This weekend has been something of a promoting one. It started last week, with Black Friday deals appearing among my emails trying to persuade me to take a holiday, a hotel or to buy a wide variety of stuff that had been “reduced in price”. It was quite relentless; sometimes several times each day from a couple of sources. It was very much “in your face”. I’m loathe to stop following the different sites, because occasionally something piques my interest and it results in some research and a purchase.
It felt a bit like that on Saturday, with a day conference linked to Michaela School, to incorporate their book launch. Again, it was somewhat relentless in the Twitter feed, with tweets being retweeted. I seem to follow a number of people linked to the event, and, for some reason, they seem to follow me, even an avowed “child-centred inclusionist”. But, even one of the tweeters did admit that it was something of a promotion event. It’s always an odd feeling to hear any school be quite so self-promoting. I remember the first local Grant Maintained Primary school, where the head entered assembly to “Simply the Best”, replete with monickered baseball cap; sound familiar?
In the blog, I proposed a formula:
It already has a vision, and you may well have been appointed to maintain it, or face a long battle with the Governors.
You may be lucky to require to change it, to set the basis for improving the school.
Your building will have been developed to secure the education that was the brainchild of your predecessor. If there are issues with the building, these can often take a disproportionate amount of time to resolve, even within an organisation wishing to establish a good start and make changes. Building works cost, sometimes very large amounts. Interesting that there has been a report this week where Academy chains are refusing to take on some schools with building issues; they are costly to resolve. There’s even a “Try before you buy” scheme!
Like all things, over time, from the original vision, curricular aims and objectives, bits will have been added to any original structure, all of which will be evident in the offered curriculum and the outcomes.
Depending on where the school is, the availability of staff will be a significant factor. Working in the south east of Hampshire, we occasionally went from feast to famine, dependent on naval staff stability and rising house prices. On some occasions, I would have in excess of 60 applicants for a post, while at other times this could be just a handful. Being able to hand pick a near-perfect fit to a role is a bonus.
I would suggest that most schools are in this position, with some in far worse positions than I ever was. I did often start the term, in a one form entry Primary, in a classroom, where movement late in the summer meant an inability to fill a post. Being a teacher at heart, I preferred to be in the classroom doing an 80% effective job, than having a series of supplies and fielding the inevitable queues of parents wanting to know why their children’s education was being affected.
Every context is different. It’s that simple. Each context requires adaptable solutions, to resolve each issue as it arises. It’s not a case of implanting an orthodoxy onto the school and expecting immediate alteration of course.
Winning hearts and minds to the vision is an initial step.
· It takes time to really audit the school provision;
· To get to know each person well enough to be able to determine roles;
· To deeply understand the school in it’s context, including community opportunities;
· To determine an overview action plan, giving ownership of elements to key people;
· articulating the brief and the direction of travel, with check points;
· Creating the time and finding the finances to support them in making initial changes that begin the process through small achievements;
· Evaluating and articulating ongoing successes, however minor, to sustain momentum;
· Taking everyone with you. This can be the hardest part. Inbuilt resistance to change can be part of the human condition. Avoiding both “We’ve always done it like this” and “In my last school” discussions.
Schools are subject to change, which can sometimes be rapid and radical. This can be down to staff illness, movement for promotions or just relocation, disagreements with the ethos or a multitude of other reasons. Where replacements are not forthcoming, the effects are exaggerated with inevitable community questions, rumour and intrigue. This adds layers to the issues, which often create a momentum of their own. A school can appear to go from hero to zero quite rapidly. Schools can literally become “sick”.
I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Where I have seen this, during my career, it has caused casualties, often among people who were very good at their job. Teaching is a humane, human role; events impact on us. Schools cannot be totally immune to external forces.
If you are fortunate, school development is progressive (word used appropriately), learning is progressive (ditto), children make progress, teachers and parents are happy and everyone can be a little more relaxed and refined in their approach, adding still further to the sum of the parts. It is not the same for everyone.
Context is likely to be everything and demographics can be a significant factor.
Mind you, if the Government cannot sort general building and teacher supply, the whole system has a major problem and, however good the sticking plasters applied by heads to their schools, some patches will break, and become infections.
One (self-proclaimed, for now) good school doesn’t make a good system.