Leaders, Assemble!

In recent years, the education conference landscape has changed dramatically. There are still the same traditional conferences knocking about the place but they are being eclipsed by a grass roots movement of pedagogy platforms. Teachers are doing it for themselves. What’s more, they’re doing it at weekends and they’re loving it.

I’ve been to my fair share of these and I’ve always left feeling the same things:

  1. Teachers are cool!
  2. Teaching is exciting!
  3. Why does everyone hate SLT?

In my opinion it’s time for leaders to get in on the action and start a revolution of their own.

And, it was with this thought in mind that I jumped at the chance to be involved in a new education conference for the South West. At the moment, it has a date, Saturday 1st July 2017, but no name: #ConferenceWithNoName.

I am determined that, as well as being an incredible day of pedagogical wonder, it will be an opportunity for everyday leaders to have their say too.

I’m looking for leaders who are passionate about education and who unite teachers through their leadership.

  • Leaders who unify.
  • Leaders who strengthen.
  • Leaders who inspire whilst keeping it real.
  • Leaders who understand.
  • Leaders who care beyond ofsted and themselves.

If you think you could talk for about an hour, on an element of your leadership, and after that hour people would leave thinking:

  1. Leaders can be cool!
  2. Leading can be exciting!
  3. Who knew you could love SLT?

Then I want to hear from you.

I can’t promise you money. I can’t promise you fame or fortune. But I can promise you a firm handshake and a roomful of people who will be interested and a free drink if it all goes wrong.

If you fancy inspiring the next generation of school leaders, or just want to show people that leadership is a force for good, then please get in touch.

Leave me a comment under this post stating the area of leadership you would be interested in talking about and a way of contacting you (Twitter handle or email) and I will get back to you.

Thanks for reading.


Just gimme some truth


I’m sick and tired of hearing things

From uptight, short sighted

Narrow-minded hypocritics

All I want is the truth

Just gimme some truth

John Lennon

It must be a tough gig being a Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC). I mean, no one in education must ever want to talk to you. If I got a call coming through saying the RSC was on the line, I’d immediately order the shredding of my RaiseOnline and fax Justine Greening my application to convert to a grammar school, just so I could avoid talking to them. Their sole purpose, according to the DfE website is ‘to sack work with school leaders to make more academies take action in underperforming schools’. That basically means: if they need to talk to you, you’re yesterday’s news.

Still, that doesn’t seem to bother them much. In fact, you can’t help admire their single-minded visionary approach to education. It turns out anything can be solved by becoming a Multi Academy Trust (MAT). I genuinely did not know that. I knew that it was a Tory policy to transform any type of school into a MAT by 2020 but I didn’t know that it was actually the best thing that could happen in education. Until, that is, I heard the South West RSC talk to a group of Heads last week.

Rebecca Clark began her talk by saying that she believes MATS are the best vehicles for effective partnerships. I looked around the room, at all the Heads I have worked with over the years, and I realised she was right. For years we have been pretending to work together: turning up at cluster meetings, conducting peer reviews, taking part in moderation activities…and for what? Selfishly working with other schools to help our own. If only we were a MAT. Then we could really work together, rather than pretending to, and we could probably afford better coffee.

The nail had been hit. But, there was more.

For too long, Rebecca said, in this MAT-less landscape we call our home, any successes have been accidental. I scanned the room and I saw the shamed faces of my colleagues, all of whom had previously claimed that they had systematically improved their schools through careful and diligent planning. All they could do now was stare at the floor as they heard the truth: their improvements had in fact been accidents. But MATs are not accidents. MATs are planned. MATs are good.

And don’t start with some lily-livered lament about moral purpose. Everyone knows, declared Rebecca, moral purpose isn’t enough. Only a moral imperative works. And of course, that’s right. Heads only cared about disadvantaged children once they were given a budget for them and held accountable for their progress by Ofsted. I thought back to all those conversations I’ve had with Heads who talked about the only reason they’re helping the poorer children was so they had something to brag about on their website. ‘Don’t know if 1:1 tuition helps the little sods but Ofsted bloody love it!’ I once heard a local authority Head say at conference whilst a chain of MAT Heads walked out in disgust.

Rebecca, and I’m sure this is true of all RSCs, can’t stand it when she hears Executive Heads bang on about their school development plan being financially viable. Excuse me? But what about it being educationally viable? How about you put your ego aside and focus on the child before the cash cow Mr Executive? The only small issue here – and I hate to bring it up – is that I think only MAT Heads call themselves Executives. Maybe the RSC should change that bit because I’m sure it’s the local authority school Heads, like me, who brag about our massive budgets.

For the second half of her talk Rebecca discussed how school improvement works and how schools should think about the academic and emotional education they provide their communities in order to have a positive social impact. Every school leader should be committed to ensuring that no child in their community, or their neighbouring area, should attend a poor school. Schools should work together on common areas of need. Schools should add value to their communities and be able to sustain any improvements they make so that they are a viable option for years to come.

But, of course, I didn’t really understand that bit because this is only what MATs do.

I guess it won’t be long until I do understand it though. Because, luckily, MATs are coming. It’s time to declutter and repair all that nuanced and individual leadership that has accidentally, and yet steadily, improved the state of education over the last decade. Now is the time of false dogmas that help those in power peddle the concept of structured school partnerships. We all, apparently, need to be intentionally (not intelligently) re-designed so that we can all stand on the same MAT, hold hands, cross our fingers and hope it works out for the best.

Until then though, I think I’ll carry on screening my calls.

And he said ‘let there be light’ and there was…well it wasn’t as dark, let’s just leave it at that.

Beginning my third year as a Head I think we would all agree I am now considered something of an oracle of leadership. That must be why I have found myself co-co-ordinating an induction programme for new Heads in Bristol. There is not a lot I don’t know about being a head and all the fresh-faced newbies attending the five day course will find that out pretty quickly – I probably won’t show my powers too early for fear of intimidating them but, they’ll know…I mean one look at me and they’ll just know.

Or so I thought when @manwithadog asked if I would like to help him lead the induction programme – it was him that the LA actually asked for. In reality I think he only asked me to tag along for my PowerPoint and Prezi skills and to have someone to organise the photocopying. The fact that the local authority said ‘Who?’ when he put my name forward is neither here nor there and should be put out of the reader’s mind for the rest of this post.

So, yes, I was very pleased and excited to be helping the heads of tomorrow (well the heads of today really, but you get my point).

Then I made the mistake of visiting @PrimaryHead1 at the weekend, who has recently left the city to go and work in the country, under the delusion that the more cows at the end of your garden, the less stress you feel at the end of the day. After I had sampled the very best of country living (this consisted of walking past a chicken farm, attempting to row a boat, suggestively feeling up a bulrush and trying to get a cow to lick my hand) we started to talk about his new school.

It was about this time that I began to feel the old familiar pangs of insecurity and, whatever the word is that describes the feeling that you’re drowning in a pool of inadequacy whilst being arrested for fraud. As @PrimaryHead1 began to talk about his new school it dawned on me just how terrifying taking over a school is. I don’t care what kind of school it is, becoming the Head of it, is a challenge in the way that Everest is a steep hill. When you actually learn the reality of your own school however, that steep hill becomes an even more gargantuan climb. Think I’m over egging the pudding? Well, consider if you will, the last time you met a Head Teacher who said at the end of their first term ‘This is going to be easier than I thought actually’ and you can be rest assured that the egg in my proverbial pudding is over your face and not mine.

No, becoming a Head of a new school is terrifying. A school that is out of your comfort zone: even more so; and although that could mean a special school, a massive school, a small school, an urban school, a country school, an academy, a free school (I could go on) it could also, quite rightfully, mean any school where suddenly you are the accountable one.

So this was just great, I was now feeling that I would be the worst person to induct a bunch of new Heads, but I dutifully created a PowerPoint, did some photocopying, chose a tie that suggested ‘confident control’ and prepared to look wise.

As the first induction day continued and the new Heads appreciated both the transition effects I had selected for the slideshow and the fact that I had colour photocopied everything, we began to ask them to reflect on their year so far. Just like @PrimaryHead1, each of their situations sounded uniquely terrifying to me. But as we continued round the group I noticed some common themes, dilemmas and questions:

  1. What you were told about the school on interview day and what you found out about the school by the end of day one tended to differ significantly.
  2. How do you get the school community to see things differently and accept that change is coming whilst being sensitive to the fact that they’ve been working very hard to make this what it is today?
  3. Who do you ring when you have to do something ‘Headteachery’ and you haven’t a clue how?

After listening to their own tales of how they jumped out of the frying pan and ended up in the fire I began to relax – not because I’m a sadist but because I realised that I may yet be of some help. You see I know what it’s like to realise that the job you took on is too big for you and that if you’d known you wouldn’t have accepted, heck, if the interview panel had known they wouldn’t have asked you in the first place. I know what it’s like to be a lone voice within a community desperately trying to get them to come with you in the hope that they don’t all rise up beat you senseless with a copy of your own SEF. And I also know what it’s like to not know many, many things and be too fearful of ringing another Head for help in case I’m rightfully judged to be an idiot. I know all this…and I’m still a Head!

I’ve lived through all their fears – still do on a daily basis – and I’m still here.

I am the proof that you can do it.

I am the light.

I am the oracle.

I am a Head.