Anger management – a change of heart

Anger management – a change of heart

A casual glance at my professional library will reveal titles ostensibly associated with change management. And this is fine. Leaders of any organisation, at whatever stage of development, manage change. When I arrived at DHSB in 2008, planned change moved us into an outstanding Ofsted category and enabled us to innovate with our curriculum.

But change has changed in the last few years.

Since the publication of the White Paper in 2010 change has been about responding to a steady churn of reform and before this begins to read like another headteacher whinge, many of the reforms have been excellent. Increased autonomy has given our school further room to innovate with service procurement, the curriculum and the estate.

However, heads are far from the masters of their own destinies, as the prevailing ideology would have us believe. The drivers of centralised change have crept up on us through inspection, examination and funding reform. Choose to do what you will but funding models are challenging, qualification and assessment reform are shaping curriculum choices and Ofsted are turning up the heat with seasonal updates to their inspection framework.

It is easy to forget amidst the operational considerations of incessant, radical change that the recruitment, retention and development of teachers is the main driver for raising standards in the long term. Read John Tomsett and Tom Sherrington for erudite expressions of this with practical approaches for school leaders.

In Rage Quits and Mountain Goating, I explained how my frustration with DfE policy led to a decision to defer a National College Teaching School bid. The deferral was aimed at giving the system time to stabilise post-GCSE fiasco and pre-KS4 consultation report and, for our Governors, time to consider what the system consisted of before we put our names to a bid committing ourselves to leading it.

Six months later, a few days after Computer Science has been photo-shopped into the EBacc and the Education Committee reports “serious concerns” with the structure and pace of change and before the long awaited decision on the legal challenge into Ofqual’s ability to manage standards, we are no closer to consensus. In fact, I suspect turmoil in Sanctuary Buildings. See Geoff Barton’s blog for a simmering summary of anger.

It is on these seas that school leaders are navigating a course towards the laudable ambition of a self-improving school system – led by Academy Chains and Teaching Schools. Both vehicles for developing professional capital. But building partnerships during a period of threat for many schools is not easy. Add to this uncertain landscape falling rolls and burgeoning provision in the shape of UTCs, Free Schools and Studio Schools and you would understand why school leaders and Governing bodies would wish to batten down their hatches and focus on saving their own ship from foundering.

It is to the immense credit of secondary schools in Plymouth that this hasn’t happened. Notwithstanding the eclectic nature of the eco-system (we have every denomination of school among our number), we all meet regularly and operate a mature programme of committees that have undertaken such sophisticated activities as agreeing a data sharing protocol and negotiating a school direct offer with two HEIs. Our collective work on inclusion, health and funding supports Plymouth children, irrespective of the school they attend.

Plymouth secondary schools will be meeting this month to discuss moving from Building Capacity to making a bid for cohort 4 Teaching School designation. Much of the work we’re doing together is at this level of partnership. I hope there will be a challenge for DHSB to move away from the language of deferral.

At a SW teaching school forum meeting Maggie Farrar, the outgoing interim CEO of the National College,  was keen to hear from Teaching Schools already designated and those holding Building Capacity grants about the issues on the street. Having been close to the Teaching School brief since its inception, I shared some of my concerns about the vision for growing a mature self-improving system:

  • Partnerships’ capacity to sustain activity on School to School support, CPD, ITT, Talent management, SLE deployment and research and development;
  • the physical commitment and capacity of the founding headteachers, accountable for outcomes;
  • the changing nature of the college’s interaction with schools. Provision seems to be at more than one remove from where it used to be. Accessing CPD is straightforward but going through the DfE site, to a list of licensed providers connected to a Teaching School alliance will feel convoluted / diluted in comparison with previous interactions with the college.
  • It could be suggested that Aspirant leaders and heads are suffering from some form of dependency on the National College but it has to be acknowledged that a change of branding has made some colleagues feel as if they’ve lost an important professional voice – especially as teachers’ relationships with the DfE can be “conflicted”.

I finished by appealing to the college to engender further links between colleagues using Social Media intelligently. I’m not sure they understood what I meant. I meant going beyond using corporate tweets. A note was taken by the head of policy. I wonder if they’ll get back to me?

Social Media can remind us of our purpose as well as distract us from it. A serendipitous quotation can lift spirits and encourage communication, as happened last weekend following an RT from inspiring blogger @huntingEnglish:

Barack Obama

We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. —President Obama

These few words helped galvanise my thinking about any role DHSB may play in Plymouth’s secondary partnerships. Developing teachers from initial training to leadership is our professional responsibility and we have to embrace every opportunity we are given to do this. I have re-considered our deferral – doing nothing would be reprehensible.

We can’t expect the perfect conditions to exist before we start. We can’t even influence those conditions so we’d probably better stop complaining about them (and each other) and get on with it.

We must act. This is our one chance to be responsible for our system – despite the system. We have to make it work or stand accused of a failure of leadership .

The pronouns are crucial here. We can’t do this as one or two schools – it will need all sixteen to open a vein and commit through word and deed and the challenge is to us all.

6 thoughts on “Anger management – a change of heart

  1. Sarah Adkins

    Your blog strikes a chord with the direction of my thoughts following a recent youth football match – though had I started a blog I may have titled it “Four letter words….”

    I felt sadness after that match – nothing to do with scores; everything to do with attitudes. An un-prepared and unfit referee failed to control the game. A minority of youths took advantage of his weakness to intimidate and bully, condoned by cheers of support from the side – and by the silence of many adults supposedly there in support. I’m not even sure some saw anything of concern.

    The four letter word that came to my mind was not one of those bandied about by some boys. It was the word “care”. The single minded pursuit of scoring goals regardless of how they were attained suggested that positive attitudes and values had not been instilled; that the behaviour reflected a cultural lack of care for some boys as individuals, which they manifested in their own lack of respect for self and others.

    Attitudes and values matter greatly because they are core to the ability of an individual to achieve his or her potential, in football, school, work and life. More widely, the dangers of a single minded pre-occupation with numbers to define success are easily seen. The PPI experience shows the dangers of a silo culture in which actors were incentivised to push unnecessary products to unsuspecting consumers for short-term gain, without the actors or their leaders caring for the individuals let alone understanding the potential for far wider economic and societal repercussions. These business models are being rejected by many enlightened companies who are now developing sustainable models, the foundation for which is care for people, planet and profit.

    The narrow Ofsted focus on data, the nature of that data and its influence in funding, structure etc. of schools is alarmingly similar to the PPI model. League tables can have the perverse effect of incentivising a chasm between the interests of children and the interests of a school. Grades alone will not determine whether an individual will leave the education system equipped to achieve his/her potential. There few more dis-spiriting experiences than interviewing a young person whose clutch of grades promised so much more on paper than is offered in person. Like the referee, paper qualifications are inadequate without the positive attitudes individuals need to develop and contribute. Do the children leave school drilled in exam technique but disengaged; or with enquiring minds and a lifelong love of learning instilled? Schools may have similar results but what matters more is how those grades are secured.

    Sir Michael Wilshaw’s brand new datasheets disappoint. To judge the effectiveness of a school in educating its pupils I offer my own test – the Corridor Challenge, applicable to every school:

    If I visit a school and walk through its corridors what will I find?

    1. A clean place in which the caretaker/ cleaners have obviously taken pride; free of litter, graffiti and dust; well maintained and cared for?

    2. An inspiring place, full of vibrant and colourful displays that celebrate and share the work of the children, reflecting achievement as well as ability and frequently changed; something to capture the eye and the imagination no matter in which direction I look? What will the displays tell me about the way the children engage with their local, national and international communities?

    3. As I walk past the classrooms will I hear both the silence of study and the murmur of voices in discussion; teachers respectful of the children as individuals and clearly conscious that derogatory comments undermine self-esteem and can cause long term harm; children and staff who know that shouting is rarely necessary and even less frequently effective, who know that the way they speak to each other is as important as what they say? Might I meet a senior school leader, sensing the pulse of the school in a way that no amount of data analysis can?

    4. When the bell goes, will I see staff and children together showing respect for each other’s space as they move into the corridor, holding doors open, acknowledging others, waiting in turn and appreciating their surroundings? Will any of them acknowledge me or will they push past as though I was of no consequence? Will staff and children be lively, engaged and well dressed?

    5. As I walk past the staff room will I see staff in conversation – perhaps around a table as they share a meal or drink – a good team with inspiring and caring leaders? As the behaviour and attitudes that leaders and staff model in their interactions both with each other and with the children will have an influence on the children’s own development, will I feel that this is a community I would be happy for my own children to grow in?

    6. As I leave the corridor and walk outside will I see well-tended grounds about which the school clearly cares? Or will it be a sterile environment, characterised by tarmac, cars and unkempt vegetation – perhaps the school fears its children cannot be trusted not to cause damage?

    7. Education is a long term and continuous investment in life. Attitudes and values need to be nurtured. I have walked through this corridor only once; the children and staff will pass through it repeatedly day in and day out for years. Will all leave feeling inspired and keen to return? Will I have felt the energy of a school that esteems its pupils, delivers a rich curriculum and is passionate about teaching? Will I sense that this school cares for each individual as a person full of talent and potential rather than a statistic on a league table? Will I leave confident that the name of that school on the CV of a future applicant will itself, because of the values the school stands for and the ambition it has for its students encourage me to invite that person to interview?

    Plymouth has huge aspirations, drive and determination with potential for world class status. Its citizens are key to the sustainable development of the City. But a city with world class potential needs more than schools where data is the principal measure of success. It needs environments, including youth football clubs, where positive attitudes and values are nurtured and celebrated. All Plymouth’s children are entitled to expect their schools to equip them to contribute to achievement in a world class city. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child – think what can be achieved by a caring city in which everyone works together; secondary and primary schools, public and private sectors, voluntary and charitable. Who cares? And how? I support the direction of travel of your vision….

    1. Thanks, Sarah – I agree with everything you’ve written.

      This is our vision for education. We’re not there yet and the challenges are huge – especially when it comes to working within a system that actually makes things more difficult.

      I think you may have the text for your own blog above; Iet me know when it’s up and running.

      I’ll share your post with our Governors.

      *Kieran Earley
      Devonport High School for Boys
      Paradise Road, Plymouth, PL1 5QP
      01752 208787 / Twitter: @kieran_earley

  2. Sarah Adkins

    I’m not sure I am sufficiently up to speed with IT to start a blog! I am posting this comment simply to provide you with a link to the video from a recent lecture at Plymouth University – part of the Vice Chancellor’s excellent Prestige Lecture series. Sir John Parker spoke about “Engineering and the Leadership Journey”. I can’t commend his lecture highly enough – and I’m sure that his experiences and the tips he provides on leadership generally (he is currently Chairman of Anglo American plc and is the only person to have chaired five FTSE100 companies) will be of interest not only to current leaders but to all ages in the the wider DHSB community and indeed beyond. Sir John was inspiring and not just because he went through the entire lecture speaking with passion and conviction without once mentioning data! I think you’ll find a lot of synergy between Sir John’s leadership lessons and your own ethos at DHSB.

    1. Thanks – couldn’t activate the link, sadly.

      Can you repost?

      *Kieran Earley
      Devonport High School for Boys
      Paradise Road, Plymouth, PL1 5QP
      01752 208787 / Twitter: @kieran_earley

    1. Yes – that works now, thanks.

      Will watch it when I get a moment and let you know what I think.

      Kieran Earley
      Devonport High School for Boys

      01752 208787
      Twitter: @kieran_earley

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