Rearview Mirror wb 6 February 2017

Posted on February 14, 2017

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Last week I had a go at capturing some of the events in a ‘week in the life of a Headteacher’. You can view it here. I thought I’d see how it worked for me and for others before deciding whether or not to write another. 

Having received some lovely feedback from those in the same role and others hoping to move into Headship at some point, the best response came when one of my colleagues took inspiration to write his own ‘day in the life of a Head of Year’ post. Alongside the semi-therapeutic feeling that came from ‘writing out’ a challenging week, it feels right to give it another go. 

Saturday 4 February

This weekend saw the first session of our Teaching School Alliance programme, ‘Working with Complexity in School Leadership’.  We had specially invited just six colleagues from six different schools to join this leadership course with a difference. Chris Mowles, of the University of Hertfordshire’s Business School, is a renowned author of a number of essays and books on how complexity theory can inform management in organisations such as schools and he helped me and my fellow TSA Head shape this programme. He delivered the first session which saw participants sharing aspects of their work that can’t be easily solved and, perhaps, may be unsolveable.  These issues are going to underpin the remainder of the programme, linking with the theoretical framework, with participants returning to the same ‘problem’ in the five remaining sessions spread out over the course of this calendar year. 

On a personal level this session was one of those relatively rare moments when, as a Head, you start and complete a project. As such, it was a delight to see and hear how much the colleagues invited enjoyed this alternative approach to school leadership. Most of my work is about supporting others to bring projects to fruition, which is the thing I love most about being a Head, but it’s hugely rewarding to create something too. 

Monday 6 February

I began Monday, as I began every day this week, by popping into assembly to let the students know about our new partnership with the London Bees FA Women’s Super League 2 side. Last year we employed their goalkeeper as a PE teacher and their manager comes and teaches at the school two half days per week. Late last year we agreed a deal that sees our school’s name on the front of their shirts in return for our students editing their match day programme and marketing the team’s fixtures to drive up attendance.  One of my colleagues managed to persuade the club to waive entrance fees for our students for the first home game of the season and so the assemblies were to advertise this fact and get students to pick up the vouchers that would convert into tickets at the weekend, with a raffle for rewards for those who attend. 

This is another of those personal projects for me. We have really strong links with the men’s team at Barnet FC and that means many of our boys have the chance to train with the club and, as the proud father of a daughter, I was keen that whatever we can offer the boys at our school we can also offer the girls. Already one of our sixth formers has begun attending the training of the Bees’ development squad and I’m sure that there will be others who do so in the future. And for the boys there are plenty of opportunities as supporters and as media or marketing gurus of the future. The move also further strengthens our local footprint, in keeping with our school vision: “at the heart of our community, with community at our heart”. 

The bulk of the day was taken up with a preparatory meeting for our Research School interview on Wednesday but, just in case I should be in danger of getting carried away with the whole ‘strategic thinking’ malarkey, my participation in the meeting was brought to an untimely end by having to go out and deal with the Y7 pupil who had ‘lost it’ following a lunchtime falling out with his peers. The young man in question eventually calmed down (just in time to receive his punishment!) thanks to the work of some fantastic colleagues, but it was a reminder that for all the big plans you may have as a Headteacher it is also important to ‘sweat the small stuff’ too. I’ve already met since then with the Head of Year 7 to set up an assembly for the start of the next half term in order to strongly reassert our expectations of them at Canons. Tutors have, this week, already pre-empted this with a “the Head isn’t pleased” talk during tutor time and quite a few Y7s have spoken with me to apologise, the sweeties. 

Tuesday 7 February 

Today was scheduled for up to three interviews for our School Direct Salaried teacher training route, which we call Harrow First. It’s a small programme but, we think, perfectly formed. Okay, perhaps not perfectly formed but research-informed and, so far, wonderfully successful. But in spite of its modest size it requires a huge amount of effort on the part of our Director of Teaching School, in liaison with her counterparts at our co-lead school and our co-lead HEI partner. And that work doesn’t always bear fruit thanks to the highly bureaucratic system that seems almost designed to create confusion and put people off getting into teaching. 

Sure enough, the one Biologist and two Mathematicians becomes just the one biologist and in the end no appointment is made to add to the English and History teachers we have already appointed for next year. We will stay positive though and keep the multiple plates spinning for as long as the recruitment window remains open. Although other schools have yet to realise the benefits of School Direct and many of them are still entirely reliant upon PGCE placements and general recruitment, we have seen first hand just how much progress colleagues can make under a school-led route. If only it wasn’t so Kafkaesque to get them through the doors and into the classroom. 

Wednesday 8 February

Today was all about the two hour Research School interview with the IEE (in person) and EEF (by conference call). When we first started working towards Teaching School status back in 2011, my very first paper to my SLT talked about learning from the Teaching Hospital or University Hospital model within healthcare. By the time we were designated in 2014 we pledged that our alliance would invert the Big 6 and make R&D the lens through which we would approach every aspect of our work as a Teaching School, a pledge that I think we have pretty well honoured. 

Unsurprisingly then, when Research Schools were first advertised (at that time by the NCTL) we were on it immediately, only to be disappointed when the period of purdah ahead of the 2015 General Election delayed the process and the new Conservative government dropped it. The IEE/EEF picked it up in 2016 and, as an already shortlisted school, we were invited to submit a new application to meet the changed specs of the role, but I rather messed up the submission by failing to articulate our vision of the role as being about bridging the research/practice divide and we never made it to interview. 

This time around I wisely left the writing of the application to two colleagues at Canons and one at our nearest and dearest co-lead school, Park High. Together they articulated a much more focused vision that tapped into what other agencies in the new partnership would want whilst remaining true to our own potentially valuable contribution as a Research School and within a network of Research Schools. Hence the interview. 

So how did it go?  Who knows?  It means so much to every one of us that we have been flipping between retelling parts of the process that we think really resonated with our interviewers and those parts that we think may have not played so well. For example we brought many colleagues, from our schools but also from other schools and from our key university partners (all of whom were wonderful), because we wanted to show the impact of a deeply ingrained culture of research and the capacity for even greater involvement at a systemic level but perhaps we put too many people in front of them and blinded them to the coherence that we believe underpins our bid. 

Whatever the outcome – and we won’t find that out for almost a month – we laid out all of our cards for our interviewers to see. We may not be strong in all aspects of the role yet, and at times we may seem like we want to challenge the dominant thinking about the role of research in education (we do and we don’t, understanding the importance of working with the system even as we engage in debate with it) but we have a strong and, I believe, highly moral sense of purpose that has been built over time and enacted wisely and well. I hope that they find room for us within their network and within their paradigm because we wouldn’t let them down if they do. 

Thursday 9 February 

Sometimes the different things in a diverse week connect up. One of the research-informed decisions we made about our School Direct training programme was to attach a full-time Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) to each of our trainees, in each lesson for the first term and then gradually withdrawing as the school year wears on and the trainee becomes more confident in their classroom. As well as providing a deeper layer of support for the trainee, our main intention was to bring through potential new trainees through the route. 

This year marked our first success in this intention with one of my HLTA colleagues this year already appointed as a trainee History teacher at Park High for next year. As the current trainee she supports is at university each Thursday I have had the pleasure of her company with 8I for History on a number of occasions this year. Today she took her first section of the lesson, a discussion about what the children already knew about slavery and what questions they had about it. 

The kids are great at discussion work, perhaps the best KS3 class I have ever taught in this respect, but it still takes a lot of skill to manage it. She was brilliant and showed me just what a talent Park have picked up. Naturally, I spoke with her about some improvements for next time, such as lifting the volume to that slightly unnatural level that experienced teachers use, but the ability to manage a whiteboard and a class discussion was beautifully demonstrated. The switching between establishing closed questioning, challenging secondary questioning and deepening open questioning were also much better than I mustered for most of my first term as a PGCE student. This was perhaps the highlight of my week and I’m already looking forward to seeing her take another class discussion after half term. 

Friday 10 February

Another Friday morning and another meeting with a parent, and one who wasn’t particularly happy with us. As always with these things I shan’t go into the details but one of the joys of parents who ask tough questions is that they are also usually pretty good when you do the same. We don’t make any claim to be perfect and, as with any organisation, we can get things wrong but nor do we ask the children to be perfect (or their parents) but we do ask that adult authority is respected just as they ask that established procedures are followed. I think and hope that we got to the bottom of the matter later in the day, and when a colleague called home in the afternoon everyone seemed to be happy. It took a lot of work on the part of that colleague, as these things do, but we both think that it’ll prove to be worth it. 

Interestingly enough the boot was on the other foot in my next meeting with our Safer Schools Officer. As with all partnerships, there are times when different perspectives and different roles can lead to different actions and different interpretations of these actions. Such has been the case in the past week, but once we got past emails and met with one another it was a reminder of how much of the ground is common and how many of the things we want are the same. We are blessed to have a Safer Schools Officer who has that personal touch and it was good to meet with her again. 

Saturday 11 February

Although it was the first day of half term, I had one more duty for the week: attending the first home game of the season for the London Bees. Having issued over 200 of the vouchers for free tickets in Friday morning’s registers, I was dearly hoping that as many as a third of those would convert into spectators but was also worried that the almost sub-zero temperatures might mean only a few dozen would turn up. 

As I drove into the ground with my daughter I was heartened to see a handful of Canons’ kids heading towards the stadium but it wasn’t until after I’d met a few of the key people at the club that I found out that well over a hundred had come along. The first half began well but the Bees went one-nil down and I wondered how resilient they would be. Half time came, along with the news that this was their best ever attendance of over 700, and then fortunes turned. An equaliser came, which our kids cheered to the rafters, and from then on our team dominated possession and chances. Sadly, converting those chances into a second goal never happened but it was great entertainment nonetheless and I’m sure that many of the students will be back again for the second home game in early March. 

My final act for this half term as Head of Canons was as odd as any in the past two and a half years, naming and presenting a trophy to the ‘Player of the Match’. Although there were some fantastic performances, the classy midfield display, team captaincy and equalising goal of Ashleigh Goddard shone through. I hope those of our students who attended saw how those qualities of hard work, skill, leadership and end product combined in the work of this player and I hope that they come to emulate her in their own worlds. 

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