Principles, purpose and impact – leading in challenging times
As the title of ASCL’s inaugural summit makes clear, primary school leaders face a particular challenge in managing their schools at a time of teacher and resource shortages, increasing accountability, curriculum changes and an-ever shifting educational landscape currently focused on the formation of collaborative federations and multi-academy trusts (MATs).
As a former senior leader myself, I know that getting leadership and vision right means getting the organisation right. For this, senior leadership teams need tight, transparent, and consistent processes. If these processes are sorted and everyone understands them, you can then focus on direction.
Our discussions with primary school leaders tell us that producing stakeholder reports and reducing paper trails are huge issues for them.
There’s a common misconception that only large schools get the benefit of online systems, however, in fact, primaries face the same pressures with fewer staff. Easy to access reports for stakeholders such as governors can be a time-consuming nightmare without a good system for aggregating data. Collaboration, staff performance and talent management are all easier when accurate data is easily available.
The other big issue for primary schools at the moment comes when they join partnerships of any kind, from MATs to federations, or any other alliance or grouping. There is then a need to fulfil the operational needs of the operating executive board, while still retaining the autonomy and flexibility necessary for them to manage their own improvement.
Noticing that schools were beginning to work co-operatively and collaboratively, I was interested by the notion of schools sharing professional learning and staff resources and bartering services beyond the ‘partnership’. That requires a degree of common understanding about the expectations in relation to expertise and talent. You also need a common set of processes.
Barter and exchange
So, four years ago, BlueSky put a toe in the water and created a small ‘partnership area’ which offered an opportunity to aggregate the reviews of staff across the national standards. We then went on to develop training areas which allowed schools to identify and ‘share’ their areas of expertise.
My vision was for schools to be able to ‘barter’ and exchange personnel – say, a head of maths for a MFL specialist - for an agreed number of hours each week. This arrangement could even be expanded to include secondments. Bartering services means that costs already allocated are simply swapped, so there is no additional expenditure but a gain in expertise. This keeps money in the system and utilises the expertise that already exists.
This had probably been happening to a limited extent under the radar. But it struck me that it could be systemised and become a significant mechanism for schools to share expertise - something that’s currently undervalued. This led to conversations about how we define expertise beyond the national standards.
The starting point was to define good practice and identify expert practitioners, as well as those staff requiring support to reach the required standard. For this, performance management needs to be consistent across schools, which sets the tone for identifying and gathering evidence.
Now, with academies, MATs, federations and many other school groupings, there is an operational, management layer above schools which needs to gather and disseminate information to drive standards - critical when you have accountability at an executive or Trust level.
The whole academy and MATs business is a fantastic opportunity for schools to manage units of co-operation and collaboration which will generate exciting school-led growth in improvement.
Denise Inwood is managing director of BlueSky Education, sponsors of Principles, Purpose and Impact – leading in challenging times on 15 January.
BlueSky will be launching their new Partnership management information module at this event. For more information, please visit their stand or see www.blueskyeducation.co.uk
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