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Leadership, Redesigning Classrooms, Redesigning Schools

Leadership in a Post Everything World

What kind of leadership will be required in education post-local authorities, post-Ofsted, post-election, post-lesson grades and post-levels?

I was delighted to be asked by Carl Jarvis (CEO & Executive Headteacher of EOS Education) to attend and speak at this year’s International EOS Conference.  The basic brief given was to “hassle the status quo” from a leadership perspective.  Below is an outline of the presentation I gave, sensibly stationed just before lunch to make sure I didn’t go on for too long.

Perspective as a leader matters in a number of ways.  The level of optimism you bring to the organisation sets the daily weather and from this the climate within the school.  This will impact, for better or worse, on what it is like to work with and for you.  It affects the extent to which teachers and support staff willingly go the extra mile which is so often required by the children in our care.  Remember, the glass is always full.  This cannot be an “everything will be wonderful” kind of optimism but one in which obstacles, doubters and mistakes are recognised and accepted.  These may restrict you but they must never define you or your leadership.  The ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, empathy, is a fundamental emotional intelligence required by leaders.  It is the window through which challenges and problems can be fully understood.  


It is also important to recognise that your job includes fixing your eyes on the horizon.  Administrators will keep their eyes on the systems and processes and managers will keep their eyes on the bottom line.  As a leader you must be prepared to lift your eyes to the horizon and chart the territory ahead and the direction in which the organisation will travel.  This is your unique contribution.

The Challenges

Post Local Authorities: Building Capacity

Whilst we hope everything will run like clockwork life is actually far too complex for that to happen.  The education system has undergone a quantum change over the past five years with more secondary schools working outside of local authority control than within them.  The capacity that once sat with local authorities now sits across the system.  The single school governance model offers head teachers a great deal of autonomy but also isolation and limited capacity within their individual organisation.  The option of geographical families of schools who can identify “our children” and have staff working together in and across phase is powerful.  This greater professional capital can be further enhanced with relationships formed regionally, nationally and internationally.  These local area and wide area networks are complementary offering different opportunities.  How do you intend to become more connected in the next five years?

Further reading may be found in this post: Leadership in Complex Times

Post Ofsted: Increased Responsibility

With the credibility of Ofsted’s judgements and methods being continually and increasingly qustioned we need to find new ways of working.  To be told things are/aren’t going well every three years is inadequate and the impact of Ofsted’s judgement can do more harm than good.  The leader’s role is to build greater responsibility rather than increase accountability.  As Michael Fullan often says, “Accountability starts where responsibility stops.” 

Improving School Do

For far too long pernicious accountability has robbed teachers and leaders of the opportunity and space to take greater responsibility.  Families of schools can have tough conversations with each other borne out of love and shared responsibilities.  They also have the capacity to respond to the different challenges that impact on schools and children.

Further reading may be found in this post: Ofsted’s Dead: Long Live Peer Review

Post-Election: The Demographic Time Bomb

Teacher shortages are here and about to get worse.  Far too many people train and then don’t enter the profession; leave before they have had time to develop fully as teachers or leave as experienced colleagues worn down by pernicious accountability and unrealistic, irrelevant demands.  Add to this an increase of pupil numbers, four hundred thousand plus over the next decade, and then take away the baby boomer teachers born in the 1960s and as a leader you need to spot the danger on the horizon which is coming your way fast.

We are a people business and as leaders we need to ask ourselves the honest question, “If I was a teacher would I work here?  Would I work for and with me?”

Further reading may be found in these posts: A Titanic Struggle for Teacher Supply and The #5MinuteWorkloadPlan by @LeadingLearner and @TeacherToolkit

Post Lesson Grades: Building Teacher Mastery

The sham of lesson observations has been exposed and let’s be honest we all fell for it.  We now have Ofsted and many school leaders replacing one nonsense metric with another – the tyranny of the book audit as a proxy for learning or excessive data collection as a proxy for progress is already far too prevalent.  We need to stop trying to incessantly measure the quality of teaching and spend more time focussed on improving it.

PC & Marginal Gains

This improvement journey involves working with teachers to develop a deep conceptual understanding of what constitutes great teaching, the learning process and how the parts fit together to make the whole.  It involves focussing on what matters in the class room and help make it better.  If helping teachers get better was the outcome, how would this affect the decisions you make? 

Further reading may be found in this post: Growth Mindset in the Staff Room

Post Levels: It’s a Curriculum Not a Data Issue

Nowhere is this deep conceptual understanding in needed more than the world of assessment.  Life post national curriculum levels is interesting and potentially game changing, once we have mourned their passing.  I’ve gone through denial, anger and even the bargaining stage which sees schools and leaders trying to replace levels with levels but by a different name so we can continue within our current paradigm of the data illusion.  We need to accept their passing and focus on this as a curriculum issue which is rich and complex which will mean different assessment styles and strategies for different phases of a child’s development and in different subjects.

Further reading may be found in this post: Life After Levels: An Assessment Revolution?

Leaders of the Future

In the future you will be increasingly connected through families of schools with the language of “my children” moving seamlessly to “our children”.  The challenge will be to then move to “the children” as every child deserves a great education and this requires the whole system to be the best it can be.  Working more closely together, with shared governance and leadership structures across schools, will require leaders to sacrifice some autonomy for great professional capital and the support which follows.

Leaders of the Future

These shared governance and leadership structures will permit leaders to hold each other to account.   As Ofsted, local authorities and central government exert less day to day influence leaders need to become more “responsible and response-able”.  Build quality assurance into our school, have systems for spotting problems early and resolving them alongside sharing great practice and practices.  Leaders have always needed to be great people developers.  As national strategies become distant memories and there is less prescription from the centre they will also need to become the pedagogical experts within their organisations and generate more experts and expertise.   Respect boundaries, capable people need space to be great.

We need to maintain a far greater constancy of purpose, doing less better, than many of us have so far.  Schools are becoming too frenetic and teachers are voting with their feet.  We can’t afford to continue to lose so many good people.

A People Place

Leaders are a precious part of our education system.  You need to look after yourself as well as everyone else.  How’s your reservoir of hope and joy been of late?  People come with problems and this can be a huge emotional drain.  Many of the problems, which impact on people in the workplace, are well outside a leader’s area of influence.  They can be personal, family or medical and you can’t solve them all.  All you can do in these situations is walk with people.

People's Place

 We are in the humanity business with all its messiness.  As leaders we are called to model our view of what humanity should be through our interactions with the people we work with.  Don’t forget yourself in all of this busyness.   How will you refill your reservoir of hope & joy?  You need reserves to support your staff and the children in the school.  That must be the cue for lunch.

If you would like to share this with others please click here.  It’s time to hassle the status quo!

A copy of the presentation may be downloaded by clicking the link below:

Leadership in a Post Everything World – PDF



4 thoughts on “Leadership in a Post Everything World

  1. I love the fact that you have a clear alternative view of leadership that I have witnessed and one which would encourage responsibility, which at least has some hope of increasing confidence across the board. I feel that this high stakes accountability has put some decent leaders in horrible situations where they feel incapable of doing what they actually think is right. I couldn’t agree more on leaving behind the era of silver bullets – not only is it time consuming but I wonder how many school cupboards are full of the detrious of past attempts to deal with issues (I have now been in two schools with a ton of Read Write Phonics books that are not used as the schools moved on from the initiative within a year! This is not a criticism of the programme but just that the throwing of money at resources that would help without the deep thinking required to understand what is the real issue).

    However, you talk of teacher shortages but the new stories today are full of the financial crisis looming for schools facing cuts of 12%, stating job losses. How can we have a teacher shortage and fewer jobs for teachers?

    Posted by teachwell | April 28, 2015, 8:21 pm
    • Thanks for taking the time to comment so extensively. The teacher shortage issue I’ve tried to explain in a bit more detail if you follow the Titanic Struggle for Teacher Supply link.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | April 29, 2015, 6:20 am
      • So you have! I just re-read it. It looks like a crisis point has to be reached before things change but that is so unfair on the particular children who are in the system at the time.

        Posted by teachwell | April 29, 2015, 9:12 am
  2. Great read, it will be interesting to see what actually does happen. I have small children ready to embark on their ‘school career; i just hope there is some light at the end of the tunnel and that they will be given the education they need. Hopefully new leaders will come out from the shadows. I wait nervously though….. 🙂

    Posted by Dan Verinder | April 29, 2015, 3:30 pm

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