Vic Goddard – Judgement day

It’s time for the latest incarnation of the ‘Educating’ series and this time it’s Cardiff gracing our screens. Unlike when our series went out I find myself searching on Twitter for comments whilst watching it – and inevitably, I quickly get reminded why I didn’t when ‘Essex’ was on!

It was during my glimpse at the comments about episode 1 of @EducatingCardiff that I stumbled across @cllrpaulwhite, Deputy Leader of Pendle Tories, and his sweeping generalisations about the school: “@CllrPaulWhite: Hi fiving? Trainers? Rewarding bad behaviour. I’d love to see where they are in the league tables #educatingcardiff”

I resisted the temptation to tweet back about bankers’ bonuses and MPs’ expenses – pointing out that I didn’t think they have ‘league tables’, or know that ‘high fiving’ was so reprehensible – but it did wind me up. I still find it amazing that people watching programmes like these presume that what they see on screen is all that happens. I know that the production company shot over 15000 hours of footage for less than six hours of TV for our series – and the programme is just as much about the skill of the director in telling a story than it is about the school; that’s why David Clews won a BAFTA for best director for Educating Essex.

What the behaviour of @cllrpaulwhite makes me seriously contemplate, though, is how quickly I and others make snap judgements. This is particularly pertinent as we prepare for our open evening for those Year 6 pupils who might be joining us next September, and I am obliged to consider what makes parents/carers choose one school over another.

Quick thinking

Obviously people have always had a tendency merrily to infer cause from anecdotes; in fact it could be argued that this is the root of some really popular books from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell. Indeed when we were in the spotlight I took exception to a blog from John Bald, for the Conservative Home website, in which he used his extensive knowledge as a teacher and ex Ofsted inspector to draw conclusions from the series about Passmores that were inaccurate and unfair. I invited him into school and, to his credit, after having seen the place running in ‘real time’ he changed his view and said so publicly.

I have been very lucky to be invited to many different schools over the last few years and I know that I have also been drawn into making quick judgements on the whole establishment based on very little information. How long must we persuade parents to spend viewing the school or classroom to decide that we are the place to help them raise their young person? If our reception isn’t full of our key messages am I too late? And what on earth are the key messages that we need to get across without fail? I really need to know these things if I am going to ensure that the young people, for whom I know that Passmores would be a great school, still choose us.

Beyond the bricks

Now, people could say that we are lucky, as we have a great building, which already gives us an advantage when it comes to first impressions – and that may very well be true. However, this week, in my open evening talk, I will tell parents to choose Passmores not because we have a wonderful building (and certainly not in the hope that their offspring might end up as TV stars) but rather, because of what we believe in and do on a daily basis. So how does any school go about getting its expectations and beliefs known to parents/carers – and how long has it got?

We choose to deliver our message in numerous ways, one of which is using images and quotes around the school; this is a particular bugbear of @C_Hendrick, the Head of Learning and Research at Wellington College, as I learnt from reading an article by him a while ago. However, they form just part of an overall strategy of ensuring our environment is a mirror of our values, and that we are unequivocal in living up to them every day.

So, just in case anyone reading this is thinking of coming to visit us at Passmores over the next few weeks, how about this: I will let you know what impression you are supposed to take away with you; and you can let me know if we have succeeded. I hope that people who come here see a school that is focused, calm and safe; that we want our young people to be happy but not happy failures; and that we strive for a partnership with all our community for the best interests of our young people. And I’m sorry Mr Gladwell – but all that is quite hard to get over in seven seconds. Wherever you are.

About the author

Vic Goddard is head Teacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s ‘Educating Essex’, and is the author of ‘The Best Job in the World’