The Tree Doesn’t Plead with the Poorly-Placed Palisade

Posted on July 11, 2015


It was with a certain amount of reluctance that I agreed to be interviewed by a Schools Week reporter about my views on the government’s decision not to include legacy qualifications in the 2018 performance tables.  That reluctance was twofold. Firstly because by placing one’s head over the parapet (individually), and one’s Head over the parapet (institutionally), many would argue that I (and we) were asking for trouble. It’s easy to be misreported or malreported, and the consequences of such to be difficult to manage. But I have faith in the editorial stance of Laura McInerney (a faith I still possess in retrospect). 

The second strand of my reluctance came from the fact that I am the best-paid member of staff at the school, but make no claims to best-placed to represent the full range of views on an issue like this. And so I sought the views of my Deputies and they were adamant that I should utilise my figure-Head status to make this case on the school’s behalf. Their view, which aligns with my own, was that we should speak up and speak out on this seemingly ill-thought-through volte face by the DfE. 

The article itself is here, and so I shan’t restate the arguments put forth in it, but instead will restate that our ‘short and fat’ KS4 options curriculum means that the DfE’s u-turn has significant implications for the school in three years’ time. Which in turn means that it has significant implications for the choices we make now.  Our current Y8s started their first ‘short and fat’ options two weeks ago (contrary to the article, not all GCSEs as we have a vibrant and well-used enrichment programme), and many of the GCSEs they have chosen will now apparently count for nothing for the school in 2018. 

In the face of this announcement we literally had less than a week to consider whether to scrap option choices, rewrite our timetable and, most importantly, trash our five-years-in-the-planning, three-years-in-the-execution, and recently-rigorously-reviewed KS4 curriculum (a curriculum that is highly valued by staff, students and parents alike). 

The article itself is good and captures our thoughts as a school pretty accurately, with just one exception. The headline which reads…

My ‘beef’ (and it really is a small ‘beef’, but important enough for me to write this post) is with the word “plead”, which has connotations of begging, of an emotional entreaty and, of course, of a defensive legal position. None of these connotations accurately reflects my (our) position. I’d have been a lot more comfortable with the word “beseech” or “petition”, perhaps even to “implore”. 

I spent much of the day yesterday wondering if I was being too pernickety in finding the word “pleads” problematic (it’s an occupational hazard for an English teacher). And then, as I dropped my daughter off for her dance rehearsal at Watford Boys’ Grammar School – yes, they don’t mind me visiting – I saw this quite beautiful thing…

…and, being the English teacher I am, the metaphorical implications of this struck me like a slap across the face. 

This tree, hemmed in by this poorly-placed palisade, has made no pleas. It hasn’t even forced the fence out its way (how could it when the fence has been constructed so tightly and restrictively?). Instead, it has simply grown at its own pace, to its own plan, absorbed the fence and, in doing so, rendered it ridiculous. It’s not a bad metaphor for a strong, confident, organic school – taking the permission it has previously been given to think and act autonomously in the interests of its community – in the face of artificial (I wonder how strong the etymological link with the word “artifice” is) and utterly inorganic constraints. 

Returning to pick up Millie two hours later, I noticed that this tree wasn’t alone in its refusal to be constrained by the fence.  

All along its length (for this fence was formed to confine a significant number of them) each individual tree had responded by not responding to such insignificant constraint in its own unique way. 


Let’s remember also this line from the quite amazing Ofsted ‘Clarification for Schools’ document, this line…


When I returned home yesterday evening I came across this article from ASCL on the issue of the government’s decree on legacy qualifications. Perhaps we aren’t all isolated trees after all. Perhaps we are a forest. And, if we are, just imagine how little pleading we need. 

Posted in: Education, Leadership