In preparation for our Annual Leadership Conference this year, our blog serves to raise a series of questions around the central theme of the conference: Is it possible to demonstrate values-led leadership in a climate of high stakes accountability. If it is, what should those values be?
In seeking to prompt these thoughts I shamelessly call upon the wisdom of Headteacher and Vision 2040 leader, Stephen Tierney who, in this March blog, asked the question “if you were building a world class education system what would be the values you would put in place to guide future actions and decisions?” As we pause to reflect on our schools and our leadership we have inspiration from local and national references.
It is a critical time for us to do exactly that; reflect on our current position and the direction in which we wish our schools, our locality and our education system to take. Within the current global and political instability we have been warned of “sleepwalking” towards a dark future through choices made without depth of thought or clarity. We are also embarking on the cyclical return to our profession being bounced between politicians in the run up to a general election. Therefore as the rhetoric gets louder with promises made on one side and oaths sworn on the other, it is more important than ever that we are clear and grounded in our values and our core purpose. Can we step beyond the ever present pressure of the next set of results, implementing the next round of curriculum or examination changes, the next inspection judgement – such high stakes accountability within all of these? What do we hold as fundamental for our staff, our students and our context? What are the “wildly important, big hairy goals” towards which all efforts and resources will be focused?
My role with the SSAT so far this year has enabled me revisit some of these questions, developing the next phase of Redesigning Schooling. I have been fortunate to be able to reflect on the work so far on teaching for learning, principled curriculum and assessment and intelligent accountability as established in the 2013 campaign. Within the current climate it raises again the dichotomy by which we are often challenged: is securing the right results for the child and the school more important than the holistic development of both the individual and the collective environment? Or is it possible to do both?
In “The Highs of Education” Stephen Tierney set out a series of “highs” identified as core principles by Vision 2040 providing interesting and challenging questions for educational leadership. They are relevant to us now. Our speakers, both local and national will provide opportunities for reflection on some of these principles.
High equity: with such a long tail of underachievement in the national picture, with the number of NEETS and achievement of PPG students a regional concern there is an unassailable truth that our system must be able to deliver outcomes for all students that enable them to move into their futures with genuine choices.
High moral purpose: Equally we would all accept the absolute responsibility to develop the broader abilities and well-being of the children within our school. To work with the agencies available to deliver the best support possible for them and their families. We see in our region the redefining of Think Family/Early Help trying to make the most of the sparse resources to meet the growing needs; the new SEN code has made us all look again at what defines need and how as schools we are working to meet those needs for all students. We know that Passmores Academy and the work of No Child Without holds this as a vital part of their work. Martin Robinson’s Book 21st Trivium sets out an approach to education that encompasses, among other things, an outcome that includes “wisdom and the ability to live a good life”.
However, to what extent are we working collectively towards this as clusters of schools for the children of our localities? Are we locked in local competition and positioning or are we deepening our professional links and responsibilities in a wider sense. How broad is our moral purpose? Martin Robinson’s blog offers many cogent thoughts on this matter and the importance of doing what is right versus what is seen as important right now.
High Challenge: Whether it is through attainment or achievement there is a truth that we are currently measured by our outcomes, as are our students. Bill Watkin will bring us up to speed with the critical changes we need to consider to make sure we are informed to meet the challenge. Our work designing principled curriculums and approaches to assessment without levels must sit in this context. Whether it is a passport of 5+GCSE A*-CEM or AAB as facilitating grades, we have a responsibility to enable young people to move to the next stage in the best possible position. Both Vic Goddard’s Passmores academy and LAE under Robert Wilne did well by these measures, they may be able to tell us how and why they think that is.
So do we wait for an external judgement to inform our success in this or do we hold ourselves, our staff and each other to account for these outcomes? Intelligent accountability makes clear that peer challenge and support is a more powerful driver of school improvement. Stephen Tierney argues that creating cultures of High Trust within schools, within networks of schools and within an education system requires integrity and reciprocity. To be willing to work together in both challenge and support requires all of these ingredients. There are examples of it being highly effective, to what extent is there a will to model this in our region and our locality?
High professional capital: Developing human, social and professional capital is an established success of the WSDN among many other collaborative, developmental West Sussex partnerships both within and across schools. We will hear from the JPD projects for last year and how they are being taken forward this year. Our teaching schools and other local alliances will be giving us an update on developing and established partnerships as schools work collaboratively to the benefit of their staff and communities. Equally our speakers will be able to share their thoughts on the development of professional capital in a range of different environments.
Our Annual Leadership Conference comes at a fascinating time this year, with Ofsted consultation out and election fever beginning to warm up, our profession sits in an interesting yet critical position. Redesigning Schooling challenged us last year to find new professionalism, to re-claim the core principles by which we want our schools and our system to be led. So we seek to challenge you this year: do you know what those principles are? Do you know what your non-negotiables are? Where are you now – honestly – in your journey towards your big hairy, important goals? Where is your support and your challenge?
We will not provide you with your answers but we will provide you with the information you need to meet the challenges ahead, the thought provoking input to help determine your direction of travel and the reassurance of the collective support of your peers and colleagues. I would argue values-led leadership is not impossible in this climate of high stakes accountability but is a great deal more achievable and has more impact if we do it together.
Look forward to seeing you at conference!