I’ve always taken the view; forgiveness is often easier to get than permission. I was lucky to work for a number of headteachers and governors who kept an eye on the bottom line but granted me the freedom to work as I saw best. It also helps if you develop a sixth sense about when it is time to explain your stance and when you should quickly, unreservedly and sincerely apologise. I became better at the letter as my career progressed.
It has been interesting to observe the writings and speeches of Geoff Barton and Dame Alison Peacock over recent weeks. They have both been successful school leaders, now working at a national level. Their beliefs as leaders are communicated clearly: we can make a difference; you don’t need permission to do many things; don’t be paralysed by what may currently look like a mountain to climb; it’s time to take back control of our profession.
The quote in the graphic above is one I’ve often used. It hopefully strikes that realistic balance between taking control of the situation, doing what is right and best for the staff and pupils in your school(s), within the wider accountability, financial or teacher numbers environment that exists. It is as true for teachers as it is school leaders. If people gave themselves permission to do the right thing for their pupils, staff or schools more often it would start to change our current culture; the greater granting of permissions by school and political leaders would transform it.
A lack of autonomy and agency is part of the reason why we are failing to retain and recruit teachers; it may also account for the ‘Epidemic of stress’ and long term sickness amongst teachers reported in the TES. We need classroom teachers to become much more confident in their ability to make decisions. Part of this will be clearing out unnecessary, unproductive and harmful practices by school leaders. Part of it will be teachers themselves taking control of their own workload; what am I doing through habit that is neither required nor effective?
It’s within leaders’ gift to grant permissions. If you haven’t already, go in tomorrow; stop grading lessons, question all your monitoring activities to see what evidence you have that any actually lead to school improvement, reduce marking requirements and trust teachers until that trust is not met by equal professional responsibility. In terms of looking back and looking forward, deciding what to keep doing, give up or do next; gut feelings are not allowed; personal biases are most certainly out; untested ideology can be parked and egos can be left at the school gates. For greater agency and autonomy to flourish it needs support from professional learning, peer support and time to collaborate. You can do more of these when you stop spending time on the former.
School leaders also need opportunities for professional learning, peer support and the time to collaborate otherwise it can be a lonely and soul destroying existence. Leaders can get this at a local level but every now and again it’s good to gather nationally. Headteachers’ Roundtable’s Summit, on the 23rd February 2018 is taking the theme, “We Don’t Need Permission” (more details below). Imagine if we decided to start collecting examples of when inspection variability is undermining the validity of the whole process or examples of complaints not allowed by Ofsted that should in fact be heard; what’s to stop us? Likewise for funding issues; practical examples of where the sensible principles behind the National Funding Formula have led to practical problems at a local or school level or where local authority actions have made things worse not better; what’s to stop us? Or devise a performance table measures on inclusion and publish it alongside Progress 8, Attainment 8 and E-Bacc Point Score (Attainment 6) which actually overlap so much they are measuring similar things. Part of the afternoon of the summit will be crowd sourcing new policy ideas to replace practice at a national level that is nonsensical.
At the classroom, school and system level there is more that we could do to improve the system; the real transformation happens when you align the three.
The core themes for the Summit are: funding, accountability, retention, recruitment, MAT/structures and system coherence. Input from a great line-up of speakers including: Sir David Carter, Geoff Barton, Dame Alison Peacock, Professor Sam Twistelton, Professor Rebecca Allen (congratulations, Becky), Laura McInerney, Dr Ben Laker, Melanie Renowden, Matthew Hood and Tom Sherrington plus some of the Headteacher Roundtable Core Group and a few national figures, who we’re waiting on confirmation of attendance. We’ve also sent an invitation to the new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds; we’d be delighted if he and you would join us.