The Annual West Sussex Deputies Conference November 2012

It’s been quite a busy few months educationally. The conference circuit has been fast and furious and if you have managed to keep up with all the headlines and the twitter/blogging activity then you must have managed to find hours in the day that didn’t exist previously! It seems like more than a month since we all gathered together at Avisford Hall for the West Sussex Deputies Annual Conference, but gather we did in significant numbers for a full-on day of high quality leadership learning. We were fortunate enough to be able to gather in one room not only the combined intellectual strength of over 40 Deputies and Assistant Heads but no less than three headline speakers: Bill Watkins, Tom Sherrington and John West-Burnham. As well as updating you on the exciting prospects for the WSDN this year we would like to summarise here the key messages from that day and how they both help and inform us as we move into a new calendar year and the certainty of new outcomes and announcements nationally.

Colin Lankester (Bishop Luffa) introduced our first speaker, Bill Watkins from the SSAT to give us the national picture. It was not entirely happy listening for many of us. He urged us not to ‘find ourselves sleep walking into a new assessment framework’ and to ensure that both we and our schools completed the consultation document before this week. His presentation gave us valuable information about the nature of the proposed changes and has been summarised in his articles over the last few months  Bill also briefly told us about the GCSE Judicial Review, which has of course now happened and we await the outcome in the New Year. They have extended the deadline for this as presumably the weight of evidence they have to examine will take substantially longer.  I am sure we would offer thanks to those schools that helped to contribute to the funding of the court hearing and hold out much hope and expectation that the right decision for the interests of our students will be made in January. Bill provided a clarification that strong leadership is required, both within schools and across networks and areas, to navigate these times ahead.

If leadership was the call to respond to the national picture, Tom Sherrington gave us the motivation required with his inspiring journey through the rainforest of learning. A clear message to get our forces aligned and be bold in our pursuit of excellent learning opportunities for our students. Tom shared his vision of learning and teaching at KEGS, encouraged us to lift the lid on our expectations and ambitions for our students and pushed us to ensure students had leadership of their own learning. Family Learning Projects, co-construction as well as inventive and creative approaches to our own CPD, provided a smorgasbord of ideas and strategies to challenge us. For those who have not already “followed”, Tom can be found on Twitter at @headguruteacher or for his blog. I can strongly recommend his recent blog for a fantastically comprehensive summary of all the current online thinking.

There was no let-up in the level of challenge or inspiration after lunch as Andrew Macdonald-Bowyer (Davison’s) was able to introduce John West-Burnham who opened our minds with a powerful input on Transformational Leadership and the Learning Centred School. John made a compelling case for basing our approaches to learning and leadership of learning on strong research, focusing not as we so often do on improvement but instead on transformation. His analogy of the caterpillar and the butterfly was crystal clear to us all: “the purpose of a caterpillar is to become a butterfly not a better caterpillar”. He reminded us of the fundamental impact of excellent classroom teaching above all else that we have influence over and that our role as leaders is to ensure that we create the conditions to ensure that this is of the highest quality possible. John’s conviction in the power of Moral Purpose in Education was directly connected to all our work in closing gaps, eliminating variation, defining and sharing outstanding practise. The challenge he posed in the leadership of learning was, within our current climate, to seize control for ourselves. To ensure our communities provide clear consensus and alignment to values that promote trust, equity and excellence, leaving us with the challenge to create schools that are “microcosms of a just society and exist as communities of hope”. As Neil Yeo (Oriel) made clear in his summation, it had been a day focused on leadership challenge at all levels.

 During the morning Mark Wignall (Downlands) and I spoke to Conference briefly about the WSDN and how we hoped it would develop further over the coming year. We are very grateful to all delegates and members for the unanimous seal of approval we received to continue with the very rewarding work of leading the WSDN.  We have more updates to offer you in the New Year as our links with the SSAT provided access to the National Conference on a number of levels and may potentially open some very interesting doors for the network.  We hope to post a feedback on the National Conference in January for colleagues but wanted to give advance notice of our first Forum which will be held at Downlands on 1st March 2013. At the moment the content is not fixed but will be based around either the outcomes of the Curriculum Review or Teaching and Learning so please mark the date in your diaries, book cover and make sure you are there! We will follow this in March/April with a LeadMeet gathering as many colleagues as possible together for a twilight speed dating based approach to sharing ideas and networking. It’s a new initiative and we would love to see as many of you there as possible as we feel this is a potentially powerful way of sharing the expertise and experience that exists all over West Sussex. We would also like to invite you to feedback on the impact of the November Conference, using this blog as a way of engaging with each other, to share how you have taken the conference themes forward this term. If you are able to add a comment that aids discussion that would be much appreciated.

As a profession we are in interesting times, we have some clear choices to make about how we respond to the national picture. What is clear for us though is that by working together rather than separately, we are much stronger, more creative and infinitely more hopeful for the future. We would like to wish all members a very merry Christmas, a well-earned break and look forward to working, learning and leading with you all in 2013.

On behalf of the WSDN

Caroline Barlow (The Weald)

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