Step away from the laptop…

I haven’t written anything since February. Like many schools, we had a “blip” in our results at GCSE in 2012 and I also became chair of the Plymouth Learning Trust. Both demanded time and focus. Both led me to approach but not step over the line of what can and cannot be shared through blogging.

Determined not to write about GCSE accountability changes, attendance legislation, Ofsted updates and anecdotes, I’m going to share what has inspired me in recent months.

Last year we bid for British Council Comenius Regio Funding to explore common objectives that support our strategic goals. Working with Newton Abbot College and Tavistock College locally and Bergsjö skola, Bromangymnasiet, Umeå University in Sweden, we have set up a long term project:

  1. To provide students and colleagues with a greater understanding of similarities and differences within the European community – especially in the educational approaches to employability and encouraging further study (including study abroad);
  2. To share successful practice for raising aspirations in Post school options and also Inclusion – preparing those at risk of under-performing for work or further study – building confidence and resilience;
  3. To share expertise in developing the culture of parental engagement to support young people’s learning – looking at the role of Independent Advice and Guidance (IAG) in motivating learners;
  4. To explore greater use of social media and technology in the classroom –e.g. exploring the development of the culture of schools’ Virtual Learning Environments and social media;
  5. Working within the countries’ developing accountability frameworks – to explore the tensions and opportunities in the measurement of progress and developing a culture of innovation in the classroom;
  6. To share further development of Post -16 Learning relationships – involving students in the design and delivery of their learning and the learning of younger pupils;
  7. To model successful strategies for Influencing culture change – leadership study

Although we are starting the project later than we anticipated, we’re in a stronger position to share progress against the objectives. For example, I’m looking forward to introducing Thinkspace to our partners, whose work seems to exemplify and cut across most of the stated areas of focus above.

Oliver Bredemeyer, James Anderson and Kamran Malik of Thinkspace

A published, research paper is the intended outcome and eight colleagues from DHSB will have the opportunity to travel and engage with European and local partners. The response following my briefing to staff was overwhelming. Colleagues know that the stated outcomes are supported by the best kind of CPD that exists – time to think, meet new people, reflect and visit different educational settings. In short, there is a creative spark in such mobility that we all need.

In terms of our education system and system leadership, there is a pressing need for professionals to have opportunities to look up from the here and now in order to engage with there and then. SSAT and ASCL are collating evidence about the kind of system our country needs. Please follow and contribute.

Meanwhile, the debate about PISA rankings, their statistical validity and their impact on British Education policy grinds away behind the scenes. For example, the degree to which remarkable Finnish outcomes are a reflection of education policy or wider social factors is moot. However, there is a great deal to learn from a global perspective in education. A visit to Perth in 2006 looking at Leadership in Western Australia, with the League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers (sadly lost to us), was definitive in my school leadership career. The people I met and schools I visited shaped my educational principles, values and behaviours. It was no coincidence that I shared this video with staff at the beginning of the year to elucidate our vision and my values.

Seven years on, I have been selected to join a National College International Benchmarking study tour to Eastern Australia at the end of October and over half term. Joining other National Leaders of Education (NLEs), the objective is to Learn from Success and inform the debate about our system. And I am inspired again.*

We had a record year at GCSE and A Level in 2013. In reality, I wouldn’t be going to Sweden or Australia if our “blip” had begun a trend. Whilst I fear that colleagues suffering the vicissitudes of piecemeal accountability changes won’t have the time or focus to seek such opportunities for their staff and students, I know that it’s my responsibility to keep leadership fresh.

This week’s TES column on Leadership expressed it well – the word “plateau” isn’t great for anyone in the profession.

* Both Sweden and Australia lie above the UK in the 2009 PISA rankings.