Last week saw the publication of the performance tables. It might be an exaggeration to say ‘eagerly awaited’, but for schools that have good results to showcase, it can be a positive moment. It was also encouraging to read the upbeat tone of the press release on the DfE website, and the congratulations of the Secretary of State in his press articles on the subject, for example in the Telegraph.
Schools up and down the country have also this week received the annual letter from the Schools Minister, David Laws, congratulating them on their performance in various different forms – top 100, best improved, narrowest gap and so on. And it’s obviously very nice to get one of those, particularly in these dark January days, at what is pretty much the half-way point of the school year, when motivation might be a little harder to muster than at other times! It might sound silly to some people, but I have had a number of emails today indicating that school leaders do value the letters of congratulations. You can never have too much positive messaging!
There is of course a flip side to all this. There are schools – albeit diminishing in number, we are told – for whom the publication of the performance tables is not a moment to relish. Some of these schools will be working in very hard circumstances, or be at an early stage in an improvement trajectory, or perhaps have great things going on for young people which the official data just does not capture. Any brief set of data about schools is of its essence highly reductive, and must be interpreted with caution.
As teachers, we all know about the importance of having the right balance between the proverbial carrot and stick. Too much carrot makes us stand still munching, and too much stick makes us sore and angry. Personally, I rather like carrots, and would quite like to do a bit more munching – and I promise I won’t stand still while I masticate!