Through the Eyes of Children

Hildi Mitchell

Over the past few weeks I’ve shown hundreds of prospective parents round my infant school. I’ve also shown round a dozen prospective candidates for two job vacancies. I’ve highlighted our focus on sessions of independent, active play-based learning within the school day and without exception my visitors have reflected back to me our belief that this kind of schooling is what they want for their children.

And yet, when my school partnership advisor comes in, he purses his lips and warns me of ‘difficult conversations’ to come with OFSTED. Fellow heads describe me as ‘brave’. My governors ask me to defend the ‘rigour’ (which we have done, to their satisfaction). How is it possible that the desires of parents and carers for their children, and the vision of professionals working in the sector can be so at odds with the education system we are pressured to offer?

As the parent of two children who struggled within the system (one with ASC/PDA and the other with an anxiety disorder which means she can’t leave the house but gets distinctions on every piece of OU course work she submits) I am hyper-tuned to the dissonance between the large scale, one size fits all, knowledge transfer model that schools are increasingly accountable to, and the flexible, self directed, interest led model that suits some children much better.

I cannot change the system, but I can create small spaces where the children in my care can flourish. It is this which motivates me when everything else in my professional life seems like whistling into the wind (and I can’t even whistle!). These ‘small spaces’ include:

  • Classrooms where children have ownership of resources including their own time.
  • Sensory rooms which have light/dark/quiet/music/sequins/velvet (delete as appropriate).
  • Space where children can move.
  • Deadlines which are flexible and include the time to spend longer on things where ‘flow’ is happening.
  • Adults who use their ears to listen to children and their hearts to open to children’s interests.

These provisions may be informed by my experiences with children, but when I look at this list I see things that I as an adult also need in my own life. May we as school leaders take time to reflect on our provision not just through the eyes of our governors and the DfE, but also through the eyes of children, and through our own eyes, using what motivates and fulfils us as adults to provide what will motivate our children to become the kinds of adults that we want them to become.

Hildi Mitchell Headteacher, Downs Infants School, Brighton

Hildi is a participant on LEAP! a group coaching programme for Headteachers, run by Nadia Hewstone (Destino Coaching). In the course the group is challenged to write a blog about a personal experience of headship. We are very grateful to Hildi for sharing her story.

To find out more about 1:1 coaching and LEAP!, please contact Nadia at

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