Educational leadership & learning

I know it’s not a very original title, but you can learn useful things from reflecting on the past.

Our context.

Our school opened in September 2013 with two teachers, two LSAs, one Admin Officer and a part-time Executive HT. They started with 27 pupils, this year we have 68 pupils. I joined the school in September 2014, with the knowledge that we would be inspected during the school’s second year.

Having spoken to other HTs of new and / or small schools, what has become increasingly evident is how much work it takes to ensure all policies, practices, routines, systems… are set up and working smoothly, to say nothing of ensuring the best quality of teaching and learning, progress rates, data analysis, self-evaluation…building trusting and effective relationships with staff, pupils, parents and governors…It has also been clear that with only a few staff, it is not possible to develop, refine and embed everything that one might like, or that was on the Strategic Development Plan.

Awaiting the call.

Therefore since the start of the year there has definitely been a metaphorical ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over our collective head. We have been working very hard and as quickly as possible to ensure as much is in place and working effectively before we were visited. I haven’t properly taken care of myself during this time, and I have lost sleep worrying about the possible outcomes.

Possible outcomes

As I have explained to my governors there are two paths (at each extreme) that could be the consequence of this first Ofsted of our school, in this my first year of headship.

1. Get a Good, Have three years to grow and build the school the way we think best, with a long term and broad view of growing and investing in people, and without a negative external focus and relentless drive. In three years time be revisited and judged as Outstanding, and actually be Outstanding, or as we are phrasing it: an Exceptional Learning Community.

2. Get a Requires Improvement. Have a short time span to turn things around, with parent dissatisfied and filled with mistrust, staff stressed, overworked and perhaps going off on long term sick, short-term solutions forced upon us by external advisors and a focus on a narrow curriculum, view of learning and personal development. Not achieve enough at a quick enough pace to satisfy a second inspection, be forced into becoming an academy, I would be sacked and possibly unable to gain another headship or senior leadership position.

So yes I have lost lots of sleep worrying about it.

The call.

We received the call on a Tuesday, whilst I was at an Assessment Conference, learning and thinking more about the way forward for this new view of teaching and learning in line with the new National Curriculum and one of my three teachers was on two week Jury Service.

I obviously rushed straight back to school. The staff were fantastic working hard and remaining focused and positive. I shared a one page document of key messages, which asked them to focus on the children as usual, and to be proud of our achievements and pro-active about sharing the positives of the two days. Staff stayed at school until 8pm, when I insisted they leave, but we were all back by 6 am.

The inspection.

I must fully and whole heartedly commend our inspector: “An Inspector called” Michael Burghart. He was professional, open, challenging, rigorous, interested and carried out a very thorough process. However he started by explaining that his view was that the process should support the school’s journey of development and help celebrate the successes as much as identify targets for improvement. It was his approach and philosophy towards the inspection process that made the two days worthwhile, valuable for us as a school and actually quite enjoyable.

He was very open and frank in conversations with myself. I found  myself perhaps sharing more of my thinking that I might have planned, but it actually clarified my thinking and plans for the next 12 months. It was almost at times as though we had paid him to come in as an external consultant to advise and support us on our strategic development priorities.

If all schools could experience such a professional and balanced approach in their inspection I am sure that it would only help to rebuild trust in Ofsted and be invaluable in developing and improving the education system. When there is future training for inspectors I would highly recommend Michael Wilshaw to make use of Michael Burghart’s wisdom and expertise in providing some of that training.

The future

So we have three years (unless the framework changes) to grow our school, our pupils, staff and the whole community to provide a broad, meaningful and empowering education based on our shared values, and the way we think best. Pupils are inspired, staff are confident and energised, parents are involved and supportive and governors are proud and determined to continue the school’s development.

If every school community was left feeling like this following an inspection I wonder what might happen to the education system as a whole?

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