Tuesday, 14 April 2020


My past often informs my present.

Just 52 years ago I was a van boy delivering sausages in County Kilburn. A shopkeeper offered us a cup of tea and Bill, the salesman/driver refused, grumpily, saying what he wanted was a decent wage.

Our prime Minister thanked the NHS for his life. We all clap and bang saucepans at 8 pm on Thursdays to show gratitude for so many poorly paid, terribly resourced, outrageously protected NHS workers. More than 30 doctors, nurses and other NHS workers have died during this UK Coronavirus crisis.

Before this pandemic I spoke with a foodbank organiser who claimed two nurses amongst the needy relying on handouts. The thanks and applause are easy.

Charities have donated thousands of meals for NHS staff and millions of pounds raised by ordinary people. Shops have donated uniforms, schools have given the kids’ goggles and flimsy plastic gloves and there are hundreds of thousands of good citizens trying to help. But when it’s over, and austerity returns, make NHS workers the last to suffer: Pay them better, don’t charge for car parking, public transport or canteen food. Just treat them a little more like we do the PM, who must now regret how disgracefully he voted down their pay rise.

Some people are saying that we will be more decent human beings after this virus passes, that we will appreciate that the key workers have shown that public service, community and humanity raises us above penny-pinching, materialism and is morally good. Will this include our cloistered decision makers or are they, like premier league footballers still clinging to their own privileged rights? MPs get subsidised food, housing and transport and are picking up a £10,000 supplement to cover the cost of working from home. Will the NHS workers usurp the fat cats in government priorities?

Terribly, the Health Minister, the Wayne Rooney of sensitive soundbite, has doubted the cause of death of NHS workers. He says some might have contracted the fatal disease outside their places of work.

Dreadfully, Matt Hancock, has also accused doctors and nurses of wasting protective clothing, masks and gloves, urging them to “use no more and no less” than they clinically require. I know of an A&E doctor who celebrated the arrival of his mask on April 2nd.

Some sort of perverse Brexit thinking, or plain incompetence, meant the UK failed 3 times to take part in the 1.5 billion euro scheme to protect against Covid-19 (Guardian 13-04-2020) despite obvious life-threatening shortages. Home Secretary Priti Patel sulked, “I’m sorry if people feel there have been PPE failings,” after the deaths of frontline NHS staff. (The Sun 11-04-2020)

The government got the pandemic preparation wrong: fess up, apologise and put it right.

Moving On

The Department for Education have requested that I write my own obituary.

Being amongst the oldest headteachers, even after a life drug and alcohol free, healthy eating and sensible exercise, I’m more likely than most of my staff to struggle with the infection.

I have other staff more at risk: teachers, site and admin.

Because the economy is going to struggle, because millions will be out of work, because we face years of economic depression the DfE suggests we can reduce these effects if the schools open again soon. The Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty says, “schools were not dangerous for children during the pandemic.” Allegedly almost half the cabinet want us to open now for all kids. They believe that we can protect staff and students by enforcing social distancing measures.

Keep the kids two metres apart in classrooms, on corridors and at lunchtime. Really?

Also, make sure we have enough hot water and soap and sanitisers. Oops, we haven’t.

The DfE (Department for Education) view is that we could welcome back the kids, teach them in tiny groups – a classroom of 8 would still compromise the “safe distancing” measure – and somehow entertain the others. Class size of 30 is common in our schools but bureaucrats think we can drop that to 8. PE lessons, science experiments and any sort of group work impossible, lunchtimes staggered across most of the day, half the parents keeping their kids at home. What would be the point?

Do they really confuse child care with teaching?

There was a time when DfE people were seconded to spend a few days in schools to see the reality and be able to sensibly advise ministers. Given that there are around 4,000 employees at the DfE send us a couple and they can childcare some classes of 8 .

Allegedly we will not need protective clothing, nor testing and if we get ill, we should be sent home.

As headteacher, I have a duty of care to the staff and I share this with the governors. Will I be willing to send staff into dangerous rooms full of kids who routinely sneeze, cough and don’t wash their hands enough? I work to improve the lives and careers of teachers and students; even though teachers have an intimate relationship with infections I never planned to make life or death choices.

Is a dead teacher expendable?

I wonder how many older teachers will now pack it in earlier than planned? This week, in a survey of 7,732 teachers, 22% doubt they will be teaching in 3 years time. (source the excellent Teacher Tapp 11-04-2020)

The government admit to having failed to reach their teacher training target in each of these years: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.- no gaps.

The DfE forecasts an increase of 14.7% rise in student numbers by 2027. (Schoolsweek 28-11-2019)

Maybe we need to keep the teachers we have rather than say they are really child minders of the 10.2 million kids in our schools and a few (hundred?) dead ones will have little effect.

At least 10% of my teachers will not be at work if we are sent back in the next month: cv infected, family at home cv infected, high risk, just plain sick. That in itself means around 100 classes a week to be covered. And then you have to triple the number of most “supervised gatherings “ because we have to reduce class size to 8. Over 250 classes covered in each week of social distancing. Teachers covering (teaching more hours) leads to sickness and absence and more covers, and sickness….and very bored, increasingly disruptive children not learning. Cover is nearly always an unacceptable alternative.

Will the kids walk to school, in single file, not breakfast from Asda, not travel in our bus of 50 kids, not be driven by parents?

The economic and social costs of shutdown are profound and deepening every day. If I cannot keep the kids safe, the staff safe, myself safe, I’m not going to open the school. My chair of governors reads my blogs: what you going to tell me to do, Bob? Are you good at obituaries?

Now, on to our role as exam factories.

Year 6 teachers, junior heads, parents and children did not sit SATs this year. They will not be ab le to tell secondary school teachers what a subordinate adverbial clause of reason looks like (because they didn’t sit the SATs exams {for example})

Like the junior school heads with whom I’ve spoken, I’d abolish the endless repetition of SATs. Replace with everyone doing CATs in a day – you can’t prepare, can’t revise and, many schools do them anyway.

Then Year 6 kids can do some Drama, Art, Music, PE, talking, playing, working with peers; develop social behaviours, share inspiring literature and teach about the wonders of our world, encourage thoughts feelings and the development of resilient individuals.

Wouldn’t that be OK?

Teachers are going to be trusted to say what Year11 and Year 13 students would have achieved if they had sat numerous, intense, GCSE and A Level exams. Teachers already predict final outcomes all the time. We know what the kids have done, how much they understand and know. We are continually assessing their work and abilities. Internal reporting, assessment and moderation is a continual process.

Speed writing what you can remember from a packed curriculum, constantly revised, is not a reliable measure of ability and competence.

Or do we need exams because teachers, apparently, are not trusted?

In the days of 100% coursework in English I had to participate, and endure, lengthy moderation meetings where all 7 of us would argue over ½% points, having marked our own, then each other’s classes’ work, rank-ordered and justified the outcomes. They were tough sessions and the grades more accurately reflected what a child could achieve than 3 two hour exams. Alongside the 20 or so other sudden death, all or nothing, stressful, crammed exams. It seems to me that very little employment measures workers in such a fashion.

Teachers teach to the tests: all year, in Year 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13, at the cost of educating. Yes we do.

My school spends almost £150,000 a year on exam entries and invigilation., an accelerating, costly rush into exam terrorism.

In August 2020, Year 11 and 13 students will get grades.

Just for the doubters: schools will predict outcomes for each student in every subject and present a rank order for each subject. Ofqual will then look at the school’s previous results. They will also look at the students’ previous scores - the dreaded SATs at age 11 and will award grades in line with last year’s results.

And if that methodology is valid and properly applied, there should be very, very little difference between what the student is awarded and what they deserved.

We have a chance now for teachers to show they can be trusted: the results are not being published, there will be no league tables, no use of data by Ofsted inspectors. This is a real chance to accurately record the students’ achievements.

Once we locked down, one boy scoring level 2s and 3s in every subject, partly because he has never been bothered, emailed his teachers to say. “I was just about to start working so can you change my predicted 3 to a 7 which I feel I would easily surpass.”

Universities already dent the validity of A Level exam grades by awarding places to 25% of my students on predicted grades alone.

If we are closed for more than a few more weeks, or if the disruption last to September, Year 10 and 12 students should be judged on their classwork and predicted grades in 2021. It will be impossible to set full exams for kids who missed a term’s work.

When the students do return they should all start proper lessons as classes, with their teachers, working as students and not as child-minded children. Children will not just slip back into the required way of working. The routines will have to be recreated and we will need to help them develop lost learning and behaviour.

The gap between rich and poor is widening. The gap between those who manage to do the work set and those whose parents settled for a quieter life will be huge. The work we set has not been done at all (by 30% in my school) properly (by 30%) or with the teacher help required to make progress by who knows how many. The lockdown has been lost learning time for perhaps 75% of our children and particularly for the disadvantaged.

Only 3% of children had done all the work set according to the 6,000 teachers on Teacher Tapp a week ago. Only 22% had done more than half the work set. Kids need to be with their teachers.

My 9 year old granddaughter – angelic in school – was under her bed stropping within 40 minutes on day one of her lockdown timetable.

Not all households have a computer for each child. Not every child has academic parents able to help with schoolwork. Many parents are fully engaged, working from home and for many busy people it’s easier to let the kids play computer games – especially when the kids say they have completed the work set.

Overcrowding, homelessness, dysfunction in families forced together for unnatural periods of time, more children witnessing drug and alcohol abuse alongside a 120% rise in incidents of domestic violence (Refuge Press Release 09-04-2020). The removal of normal, physical childhood will mean that more kids will not be ready for school straight away and we will have to start anew.

We can have the chance to restart, to offer a more relevant curriculum, modelling desired behaviour, building up student workload, getting them fit, helping them develop relationships outside the family home and believing in themselves.

At all ages, it’s going to be tougher than ever when we open again and society needs motivated, respected, healthy teachers to help build for social cohesion and reclaim economic growth and prosperity.

We can do some good here.

Dennis O'Sullivan (Headteacher)


  1. Once again, I read your blog and find myself wanting to shout it from the rooftops. So much sense, compassion and reality. Thank you Dennis. 🙏

  2. I read your blog and was totally in support of you until your derogatory use of the word childminder. Maybe like you suggest that a politician should work in a school for a few weeks maybe you should work with a childminder. Believe me I do all that your teachers do and more; as Childminders we follow the EYFS just as your nursery and reception teachers do, we plan, prepare, teach, observe, evaluate and assess each child. We are business managers, we risk assess, write policies, maintain essential paperwork, order resources, keep accounts, maintain our settings not to mention cook, clean, change nappies and care for the children in our care. Now please tell me one member of staff in your school that does all that? I hold regular parents evening so parents know how their children are both progressing and behaving. I keep my CPD current and up to date. I am an Ofsted registered Outstanding Childminder - I endure the Ofsted inspections alone and without any support from Governors and Teachers. I am proud of what I do but also feel constantly knocked and undermined by professionals who should know better. I hope you manage to succeed in keeping your children safe just as I will be doing. Please use your words carefully and find out about the other professions who work both with and alongside you. Stay safe.

    1. I intended no disrespect to childminders. Both my daughters had great childminders but I doubt either could have maintained 2 metres social distancing.
      Your work is different, not better and childminding is different to teaching.
      Childminding is not a derogatory term.
      Teachers are not childminders - nor are they surgeons or bakers.
      We will be asked to work with 600 kids on return - it’s normally 1140.
      Different to your cohort but we are open to suggestions as to how to do it.
      Yours is a different job and I guess you are allowed to say whatever you wish But there’s no need to be defensive and say that you “do all that your teachers do and more.” You do different things not all the things: you don’t look after large numbers, you don’t teach classes of 30 kids at a time and 4 or 5 different groups a day. You almost certainly do not teach them chemistry; it’s unlikely that you get your children to work with lambs’ hearts, it is unlikely that you get 25 kids to prepare and cook a meal in one room in an hour; your French teaching may be as good as your Spanish and I wonder how you are with a lathe and digital cutter.
      Your work is different, not better, not worse, but just not the same.

    2. I have in no way said teachers don’t do an amazing job, I have also not said childminders are better. My partner is a teacher. My point is we are both professionals in our own right. We both have skills that are very different in their own right. I mind many teachers children who often say I couldn’t do your job and likewise I haven’t claimed I could do theirs. What I meant when I said I do all a teacher does and more is that we do still have to do all the PPA a teacher does but also be cook, caretaker and admin. Often with between 3 and 10 mixed age group children. Not on the same scale as your staff but nonetheless we do and for many of us for 12 hours a day. However your blog implies, correct me if I am wrong, that you don’t want your teachers to just become “babysitters” and I have no problem with that and fully agree with you 💯 . However there is a big difference between a childminder and a babysitter. I am defensive because I am sick of people, including politicians not understanding our role. I agree many many years ago there was very little between the two jobs however now they are miles apart. It’s time our profession had a name change and we are pushing for that. I attend courses with teachers and indeed Heads who are frustrated that their profession is not recognised for the work it does and I agree so imagine how it feels to be a childminder. As educators, which we all are, we should work together. Your article implies, even if this was not intended, that your teachers are not just childminders. With the exception of this I totally agree with everything else you say and I for one do not want schools to reopen until we are through this nightmare and we know we can send our teachers and children back to a safe environment. I cannot offer you any suggestions as I for one am in no rush to be reintroduced to crowd gatherings, social distancing in any education setting is impossible. In my world keeping everyone safe and alive is a priority even though I am financially anything but. I hope your voice is heard to the powers that be.

    3. Thanks for the response.
      I want to mention that I never used the words ”childminder, just childminders or babysitting”anywhere in the 2,000 words of this blog.

    4. 4th paragraph after ‘is a dead teacher expendable?’

    5. Oops. Well spotted, good to know you read it so closely. Amazingly, a blog usually read by 1,000 has just passed 13,000, maybe because I didn’t insult child minders or anyone else working by hand or by brain to earn their pay.

    6. Hi, I didn't read it as derogatory to childminders. I read it as babysitters as some parents do nothing with children at home. Some just put kids in front of tv or tablets and then send kids to school. When my child was 3, I saw a parent take a nappy off their child and remove their dummy, drop into nursery and reverse at 3pm when picked up.
      My child could read and write before 3years. That mother used the nursery as a sitting service and hoped the child was potty trained in the 3 hours away from them. As like the CV flount minority they seem to label the 99% hard workers. To wendy, the word childminders didn't mean you personally, it's for the ones who use the school system and not accept the wonderful work our teachers and ALL the hard workers do for our children. I was able to teach my 4 kids the basic reading and adding but the school system taught them so much more than I could do. THANK YOU TEACHERS.

  3. That's great stuff, Dennis. When the world gets back to something approaching normal, we'll have the opportunity to reopen the debate about the nature of the curriculum and what education should be for in the third decade of the 21st century. In my own blog at present, I'm arguing along the line of 'let's not aim to get back to normal - normal simply hasn't been good enough.' (I don't want to hijack your blog by linking to it, so if you fancy a squint, mail me.) This will require activism from teachers and their unions and the voices of headteachers - or at last those who can lift thei head from the treadmill of the assessment machine. Jon Berry

  4. What an excellent blog - I am a primary Inco and everything you say resonates with me as an experienced teacher and parent . Will be sharing with my colleagues - Thankyou for saying what few will say nowadays!

  5. A colleague sent me your blog, knowing that you have perfectly expressed everything in the heart & mind of this ‘older’ teacher. Thank you for your clarity and eloquence. With responsibility for KS3 English, my thoughts and planning over the past month have all been about how we- both students and staff- can recover (our motivation, our mental wellbeing as well as our curriculum) . Only one year off retirement, I never considered leaving early, not that is until Anne Longfield suggested that schools open during the summer holiday in order to ‘provide childcare for families’ (Guardian,11/04/2020). She obviously has no concept of either what working from home as a teacher entails (7am- 7pm most days) or what working as a teacher in the ‘recovery’ phase will mean. I want to be a part of the educational solution, not a stop-gap. Wishing you health and strength.

    1. Alison, KS3 English is going to be more important than ever after the lockdown as many kids have not been reading, have hardly written and certainly have not been engaged in teacher-led analysis of non fiction texts.
      We could be facing standards of literacy unseen since the 1980s.
      If teachers like you pack it in early we are going to really struggle to get English specialists in front of the kids.
      The idea of opening in the summer, offered by the Children’s Commissioner, has not been thought out. Of course we can’t do a 19 week autumn term.
      However, we could pay people to do some summer school work like we have done for years. I would love to get our new year 7s in for a few days so we can teach them what secondary school is like.
      Headteachers will have to decide to open their schools and if the deaths and infection dangers continue as predicted, I will not open the school.
      We are open for small numbers of key workers’ children, we have hand delivered free school meal vouchers - as the govt scheme is atrocious - we are making visors for workers at risk, we’ve offered our minibuses and drivers and are hoping to host a key workers food pickup service. And we are trying to teach kids at home.
      We will do all we can, but teachers like you cannot be sacrificed to short term economic recovery.
      I’m staying unless the perfidious Gove is given the chance to further damage education.
      Do think about carrying on, Alison, and thanks for your approval of my blog - it’s reached thousands more people than any if my previous 60.

  6. It is awesome that you are getting a much needed and undervalued message out there. Keep it up and hopefully the drip drip drip of these valuable messages might make the tsunami that is needed to cleanse the political system.

    1. Thanks, Tony. The political system seems to be led by people that don’t realise that we are not in the 1950s, that now, when they make mistakes we at least hear about them. Proper apologies really are necessary from Johnson, Hancock and Patel.

  7. I agree with everything said in this blog. I'm an ex teacher. Nuff said!

  8. Excellent blog what made me think was the statement about dfe staff going into schools to find out what is happening . In my school we have around 10 children use the hall so we can maintain social distancing , have fresh air circulating and a clearly defined area to be cleaned much more thoroughly every day. Someone from the dfe should come in and show me how to do this for 240 children especially as budget means I had to make some staff redundant last year so already run with fewer than I would like given my levels of SEN children.

  9. Yes, Andrea, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the experts came into schools and watched, listened and joined in. There can’t be any need for new policy, performance measures, idle boasting by politicians or meddling.
    The new agenda will need to be practical, hands on and totally about the children.
    And, at all costs, keep the perfidious Gove away from education .

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