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Not proven and not proving!

In the Scottish legal system there are three possible verdicts that a jury can reach following a criminal trial. These are Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven. This final verdict is usually found when the jury decide there is insufficient evidence to convict an accused, and when there is also insufficient evidence to say the defendant is completely innocent of the charges layed against them. I am by no means a legal expert, but I do think this third option is something quite unique to the Scottish system. Most other legal systems seem to have stopped at Guilty or Not Guilty and with a presumption of innocence until a verdict of Guilty is given.

You may ask yourself why am I writing about the Scottish legal system when I am an educational professional and usually write about education and leadership on this blog? Good question to ask, and we are getting there. The reason why I give you that background is linked to the title of this post and the inordinate amount of time myself, and I am sure lots of other school leaders, spend having to prove what we are doing and the impact we are having in our role. I am beginning to feel more and more that, if we cannot tick all the boxes and provide all the hard 'evidence' and 'data' to support our claim to be working continually for the benefit of all our learners, and to be keeping improving this, we are presumed Guilty or at least Not Proven. I don't want to feel like a defendant, but that is what it feels like when completing a lot of the expected bureaucracy and actions attached to my role. I often feel Guilty in some eyes until I am able to prove myself innocent of the charge of indolence, low expectations and ignorance of the impact of my actions.

I believe in a level accountability, but I equally believe in professional responsibility and trust. It is my contention that we have got the metrics of school, teacher and leadership evaluations out of all balance. These are heavily weighted in favour of accountability, and of having to prove what you are doing. Perhaps there should be more weight attached to trust and professional actions which support learning and development. To really find the 'evidence' about how well staff and I are performing in our respective roles, 'investigators' would have to spend a considerable amount of time working alongside us and speaking to us and our learners. Trouble is that it often feels that there is not sufficient time or expertise to carry out the 'thorough investigation' required to come to a considered verdict.  More Clouseau than Poirot. We have limited time, limited resources and limited capacity to give to accurate judgements. Imagine if cases were all decided in a few days and following snapshots in time of any accused's behaviour. Having a bad day? Guilty! Not feeling well? Guilty! Problems at home? Guilty! Lack of paperwork? Guilty! And so it goes on. It seems to me that a lot of the 'accountability' agenda is driven by those who aren't actually delivering having to justify their roles and impact, not about enhancing learning.

I am sick of having to prove everything I do with reams of paperwork and incessant conversations with various 'visitors.' Just think what we could be doing if we weren't spending hours having to prove everything. We could be working with pupils who could really benefit from extra support, and which we couldn't otherwise provide. We could support teachers in developing the learning and teaching experiences for all learners. We could work with parents to help them support learning and support the school. We could work with our peers to develop mutually supportive collaborative learning cultures. We could read and engage with more research to be able to better support staff and colleagues. We would have more time to think and plan strategically. We would have more time to get into more classrooms. In short, we could keep the main thing the main thing. You never know we might even help raise attainment, close some gaps and actually lead!

I am unsure if this is a common problem for school leaders. The jury is out!


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