An education worth having

 

 

IMG_2218The chances are you may not have heard of the Whole Education Network. It’s been going strong for several years now and grew out of the RSA in 2010. If you haven’t come across them yet, then you really should have, so read on (3 minutes reading time).

Consisting of over 200 members (and 21,000 Twitter followers), the network is a dynamic partnership of schools all with a shared passion: That all children deserve an engaging and rounded education that supports academic achievement, but also develops the skills, knowledge and qualities needed to thrive.

Anyone can join. So long as you buy-in to the key principles and are committed to collaborating with like-minded schools who embrace innovation and world-class thinking, then you’re in. You also need to sign up to the concept of – as the name suggests  – a ‘whole education’. In other words, you ensure that your pupils take complete ownership of their learning through a relevant, engaging and worthwhile curriculum. Only then can we truly guarantee an ‘education worth having’. (Those of you who have read my book will know what I mean.)

You can find out more about the Whole Education Network on their website, such as leadership impact initiatives, research and focus groups, webinars, conferences and peer review. As a member you can connect with schools at the cutting edge of best-practice up and down the country. For example, there are currently school-led interest groups exploring flipped learning, spirals of enquiry, project-based learning, digital fluency and so on. What’s perhaps most exciting is the ability to influence change on a national and international scale. Chaired by Sir John Dunford, the board and executive are well-placed to open doors and bend ears of ministers, influencers and international movers and shakers.

As the executive headteacher of a Whole Education Network Partner School, and all-round advocate for a whole education, I’m looking to establish a regional primary hub in the Midlands. Hubs are already well-established in some parts of England, such as the one in the North-West led by Sharon Bruton, CEO at The Keys Federation in Wigan. I hope to galvanise enough support to create a Midlands powerhouse where schools are able to create synergies and collaborate and share best-practice. Never before in our schools has this been more relevant, with the growing pressures on the arts, creativity, culture and the importance of a rounded and balanced curriculum, both implicit and explicit.

If you want to find out more then we are holding a Whole Education launch event at Rowley Park Academy (Stafford) on 15th May from 11.00am to 1.00pm. Look out for more details next week. You are all invited, regardless of whether or not you are an existing Whole Ed member. There’ll be an opportunity to learn more about what we do, meet key staff from the Network and agree a way forward as a regional hub. Rowley Park is a classic example of a school that has benefited from a whole education. In 2014 it was in special measures and is now a school bursting with innovation and creativity. Feel free to stay on for a tour of the school and have a look round.

If you can’t make the 15th, but are still interested then do contact me either through LinkedIn or Twitter @AndrewDMorrish. You can always contact Natasa Pantelic at Whole Education (Natasa@wholeeducation.org or on 0207 2585130).

Finally, if you know of any schools or colleagues that might be interested in joining the network, please pass this on.

 

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On marginal losses and mobile phones

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Earlier this week at work I had to go a day without email. It’s not until you experience an ‘internet outage moment’ that you realise how reliant you’ve become on technology.

When I first became a headteacher in 1998, email had only just begun to dribble into schools. Fax machines were all the rage and were understandably reluctant to be barged aside by the newcomer. As exciting as it was to receive your mail electronically, you couldn’t beat the thrill of teasing apart an envelope just itching to be opened. (In those days people seldom wrote to me.)

‘Email’ was clearly never going to catch on. It was clunky, could only be downloaded once a day and originated entirely from the LA. As a result, most of it was rubbish.

A few years later – at the turn of the millennium – a certain Nokia 3310 hit the scene, and like most young heads at the time, I had to have one. I considered myself to be an IT guru as I was the only headteacher out of 150 or so in the LA that had made the move to an electronic diary. I’d long since ditched the Letts, instead choosing to cart around a Filofax that was the size of a carry-on suitcase.

So when I had the opportunity to buy a digital Acer PDA, complete with stylus and touch screen, I jumped at the chance. It was a nightmare though because it wasn’t synced to the school so the secretary never had a clue what I was doing or where I was meant to be. Neither did I for that matter, but I looked cool.

You can imagine how excited I was when I heard the news of the re-emergence of the iconic 3310 as a dumbphone for a new (or old) smart generation of mobile technology users. In a sea of sameness, the current crop of phones fail to excite me like they once did. I no longer care about what the new iPhone may look like.

What was once fresh and exciting has now become conventional (which makes me all the more determined to ditch it). Eager to be reinvigorated, I visited the BETT show a few years ago but found the whole thing bitterly distasteful; aisle after aisle of seemingly over-prevaricating dotcom hipsters fresh out of college trying to convince me that everything I once knew about education was wrong. They’d clearly never set foot in a classroom. I won’t be going back.

What the whole Nokia thing has done though has made me yearn for certain things in life that are stripped back and simple. To be able to open a device and simply make a call appeals to me immensely. Only last month I was getting mildly manic as the stupid touch screen key pad on my phone failed to operate. It was only when I noticed that I was using the calculator app that I realised I’d crossed a line.

All of us need to reboot at times and whilst I could never go back to a paper diary or dial-up, there are a number of things going on around me in schools that could do with being Nokia’d.

With Lent underway, now might be as good a time as any to think about what we need to give up in schools. Too often we get swept away by the rhetoric and find ourselves doing things without actually knowing why. We become institutionalised and set in our ways.

Or, more dangerously, we find ourselves doing things for other people beyond the school without thinking why. Ofsted, the DfE, local authority are all case in points.

To be fair though to the DfE and Ofsted, a lot has been done recently to demystify the myths surrounding expectations. But still, too many schools don’t want to strip back and are nervous about letting go. When I visit schools that are in the process of being brokered for sponsorship – schools that are in special measures – the one thing that stands out a mile off is that they are simply trying to do too much.

They need to de-clutter and recalibrate so that they focus only on the main thing. Forget marginal gains. From now on, I’m going for marginal losses and I urge you to do the same.

So what would be your 3310? If you could choose to rip out all the guff and go back to basics, without compromising on quality and efficiency, what would it be? I’d suggest the photocopier would be a good place to start. How I harp back to the days when I could just pop next door and press a green button and out pops a copy.

Instead, I now have to carry around with me in my briefcase the launch codes and encrypted authentication sequences required for every photocopier for every school in the trust. And that’s before we even move on to the Wi-Fi settings and door entry codes.

Maybe your 3310 would be your interactive whiteboard, stuffed so full of tech that all you do is use it as a screen to show the date? Perhaps it’s your dog-eared teacher record book or multi-tabbed electronic assessment tracking system?

Take a look at your displays. Do you quake with fear when you’ve been told that you’ve got to cram in every single child’s piece of triple-mounted work regardless of how it helps with learning?

What about assemblies? As a young headteacher I always way overcooked the goose as I thought that the show was all about me. Nowadays of course, you can’t beat a good old-fashioned story (no slides, animations or audio, just a chair), all very appropriate for World Book Day.

You’ve got me started. There are more: policies, target-setting, governing bodies, report writing, risk assessments, data analysis, homework, websites, lesson planning, school development plans, marking. I’m sure you could come up with plenty more in your school.

We could all do with taking a leaf out of Nokia’s book. Not as a commercial gimmick or publicity stunt, but as an act of real authenticity and purpose. Just as with our mobile phones, we know that we need certain things in our schools and that without them we couldn’t get by. But every now and again, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all go a bit retro?

 

The Art of Standing Out is available now on Amazon, published by John Catt Educational.

The ultimate oxymoron

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There is no such thing as rapid improvement. The two words simply don’t belong together. Rapid alterations, yes. I can live with that. Rapid change, possibly. But rapid improvement? Absolutely not.

Part of the problem is knowing what we mean by ‘rapid’. It was a phrase that was used many a time by HMI whilst doing our level best to move along a school that was stuck. No matter how hard we tried, no matter how impressive the changes, it was never rapid enough. So as a head I gave up bothering because I soon learnt that if I played the game and gave them ‘rapid’, they left me alone. But it was never going to stick. No sooner had I moved on to the next matter in hand, rapid turned into vapid. There was nothing there, it was meaningless, bland.

I raise this because we are fast approaching day 75 of sponsoring a new academy (working days only). In another 25, we reach the mythical 100-day milestone and by then research tells us that we should have made a difference. In reality this is just over half a school year, so whether it’s reasonable or not to see rapid improvement – with real demonstrable impact – is debatable.

We’ve hardly been pulling up trees during the first one hundred days at school. This mustn’t be mistaken for complacency or lethargy. On the contrary; we’ve been fervent in all that we do. But what we have been doing is watching, observing, listening and talking. This ensures that we lay firm foundations for long term systemic change. In turn the hope is that this will secure the deep-rooted improvements that we yearn.

Having found myself in this position a number of times in different schools throughout my career, what I’ve learnt is this: Horizontalism is the key. This means that leaders see the process of change not as a vertical upward trajectory akin to launching a rocket, but as a sideways segue, perhaps more like the meandering of a submersible as it probes beneath the surface.

The first one hundred days are indeed vital, so use them wisely. Don’t be rushed or hurried. Embrace the fact that rapid improvement is very much a slowburner and can only take off once you’ve been through three distinct phases:

ONE | Stabilise: This is where you need to show that as a leader things are simply not as bad as people may think (even if they are). You need to slow things down, calm things down. It’s crucial during this period that you are able to assess the situation critically and dispassionately and not get drawn into the politics or hubris of a school in crisis. Unless the seas are calm, turbulence prevails and meaningful change simply won’t happen. Creating such an illusion begins and ends with you.

TWO | Prioritise: Once you have turned the illusion into reality and established a sense of calm and stability, it becomes a lot easier to decide what your first important priorities are. With a steady ship you are able to recalibrate the compass. As a team, it is time to create a plan of action in the short, medium and long term. Together, you need to have a strong sense of OST, being clear of your new destination (Objective), how you are going to get there (Strategy) and who does what on the way (Tactics).

THREE | Visualise: This is the most powerful phase. In your mind’s eye, you need to be able to see the school that you want to create. You need to bring the OST to life by giving it a sense of mission, so that all stakeholders know not only where you want to go, but most importantly, why. To visualise therefore is to rationalise. This is where your vision and values come in to play, and by now, staff should know these inside out. Once you’ve achieved this, you are all set to take off and really make a meaningful difference in a way that will stick.

There could potentially be a fourth phase. If this were so, it would be this: Minimise. This is actually quite crucial as it reminds us that less is more. It really ought to operate alongside each of the phases above, which is why I’m inclined not to include it separately.

Minimising is about being clear of what the main thing is and sticking to it relentlessly. The best leaders ask the question, ‘what is it that we need to do less of?’ This ensures that our OST remains to the point, is purposeful and at the same time being both specific and realistic. Leaders that understand this have a strong sense of USP. They know what their school’s unique selling point is and how this relates to the community that they serve. Above all, they keep things simple.

 

You can read more about some of these ideas in The Art of Standing Out: School Transformation, to Greatness and Beyond published by John Catt in 2016 and available on Amazon.

A rallying cry for the arts

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One of the more pleasurable elements of my job is my role as a strategic board member (and chair) of a regional Arts Council Bridge Organisation. Based at the mac (formerly the Midlands Arts Centre) in Birmingham, Arts Connect is responsible for the delivery of the arts and culture offer across the region. Although it is operated by The University of Wolverhampton, it is entirely reliant on funding from Arts Council England. Without the funds, schools across the region would be unable to participate in Artsmark, Arts Award or enjoy any of the experiences provided by local Cultural Education Partnerships.

But I fear for our future; not so much for Arts Connect as an organisation, but the arts in general. It can’t have escaped your attention that the future of school funding is perilous to say the least. For the first time this millennium, heads are going to have go through their budgets line by line to make savings, and significant ones at that. Across our MAT alone (6 schools) we anticipate a shortfall in the hundreds of thousands, and that’s just for starters. Factor in the increased pension contributions that we all face and the future does not look rosy.

Never before has the need to issue a rallying cry to save the arts been more apparent as it is now. When it comes to making difficult budget issues, because the arts are often seen by many as icing and not cake, there are no prizes as to what’s likely to get the chop.

Figures shared at today’s board meeting show that across the West Midlands (14 local authorities covering 2600 schools), less than one in ten are involved with Artsmark (8%). Across the country the figure is close to 15%, almost double. Compare this with Arts Council England’s target of 50%, and we have a very long way to go. Factor in the new National Funding Formula, and you can see why that target is looking increasingly unlikely.

At the heart of the work of Arts Connect is a fundamental belief that arts and culture can enhance learning and transform lives. I believe in this and I hope you do too. I sincerely hope that as a teacher or leader in your school you will fight tooth and nail to protect the arts as well. Unfortunately, when it comes to the pressures of accountability – Ofsted included – the arts can be the first to be marginalised. I say this gingerly because I don’t actually believe it to be so, although sadly, in reality the pressures of inspection invariably mean that the arts end up taking a back seat. The lead performers will always be English and maths, with art and culture playing very much a supporting role.

The curriculum that we offer our young people must be riddled with art and cultural experiences. Without it, we cannot make sense of the world or ourselves. How can we expect children to embrace cultural diversity for example, if we don’t provide opportunities for them to engage with the world through arts and culture? (I feel at this point that I should take a moment to extol the virtues of the arts, but if I had to do that then the battle is already lost. We may as well all go home.)

School leaders are under ever-increasing pressure to show return on investment (ROI). This can only be demonstrated through impact in terms of outcomes and achievement. It’s the ‘So what?’ question. The problem primary schools face of course is that it’s very difficult to demonstrate how the arts (as opposed to art) have made a difference to young children’s lives because it’s almost impossible to measure in a meaningful way. I’ve always believed that if you stumble across something that is difficult to measure then it’s probably a good thing to do. Take SMSC, character education or social and emotional aspects of learning for example. The arts are the same; the minute we start to test it… well, heaven forbid.

Unfortunately, the very fact that it can’t be tested is often the reason why it gets marginalised and may ultimately be its downfall. Unlike with maths and English, it’s very difficult in a SES or headteacher’s report to governors to produce charts and tables that show how pupils are achieving in the arts. Even if we did (and a number of schools are doing exactly that with increasing aplomb), it would only be a matter of time before we’d then be expected to show how we compare with other schools.

Over the years, schools have learnt to play the game. Heads know only too well that a positive inspection outcome can be achieved without any arts, so long as outcomes are strong. I recall on several occasions as an inspector under previous frameworks, examples of schools that we’d graded as good or outstanding without seeing an ounce of arts, despite the children telling us that they were crying out for it. It was extremely frustrating, but our hands were tied by the inspection criteria, attainment especially. That said, the current framework is much-improved, particularly in regard to how well pupils thrive. The difficulty of course is how you go about proving it on the day in such a short space of time. (This is why I am a fan of peer review as it allows colleagues – in the words of Mary Myatt – to dive deeper and linger longer.)

I urge you to stand up for the arts. I urge you to resist the pressure of ditching the trips and visits and partnerships you may have with existing creatives and arts organisations. Rather than see them as inevitable victims of austerity, instead be wise, be brave and build your curriculum around them. If you haven’t already done so, contact your regional Bridge Organisation and see how they can support you, perhaps through Artsmark. It’s a much-improved beast to what it once was and is now based very much on whole-school self-evaluation and improvement.

You can find more information on how to find your nearest Arts Council Bridge Organisation here. All ten are currently putting in bids to Arts Council England for funding for the next four years and it’s unlikely that it will continue beyond that. There’s £10 million up for grabs each year, divvied up amongst the ten and so I urge you to fill your face and have your cake whilst you still can.

 

My latest book, The Art of Standing Out, is available on Amazon.

 

Finding Elmer

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It’s been well over a year since I hung up my Ofsted badge. I still miss being an inspector though because it was something I think I was good at, that I enjoyed doing and that to a certain extent was something we all needed.

Like it or not, external regulation is here to stay in some shape or another. The more people like me (and you) that are a part of it – serving professionals trying to make a real difference from within – the better, however flawed it may be. I wrote about this once in a a previous post but it cost me dearly because Ofsted didn’t like it and so I had to go.

What’s even more galling is that the knighted  regional director who let the axe fall is no longer with Ofsted. He left a few months after me and so never did bother writing back in reply to my letter. He never spoke to me on the phone either, instead instructing one of his office staff to do the deed.

This is a shame as it left a bad taste in my mouth and was not the memory that I’d want to take with me of my time with Ofsted. By and large, I had the pleasure of working with some brilliant inspectors. To this day there are a great many still out there working hard to #HelpSean to debunk the #OfstedMyths.

So I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss being an inspector. But there are many more things by far that I don’t miss, such as the nightmare of scheduling and forever having inspections cancelled due to last-minute tariff changes. Here are a few more things that I was glad to see the back of:

RAISE online – barely able to make head nor tail of my own RAISE online, the very thought of having to engage lovingly with somebody else’s used to fill me with dread. Why anyone would want to be a lead inspector was beyond me, especially when inspecting each and every week. To have to plan an inspection around it and come up with evidence trails based purely on graphs, charts and datasets is no mean feat. I had nothing but respect for those able to do so, week in, week out. Even though it was a complete waste of time.

EYFS – I love EYFS but as an inspector it was all I ever got to see and so by the end I’d seen enough to last me a lifetime. I remember on one occasion jumping with joy when I knew the school was junior only. I knew exactly why it was always me dispatched to the early years unit, because as the only serving primary headteacher on the team it was assumed I was the only one who, by-and-large, had the vaguest idea of what to look for.

Book scrutinies – exactly the same can be said about looking at children’s books. It was always me that found myself locked in a room at 11.30am on day 2 having to write an Evidence Form (EF) summarizing in 30 minutes the strengths and weaknesses of marking and feedback. And when that was done, an evaluative summary of the average levels’ progress made by each group in each subject for each year group would be much appreciated, thank you very much.

Evidence forms – quite frankly, these were the bane of my life as an inspector. Everything had to be written down but the form never seemed to make the job easy, especially when it came to writing evaluatively or remembering all the codes. EFs were carbon copied, so neat, legible handwriting was essential which when working under pressure, perched on the edge of a sandpit in the Nursery outdoor area was always tricky. Even worse if squatting on a log in a bog, froze to the bone in three inches of mud in Forest School (and yes, guess who always got sent there).

SMSC – As soon as EYFS, forest school and the book scrutiny were out of the way, I always knew what was coming next. ‘You wouldn’t mind having a quick walk round school would you and try and see if you can find any SMSC? It’s just that we haven’t found any yet and are due to feed back in an hour. Oh, and don’t forget to try and find the candle.’ So off I’d go with my clipboard and EF and invariably end up writing evaluatively about Elmer the Elephant. Once done, it was then a case of a quick dash to find the ubiquitous display about ‘Our Values’, October’s Black History Month display (invariably it remained up all year) and Kenya (every school has one). Such was my tenacity, more often than not I’d find the assembly candle even if in most cases it was  shoved  down the back of the piano (tick spiritual).

The single central record – just the thought of it makes my stomach churn. Again, it was always me that got to go and meet with the lovely Ethel or Doris and try and get to grips with their quirky style of filing. Apart perhaps from one or two inspections, I don’t recall anyone getting it right first time. I was always quite glad that they didn’t because it gave me an excuse to delay having to go outside and measure the height of the external door handles.

The box-room office – people were always amazed when we’d rock up at a school, that as an inspection team we’d probably never met each other before. I think they thought we all lived in the same house and knew each other intimately. This can be the only reason why they would put us in a room the size of a laptop screen. Even better if it had no windows, Wi-Fi or a plug point. So a cupboard then.

The ‘chair outside the classroom’ gag – you must have heard this one. I sat through it dozens of times and on each occasion had to chuckle as if I’d never heard it before. It goes like this and involves the lead inspector explaining to the staff at the start of the inspection how lesson observations work: ‘…and when we come in to your room please try and ignore us. We don’t need anything from you, although a chair to sit on would be much appreciated…’ Then comes a pause for the punchline. ‘Preferably inside the classroom.’

In the spirit of redressing the balance, in my next blog I shall attempt to list the things that I do miss about being an Ofsted inspector. It won’t be the longest of posts, granted, but it will attempt to show how an external perspective can add value to a school’s journey of improvement, candles, Ethels and Elmers notwithstanding.

The Art of Standing Out‘ is available now on Amazon, published by John Catt Educational.

Schools must speak for themselves (Part 1)

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School self-evaluation is a strange beast. There’s no requirement for schools to present it in a particular format and approaches vary up and down the country. How you go about the process is a matter for you and your governors to decide. So long as you know your school, and how it needs to improve, all will be good.

Ofsted’s maligned online, grade-driven Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) was abolished several years ago and many of us still remember it with much angst and trepidation. Many hours were wasted by leadership teams agonizing over fine-grade boundaries as to whether the school was a 1 or a 2 or a 3 or a 4. The fact that it had very little to do with school improvement got lost amidst the hubris.

The grade was everything. If the lead inspector disagreed, invariably it was you that didn’t know your school rather than the other way round. You can understand therefore why so many of us agonized over it, especially when the stakes were so perilously high. They still are for that matter.

What if the grading system is as unreliable as observing a lesson? We know from research that if a lesson is given a top grade there’s a 78% chance a second observer will grade it differently. Worse still, when giving the bottom grade, the figure increases to 90%. Even if we adopt a 50% margin of error, it’s close to 50/50 if following a category 4 inspection a second lead inspector comes along and gives it a different grade.

If the purpose of grading your SEF was to try and second-guess the inspector, you may as well have tossed a coin.

Last week @HarfordSean, Ofsted’s National Director of Education made it absolutely clear on Twitter that we don’t need to grade our self-evaluation summaries. This came at just the right time for me as for the past six months or so I’ve been trying to align the process of school self-evaluation with the key themes in my recent book. Namely, that as leaders we should run our schools in a way that is meaningful and purposeful to us and not necessarily for a national inspectorate.

Wanting to find out whether the message was getting through, I turned to Twitter. I asked the question: ‘Do you grade your school self-evaluation?’ Almost three-quarters of you said that you did and that you use the 1-4 Ofsted grading. One in ten schools (11%) don’t grade at all with one in twenty (6%) choosing to grade but using their own criteria. Ten percent of you were clearly in a mischievous mood choosing instead to tick the ‘What Ofsted summary?‘ box. I shall consider these as spoilt papers.

I was mildly surprised though that a quarter of schools use their own grading criteria or none at all when self-evaluating. Scaling up, that’s equivalent to approximately 5,000 schools that write a SES that does not use Ofsted grades. In my 8 years as an Ofsted inspector I can’t recall a single inspection where the school did not produce a self-evaluation summary that was not based on the inspection framework and not graded 1-4 using Ofsted grades.  Even now as an NLE I’ve yet to find a school that has been bold enough to ditch the grades altogether.

For those schools that don’t grade, it would be interesting to see how this impacted on their overall inspection outcome. I wonder as well whether there are any heads out there leading schools in special measures and subject to regular HMI monitoring visits who are brave enough to ditch the grades.

I’m still not clear whether to grade or not. It was interesting to learn that @TeacherToolkit is trying to convince his leadership team not to grade, if nothing else to make Ofsted work harder for their stripes. Likewise @theprimaryhead doesn’t grade, instead choosing to identify strengths and weaknesses.

I think it takes a bold headteacher to drop the grades altogether, a sentiment shared by @Funkycow64 who appeals to anyone who chooses not to grade to come forward. Her #askingforafriend hashtag suggests she is grappling with the idea but needs some allies. However, with @Yorkshire_Steve’s rallying cry – ‘spread the world people!’ – hopefully she’ll soon have plenty, myself included. The day will come when one day we shall have the critical mass.

But for now, I’ll continue grading – albeit with caution – but not using the traditional Ofsted terminology. If we are though as a system going to try and move from good to great, then we will surely need some form of proxy as to where we are on the journey and so it’s inevitable that we will need a set of progress markers, as crude as they may be. As a MAT, it also allows us to compare ourselves with each other using a common language of school improvement. At least if they are crude, they’ll be consistently crude. (I’ll take this over inconsistent refinery any day.)

In my next post I’ll share the rationale and approach to the new self-evaluation framework I’ve been developing. It’s based in part around the 1999 publication ‘Schools must speak for themselves‘ that does a fine job of making the case for school-led self-evaluation. We’ll also look at some of the most recent research on system-led self-improving schools, including peer review and the work of the London Leadership Strategy.

On rigour and vigour

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As we settle down to a new term and get to that point when we finally remember how the job’s meant to be done, it all comes down to two things: Rigour and Vigour.

We must never forget how important these two are and make an extra effort to sharpen our saw. As with a new teacher getting to grips with a new class, if we as leaders fail to invest time in these two right at the start, then before we know it, it’s too late. We must be rigorous and vigorous in all that we do, so that we make clear to the people around us what our expectations are and how we want them to behave.

The most thoughtful leaders embrace the need to be rigorous. Rigour is simply the quality of being extremely thorough and careful. It’s about being meticulous in all that you do, paying  great attention to detail. Rigorous leaders are diligent and precise and in order to be so know that they need to sit back and watch and reflect on what they are seeing.

In our multi academy trust, we are currently supporting a new school that we are bringing in to the fold. The school has  been floundering somewhat and finds itself on the wrong side of Ofsted. It was once an outstanding school and the staff are understandably jaded and lost at sea. Shock, denial and frustration have all taken their toll over the past few years. They need to regroup – we need to regroup – so that together we can  take stock and recalibrate. The staff  were heading in the wrong direction, but with rigour at the helm, it won’t take us long to change course. We’ve already got two other schools in the MAT that were once in measures and are now standingout, so we are well-placed to inject the necessary rigour in a way that is as careful as it is recklessly cautious.

To the staff in this new school, we have told them to lead us. We will watch and follow and nudge and cajole. But we shall do so with high levels of rigour by tapping into the energies that resonate throughout the school and those of the other academies across the trust.

This is where the vigour comes in. They may not know it yet, but every member of staff has been given the permission to be vigorous. Whilst as leaders, it is our job to all become the CEOs – chief energy officers – I want us to draw as much strength from their energies as they do from ours. It then becomes infectious and all-consuming as we bounce ideas off each other in a culture where everyone has the permission to fail and to fail often.

I’ve told all the staff that I have no intention of making any changes for at least a term. They have all been told that they are all standout teachers, they just don’t know it yet. They need the time and space to fall back in love with teaching. They need to reclaim their mojo – their va va voom – or whatever else you might call it. They need to delve deep inside themselves – their chambers and their valves – and rekindle their values and beliefs. It’s got nothing to do with pedagogy or targets or tests. Not at this stage, that will come later. For now, it’s all about vigour and the 3 Es: Effort, Energy and Enthusiasm.

Get this right and you’ve cracked it. Andy Buck, for example, talks of the importance of discretionary effort. Known also as ‘going the extra mile’, Andy reminds us that it’s not all about leadership from the top that gets results. Instead, it comes from deeper down within the organisation, most probably a line manager or phase leader. It’s about meticulous attention to detail and showing that you care. Staff appreciate rigour because it shows that you are prepared to really invest time in them by not being superficial or shallow. As a headteacher, I myself appreciate rigour from those that hold me to account because I know it means that we are not just scratching away on the surface but really getting to the heart of the matter.

So if you are a new Headteacher in a school, or stepping up as deputy or senior leader, put away your spreadsheets and trackers and templates. Please don’t start talking about SATs and SIPs and the need to tighten up. Again, that will come later. Instead, have the courage to stand back and climb high. It’s only when you are up there that you can really and truly appreciate how good your school is. And when you’ve done that, climb back down and dive deep. But don’t make the mistake of diving in, however tempting it may be. Two-footed tackles get you nowhere. Instead, jog on behind and try and occasionally knick the ball off them. And when you do, dribble alongside a bit and then carefully pass it back before peeling off and running beside someone else.

Your staff will thank you for it. The children will thank you for it. And you will sleep well at night knowing that thank heavens, you did the right thing.