Reflecting on School Leadership in the abstract in a plush conference centre is one thing, but linking this to how it works on the ground is equally as important. In my first regional meeting for ‘Developing Leaders for Tomorrow‘, I saw that this narrative from ‘big ideas’ to actual practice is equally important at school level.
Our mentor on the programme, Carol Brammer, is head of Howes Primary School in Coventry, a one form entry Primary school serving a community with many challenges.
Carol and her deputy shared with us the journey they had taken as a school, from dropping an Ofsted grading 8 weeks after coming into post, to building the ethos of the school based on both the current strengths, and looking toward future.
Rather than basing their school development plan on targets set by the previous inspection, Howes took a user centered approach to their development. This started by considering the types of skills, competencies and dispositions they were aiming for their pupils to gain, and working back from this in terms of their curriculum and pedagogy. They also tried to incorporate pupils in developing thinking around these directions.
Having defined this directions the Senior Management Team then decided to work as much as possible on a ‘ground up’ model of developing their staff, with teachers and TAs encouraged to take ownership of moving forward their own practice. For example, it was identified that pupils were spending too much time in teacher directed situations sitting on the carpet. Staff were presented with this as an issue, but invited to monitor the time spent in this situation in their own classrooms and discuss it with their colleagues. The information recorded was not collected, or used as any kind of measure- but simply a provocation for discussion, allowing staff to take ownership of the process of addressing it.
As an extension of formal performance management, staff have also been placed in ‘triangle’ groups, where three teachers plan together, and observe and feed back to each other. What took this is a different direction than simply observing and evaluating each other was that all participants had a stake in every observation, as they had all been involved in the planning process, and were all involved in developing the practice observed afterwards. Such a model is interesting, as it allows for the benefits of more regular observations whilst removing the judgmental element that often leads to observed lessons being a million miles away from the everyday practice that actually happens.
There were many such points of interest in our tour around the school, but what really struck me was the general approach of the head and the deputy towards leading their staff. Both were obviously highly engaged in the global debates around education, often quoting thinkers such as Ken Robinson and initiatives from as far abroad as Australia in the case of the ‘First Steps‘ literacy resource. However, this abstract thinking was used to directly inform what they were doing in their own setting, and visions and ideas critically evaluated in terms of the relevance to the pupils and families that Howes serves before bringing them to bear on practice.
This use of global thinking to influence a user centered approach to primary school leadership is what I will take away from this visit. For Howes, the bigger picture of education and the needs of the end users meet to provide an engaging school experience for all learners; children, adults and just as importantly- staff.