There will be sunshine after the rain

By Geoff Barton
General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Those of us over a certain age remember the great, if understated, singer Elkie Brooks. As she sang in one of her hits:

I want to see the sunshine after the rain
I want to see bluebirds flying over the mountain again
Oh, where is the silver lining shining at the rainbow's end?

Hold that thought.

In London and the South West this week, as part of our much-loved Autumn Leadership Conferences, I’ve met more than 150 school and college leaders. And listening to them, a number of things have struck me.

Most powerful was this comment by a veteran headteacher: “If you were a school leader before Covid, then you have no idea what being a school leader post-Covid is like. It’s a different job”.

When I’ve recounted this to other serving school leaders over the past couple of days they’ve simply said “Yes. Everything’s changed”.

Let’s get a half-term break behind us and then we can focus on how the social contract between parents and schools has changed; how the attitude of young people to school rules and procedures and uniform has changed; how the increased reliance on supply teachers has led young people to feel they can pick and choose which lessons they attend; how the availability of jobs in the retail sector has made it harder to recruit and retain teaching assistants; how the shifting goalposts of grade boundaries have made exam results matter less to young people; and how the denigration of school leaders by off-the-cuff comments by the people in authority has made all of this feel harder.

As I say, let’s get a half-term break behind us. We all know that trying to be rational and composed and calm and reasonable is much more difficult now than in the early, brighter days at the start of term.

Which is why you deserve a break of some kind, however brief, and however understated.

But finally, all I would say is this. That head who said I wouldn’t recognise the job of headship now compared to when I was a veteran head feels to me absolutely right. 

In truth, I wonder now whether I could do the job that you are doing. It’s relentless on far too many fronts. And plenty of other former school and college leaders say the same. We see what you’re dealing with and we look on with a kind of awe.

That’s why – as this half-term ends - I pay tribute to what you are doing, whatever your role, whatever your context.

And I’d also say this: based on my personal experience and based on my reading, these things shall pass. It won’t always be quite so relentless.

At our ASCL Autumn Leadership Conferences around the country, I’ve been quoting that great philosopher Winnie the Pooh, who says: “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine”.

Many, but not all of you, have arrived at a break of some kind. There may not feel to be much sunshine just now. 

But – believe me – there genuinely is some optimism ahead. Go and enjoy a weekend, a few days, or a week of recuperation. Then come back to do the amazing job you and your team do. 

As Elkie Brooks reminds us, there will be sunshine after the rain.

Geoff Barton is ASCL General Secretary.

Posted: 20/10/2023 08:54:03