“Sir, what’s that on your arm?”

[TW: Suicide, self-harm]
On Friday, I got a new tattoo. It was a spur of the moment decision, made on Tuesday morning and booked in on Tuesday afternoon. The design for the tattoo was similarly put together over the course of an hour around Tuesday lunchtime.

After roughly 45 minutes work, by 6pm I had this on my right forearm:

Semicolon TatAlthough the decision to get it done on Friday was quick, I have wanted to get this type of tattoo done for a while now.

This will be my most visible tattoo. My other three are (largely) covered up day-to-day. But unless I start to wear long sleeves all the time (and even when I wear shirts these days, I tend to have the cuffs rolled back a few times), eventually students will see this tattoo, and inevitably one will ask me what it means.

The design is a semicolon, with a taijitu in place of the tittle. The taijitu represents my interest in Taoist philosophy, something I first discovered when I was 17.

Why a semicolon? Well, this is the part that requires the trigger warning at the start of the post. I first saw semicolons drawn or tattooed onto wrists a few months ago, associated with The Semicolon Project. A semicolon is where an author could have ended a sentence, but chose not to. So it has been adopted as a symbol by those who at one time came face to face with a moment when they could have ended their own sentences, but chose to let them continue.

The semicolon is a reminder to, and “My story is not finished” is a promise by, those who have self-harmed or attempted suicide in the past, that it is ok to reach out and seek help.

I first discovered Taoist philosophy when I was 17. 17 is also the age at which I can identify I had begun to suffer mental health problems. The two aren’t connected (although the philosophy has helped me to cope at times), but the coincidence is quite nice.

17 is when I first remember struggling with suicidal ideation. From that age, I have regularly struggled with it and there have been times when I have felt like succumbing to it. I have also recently come to realise that I also self-harm. When I am unhappy, when I feel I have done something bad, I punish myself to feel pain in a bid to atone for what I feel I have done wrong. It’s not healthy by any means, and the fact that it has taken me so long to recognise and name it as self-harm is frightening. But I recognise it now; saying it publicly, acknowledging this is something I do and have done, isn’t so that I can boast, or ask for sympathy and congratulations for my “bravery”.

I’m doing it because being open about my mental health problems is important to me as a teacher. In all the time I have worked in education, I have met scores of children with serious mental health problems. Maybe this was kept hidden when we were children, but I don’t recall mental health being an issue on the scale it is now. I have taught and counselled children with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and students who self-harm or are suicidal.

Being open about the problems, saying “I have this too” is enormously liberating to students who would otherwise suffer in silence. I know students who come forward to members of staff and have said that they only reason they came forward was because that member of staff was open about mental health issues. Otherwise, these issues may remain hidden, ignored, slowly eroding a student’s potential to succeed, and potentially only becoming known in tragic circumstances.

It was one of the reasons I undertook ASIST training in 2013. Within three days of completing my training, I had to put it into use, helping a young person in Canada who reached out via Twitter. And I’ve had to use it since, with children and adults.

Suicide doesn’t go away if we keep quiet about it. Talking about it doesn’t “put the idea in someone’s head” or encourage people to attempt suicide, in fact, the opposite is the case. When someone is feeling suicidal, talking is the best thing for them. It takes the smallest thing to turn someone away from suicide, and in most cases that is all they will ever need.

Now I have a visible tattoo which marks me as someone who has faced suicide and self-harm. It is in a place that students will see. I hope that they will ask “Sir, what is that on your arm?”, so that I can tell them. I can explain to them what it means, and more importantly what it means to me. And I hope that if any student is struggling with these issues, they’ll be able to see that they don’t have to struggle alone; there are people they can talk to.

As long as we are talking, no story is truly finished.

Back to the chalkface

When last our hero blogged he was attending a teaching conference in darkest East London, in a decidedly non-teaching capacity. Now, read on…

Change comes so rapidly at times that it hardly seems you’ve got used to one situation when things turn completely around and you are once again plunging into “interesting times”. For once though it is an uncertainty of my choosing. Even more unusually, it isn’t a Very Bad Thing but a Very Exciting Thing…

After taking voluntary redundancy from Murder College I found myself without work and a track record of ultimately unsuccessful interviews. Thankfully, on the same day that I returned to the Hell Mouth that is the Hounslow Job Centre to sign on, I received a phone call from my former manager at Murder College. She too had escaped to Better Things, and wanted to know if I was still looking for work, because she was still looking for a Head of Student Services.

A meeting was swiftly arranged for the next day at her new employer, Surrey Hogwarts. I had a half hour chat with the Principal, and in no time agreed to start the next day as their new Head of Student Services. A three-month interim contract swiftly became a one-year contract, and that is what I’ve done since August up until last Friday.

In December I had applied and interviewed for a position as Team Leader for English at the College Julia works at. On the last Wednesday of term before Christmas they called me to tell me I had not been successful. I had the management experience, but not the teaching experience, and the successful candidate had both.

However, they had been very impressed with my interview, so much so that they created a position for me and wanted to know if I would accept it! The position is part teaching (GCSE, A Level & Functional Skills), part pastoral (tutorials) and part safeguarding. I accepted, and handed in my notice to Surrey Hogwarts.

So on Monday I am back at the chalkface, and a little nervous. It has been over a year since I taught regularly, and I have never taught A Level before. But I’m also excited at the opportunity to take on new areas in a subject I love, and by all accounts the students and my managers are excited to have me. I fear I have been very heavily trailed, so have some expectations to live up to!

Friday was a very odd day. Usually when I leave a job it’s because I’m tired of doing it, or tired of the place I do it at. In the case of Murder College, it was soured by my experiences there. But Friday was different. I left Surrey Hogwarts with a mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy because I was leaving the department in a better place than I had come into it. I had done the job I was brought in to do. And sorrow because I will genuinely miss working there. My team and department are great. My manager was more than just a manager but a real mentor to me. The SLT are the nicest and most supportive managers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for. So although I am moving to a job that I really want to do, it was a bit of a wrench to leave.

I’ve spent the past couple of months reading texts, looking at specifications and gathering up essential supplies (the joy of stationery!). Ready or not, here I go…

A conversation at ResearchED

Last Saturday J and I trailed into the wilds of East London to attend ResearchED2014.

Michael Cladingbowl (National Director, Inspection Reform at Ofsted) was giving a talk to an incredibly packed audience about the future of Ofsted. And I was one of the sardines packed in tightly to listen.

And also ask a question, about Ofsted, FE Colleges, and why Ofsted could do nothing about Murder College. The upshot of which was a private conversation with Michael and his contact details to discuss further. So that’s happening.

Meanwhile Murder College is lauding its recent Ofsted success with a banner advertising it is a “safe and supportive” environment. I’m not sure for whom. Not staff and students. Perhaps it is safe for gang members, supportive for bullies and tyrants, because those doing the most wrong certainly always seemed to have the college on their side.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that one of the first students I taught was convicted of murder, along with others all connected to Murder College. And still there’s “no problem” at the “safe and supportive” College. Good, with Outstanding dangers…

Posts are remaining password protected until I’ve spoken to Michael Cladingbowl, but if anyone wants the password, leave a comment or contact me via Twitter or the contact form on the site and I’ll let you know it.

Quick explanation

As you may have noticed, my last few posts disappeared (briefly) and are now password protected.

On Wednesday I received a phonecall from the child protection team at the local council. Ofsted had passed my complaints on to them and they are investigating. They were due to hand deliver my complaint to the principal of the college at a meeting that day, and wanted to know if I was willing to be identified.

As I no longer work at the College I agreed.

The police were also attending the meeting due to some of the allegations.

Due to the involvement of child protection and the police I have decided to take the posts out of public view to avoid compromising any investigation.

Outcome of Ofsted complaint

Part 1: Good men do nothing
Part 2: Letter sent to Ofsted Inspector – Spring 2014
Part 3: Response from Ofsted Inspectors and Aftermath – Spring 2014
Part 4: An Inspector calls
Part 5: Back to Ofsted
Part 6: The Skills Funding Agency gets involved

In the first week of August I received the outcome of the Ofsted investigation. From the limited area they could look at, I wasn’t hoping for much. My comments on their outcomes follow the letter itself. Please click on each image for a larger size version.
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