How to treat your staff – academy chains
I am not a fan of Local Authority consultants and I believe that Local Authorities themselves are inefficient. However, I’m also aware that Academies have their issues, and in particular, Academy Chains appear to have no direct inspection in the way Local Authorities do.
I have decided to reprint something I received by email. I have changed names and details of schools and individuals, though I’m well aware it’s possible to guess who they are.
I recognise the stories are one side of the story, but they represent the worst of schools – one of bullying and harassment and the reason so many teachers suffer from stress and leave the profession. It sounds to me that problems of management are too often transferred onto the teaching staff – those often holding the school together.
I don’t agree with all of the points Denise makes, but I’ve chosen to leave them in.
Taken from an email received from Denise by firstname.lastname@example.org
Working for WILTON ACADEMIES:
Prior to joining the academy chain, the school was not in Special Measures, though results were poor. We were hence told we are becoming a WILTON ACADEMIES Academy. Some big bods from the ‘flagship’ academy were in our school regularly. They told us all staff were safe in their jobs, especially SMT.
However, the Head was ousted incredibly quickly – (allegedly a fair process, given interview, etc!) in favour of SLT from the ‘flagship’ academy.
We had opportunity to visit the flagship WILTON ACADEMIES academy and be shown how wonderful our lives will be. The flagship WILTON ACADEMIES academy is not a true comprehensive, even though they say they are – selection by banding can be skewed to only consider those at the top of each band, and in an over-subscribed school, often only the more able apply, as the rest know they have little chance of getting in!
A couple of staff left over the summer of conversion, but most stayed.
Apart from the resistance from most serving staff of going over to new systems (which on reflection was our fault), I didn’t have too bad a time personally. I was a good teacher, and kept my head down (for that read ‘do as you’re told!’).
I had a couple of run-ins, but I again, did as I was told (covering up a tattoo on my wrist, taking out my nose stud, etc).
We were told we had to do ‘enrichment’ EVERY NIGHT until 4.30pm. I totted up the hours and this came to well over 1265. I questioned it with DHT and was told that my free periods throughout the day were NOT directed time, so therefore couldn’t include them in the 1265! I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my career!
All people in positions of power were extremely young, and inexperienced. For some strange reason a large cohort of them came from a school called Barca High in another authority – I still can’t figure the connection, but maybe WILTON ACADEMIES actively recruited from there?
The method of getting things done was one of pure nastiness. Every conversation I had with my Head of Faculty (above Heads of Department) began with “With respect Denise….” Then a sentence that was far less than respectful. God, I hate that phrase.
The Headteacher had a poster in her office that said “Get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus” or something like that. She was and is a very dominant and powerful woman!
The first thing that really happened to make us worry was all the Heads of Department suddenly had a target on their backs. They were all told (one by one, not all at once, over that first term), that they would be placed on capability procedures. Not for anything specific, but a generic ‘not performing…’ Of course none of them knew anything about capability procedures. They were great Heads of Department at the predecessor school. One by one, every one of them handed in their notice. My own Head of Department was one of the last, and I’d gone before she did. She was old enough to take early retirement rather than look for something else, but I stay in touch with all of them (we were a VERY close bunch before WILTON ACADEMIES) and many found it impossible to find new jobs. Many of the Heads of Department were signed off with stress, as were other staff. It was so tough because we were running on loads of supply staff as well as keeping things ‘normal’ for the kids we knew and cared for.
One thing that really stood out for me was the WILTON ACADEMIES inaugural CPD event. They had hired some huge buildings and every member of WILTON ACADEMIES was there from every school.
Looking back (again) it was probably a really great event, ahead of its time, but for me it was frightening! It felt like something from the Nuremburg Rallies – speakers just applauding themselves, talking about (metaphorically) taking over the world! There was a (propaganda) promotional video played to all the hundreds of staff.
Then a gospel choir came out from behind us singing “Lean on me”. People were swaying, people were crying, I was absolutely terrified and was convinced that this was some re-run of Germany 1936 (ok – Godwin’s Law states that as soon as you mention the Nazis you lose any argument outright!)
The big boss himself did a turn on the stage – I genuinely think he does think he is making lives better, but does he know the means by which he gets it?
Another big cheese is certainly very frightening. He made those Heads of Department crumble in meetings, made their lives hell, made them sick, made them cry.
He was head of a local school in the past and we used to see him in our ‘Friday pub’ all the time with different young hot blondes!
This is the man who is rumoured to be in line for huge things in the world of education!
Anyway – I got to Christmas and as usual, we all went to the local to let off steam. Instead of “what you doing over Christmas?, how are the kids?, anyone travelling home for new year?”, type conversations, EVERYONE was miserable, moaning, upset, tired, stressed.
I looked around that pub and said to myself “I want out.” I decided to get myself gone. First day back I went to the head and said “Out of courtesy, I would like to let you know that I shall be looking for another job”. Her only words were “OK”.
I was quite surprised – I was the best Science teacher they had, I did what I was told, they hated the Head of Department and I was second in charge, I think they thought I was going to step up when they got shot of Head of Department, but all I got was “ok”.
I got a job within a couple of weeks, (Physics teachers will always be gold dust) despite being told by WILTON ACADEMIES SLT that I wouldn’t find anything! I just had to work out my notice – miserably watching my friends suffering…….
Since leaving I have met endless supply teachers who refuse to work in an WILTON ACADEMIES academy! There are other WILTON ACADEMIES ex-staff who got pushed out. I have had two different colleagues ask my advice on whether to apply for jobs there – I have said that my experience was my experience and was tainted by 14 years of a school I adored being taken over, and they should make up their own minds.
Both these colleagues were young and dynamic, excellent members of staff. The most recent was a young history NQT at my current school – fantastic teacher, everything you would want an NQT to be. He left my place at Christmas for a Jan 2014 start. Heard a couple of weeks ago that he left within days (!) and is currently doing supply around London/Kent! I was so shocked as I really thought he was ‘WILTON ACADEMIES Academy Material’. The other guy left pretty damn quick as well! It was the relentless obs that he hated. Left to go to one of the local grammars and is loving it!
I think the model for an WILTON ACADEMIES Academy is “get ‘em young, chew ‘em up, spit ‘em out”.
It would be very interesting to compare schools by turnover of staff!
Anyway life after WILTON ACADEMIES, I went to a school that was to go on to be an DOVE ACADEMY. They didn’t quite have this crazy model, but they do ‘celebrate’ the wrong people. The give enormous power to people who don’t really have the experience – if you talk the talk, you’re golden, but you probably can’t walk the walk! It’s a very ‘cliquey’ organisation – you just have to get ‘in’ with the right people (crawl up the right arses I think!)
Their ‘science advisor’ who is celebrated EVERYWHERE and whose remit has gone far beyond DOVE ACADEMY was someone who taught for less than a year, had ONE outstanding observation, and is now being touted as ‘the be all and end all of science teaching’. I don’t think he paid his dues – and tbh he never came near me in all the time I was at DOVE ACADEMY. I don’t know if I was considered ok enough not to need support, or if he sensed I wouldn’t have respected his opinion, but nothing! He was asked by the Head of Department to give a ‘model’ lesson but he wouldn’t. Says it all really…..
I left DOVE ACADEMY to become Head of Department in a school very nearby. My then Head of Department left to join a successful school in Shropshire (he hated the ‘regime’) and the school promoted my equivalent to Head of Department, despite her own lack of any qualification in science (and I mean not even a GCSE!)
My view of academy chains is they are very ideological and know what they want, but don’t care how they get it. “By any means necessary”.
But when you see the personal cost, the effect on people’s lives, it is truly terrifying!
Other conversations that show dodgy practice and attitudes towards staff (either Academy Chain):
• Being directed by the head (oops principal) to wear a jacket to assembly ( in that roasting hot hall). It was OK to take it off and put it on the back of the chair, but not OK to not wear it to the assembly
• Being told by a senior teacher that we are a very multicultural school and that ‘we must get that little HALFCAST boy in the picture to prove it!!!!’ Thought I was in the 80s!!! I think the rest of us have been using mixed race for about 20 years!!
• WILTON ACADEMIES had no union representation and three months notice either side i.e. almost impossible to move, able to be sacked, no reason required.
Conversation with ex-colleague regarding WILTON ACADEMIES (same academy chain, different school)
Colleague: Hi Denise, too many to mention in the years I endured. However, constant observation being the least of the sins, with no constructive development. They ensured they ticked all the boxes. In fact, after 4 and a bit years there, I can feel a rant coming on…
Colleague: The ridiculous pressure to achieve unrealistic targets causing teachers to feel that their job is on the line if they don’t deliver…etc I need to calm down. Reading the link you posted about WILTON ACADEMIES it could have been written about Rainbow John School word for word, all the comments made by those who signed the petition. A bullying ethic and no remorse culture.
Colleague: Seemed to me that they had an attitude of “break you and remake you in our image” they crushed any individuality out of both pupils and teachers. GOD I HATED IT… sorry, had to get that off my chest. I recently went back in a purely professional capacity ( I run primary PE outreach now from (another local school) bumped into an SMT who barked questions at me about why I was there (even though it had been arranged) talked to me like a back street piece of crap… most surprising and unprofessional
Questioner: Was going to ask if you’re still there! So do you teach at (another local school) too, or is the outreach your main job?
Colleague: I teach PE at (local school) but took over (other teacher’s) role as PE primary cpd provider for the LEA as a TLR and took that with me from WILTON ACADEMIES to (local school)
Questioner: Were WILTON ACADEMIES spitting chips?
Colleague: I don’t think so, I was a trouble maker, constantly questioning why we had to do the things we were told to
I had a radical hairstyle during half term. The Head went totally beserk and told me I had a week to reshape it. The average turnover was 31 staff lost per year.
My poor year 12 A level class, I left them in Jan (could not take another day without going crazy) they have had 8 teachers in eleven months. I bumped into them in the half term, they are failing and should not be. No I had to leave, or my marriage and even my health would have gone, no kidding it made me so unhappy. I saw two teachers have nervous breakdowns while actually at the school and were escorted off the premises.
Question: Did you know about the malpractice in exam entries?
Colleague: I knew everything about it Denise, why do you think I left?
Colleague: it was in my department … hmm, that’s what happens when you make an NQT Head of Department in a year and tell her she has to get 100% pass… she has no experience to realise its unachieveable.
No external support, all from within.
It’s a weird structure.
There is no Head of Department, it’s just co-ordinator and then Head of Faculty. I had three Heads of Faculty. As for co-ordinators, after James we got some fella who did not last a year, and then the second in charge had to step in as he got booted out in an emergency scandal one and a half terms in.
Questioner: Oh yes, Head of Faculty. I only had Stephen Pressley. What happened to him?
Colleague: blazing a trail of ambition I am sure. The second in charge became “acting” then got the job
Questioner: I know, that was (HoD name) . Am assuming she was thrown under the proverbial bus. More lives destroyed…
Colleague: totally thrown under a bus but she did do all the things she is accused of. But to be honest Denise, she had just got QTS when she was made second in charge and although they had “support” from a federation advisor, it was all internal and no-one who could help take some of the pressure that the (HT) was putting on her
Colleague: I know that I would not be able to be Head of Department or suchlike with only a year;s experience of teaching behind me
Questioner: I always said you need to ‘pay your dues’ before Head of Department. Took me 16/17 years to decide I was ready!
Colleague: Massive staff turnover within the school gave her no stable and experienced teachers, each time we hired one, they left within a year and one left within a term.