the first autumn half-term of 2014 – pre-RAISE Online – which was definitely a factor in the overall judgement. A bitter-pill aside, the keys on my keyboard clunk at a frantic pace to keep up with the ideas that are being consumed across the workplace. I cannot get around the corridors quick enough to support colleagues; observe lessons, feedback and discuss the varied and inspiring CPD ideas that we are planning and delivering.

When you work in a Requires Improvement school (or worse), you are far less focused on the fluffy stuff. Every school will of course have their own context, and based on the needs of your own school and your priorities, you will have a different interpretation of ‘your fluffy stuff.’

My ex-colleague in their school has fluffy stuff focus = the flowers … and I in my school have our own fluffy focus.

But, on reflection, I am yet to distinguish what ‘the fluffy stuff’ is in my school. We have just moved into a brand-new £30M building. Everything is shiny and sparkling white! Each day, we see something else working the way it should (finally), or the odd contractor popping into the school to fix the leaking pipe or complete one of the jobs from the 4,000+ itemised snagging list we first identified when we moved in on 5th January 2015.

The Fluffy Stuff:

With everything to do in a brand-new building, working in a requires improvement school at the moment for me, it is hard to identify the fluffy stuff. I have my ideas; for example, placing a few pictures up on the wall in the staff room, or completing the shelving in everybody’s classrooms and offices to get books off floors and stored away.

I would have a guess, that the majority of teachers working in Requires Improvement schools will not notice the fluffy stuff; the flowers or their colour, or why and where they were planted. Pockets of excellence exist in every school, but the key ingredient missing to allow us to have outstanding in every aspect, is simple yet fundamental. We just need to simply teach better!

If we can get this right, we can maybe start to enjoy the fluffy stuff once again. The flowers, the bees and the trees …

shutterstock dandelion flower child blowing flower fluffy

Image: Shutterstock

Read: ‘What makes an outstanding school?’

8 thoughts on “Focus on The Fluffy Stuff

  1. Totally agree with this, Ross, and the sentiment. It is a constant frustration but yes you can still have all the “fluffy” stuff in your head – prioritised for yourself but knowing you and your staff haven’t yet got the time to discuss it and deal with it. I make a conscious effort once a week to go and see the wonderful work going on in our garden, compliment people on a new display or make sure I plan an assembly which reminds us of the “other stuff”. We will get there. And when we do we can gradually introduce more and more of the fluff – I actually have a problem with saying this word because if it weren’t for O I know it would all be a natural part of what we do. Keep fighting the fight. Hope you are well. Tracey

  2. I maybe have to disagree with you slightly here. I worked in an RI school that moved to good and now I work in an outstanding school. Each time, I have never felt any different and felt I am focusing more on ‘fluff’ because the pressure and drive to either improve towards outstanding or maintain outstanding is relentless! I think back to my week last week I have experienced no ‘fluff’ whatsoever, just data, plans, teaching, observation, behaviour issues, marking, desf and plans for September. My experience of G and O schools has always been huge pressure to maintain and improve further. You always have that fear put into you that if you relax and become ‘fluffy’ then come August results may be down and then…what could that trigger?

    1. Totally agree. It’s all contextual and individual. I can’t imagine my better half would have sent me the photo of the flower on a stressful day when it was raining, nor would I have looked at the photo of it were not an INSET day …

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