Where are we heading?

Can you name the educational goals of the UK government? Aside from grammar schools, academies and getting as high up the Pisa table as the nation can, what are the goals? Grammar schools and academies are a strategy used to create change in the system with the aim of driving improvement. Climbing the Pisa table is pretty much comparable to setting a data target for education but what exactly does that mean?


cc Neil Spinney

In December 2017 I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the SSAT National Conference in Birmingham – the topic I was set to talk about was taking risks in education. There were over a 100 headteachers and senior leaders in the room and my small workshop was fortunately packed to capacity. I began the hour long talk by asking everyone in the room if they could articulate the goals of the UK government. This shouldn’t really be a challenge should it? As headteachers and senior leaders we should all have a clear understanding of the goals we are working towards, the end destination we are heading to and the stepping stones that are going to get us there. I mean, if as leaders of education we can’t articulate the goals then how is the rest of society supposed to and how are we meant to work to create a unified direction of travel for education? So the question was asked. A couple of minutes thinking time was given. Responses back that could articulate the goals….NONE. Not one. To be honest nobody was surprised. Could you imagine a school that had no goals and vision but simply sought to copy the best school in a carbon copy format and had a basic target to be the number one school in the country…the headteacher would be vilified. They would be held up as incompetent and lacking in vision. And really that would be fair enough. How can a leader affect change if they don’t really know where they are heading?


Talking to over a 100 senior leaders at the SSAT conference in Birmingham

The reality is that this is our government’s approach to education. We look at the best nations and seek to copy. We hold up other countries for their outstanding skills in teaching subjects such as maths.  South Korea are a country who perform phenomenally well in this area and the UK government have used them as example of how things should be done. I’m sure they have some great practice that we can use but they also have some less than desirable characteristics with the most notable being that they have one of the highest suicide rates for under 16s in the world. You see, when you are copying other countries then you can’t have your cake and eat it – it’s give and take. If you want the maths results that South Korea get in the Pisa tests then you have to accept that our children are going to need to spend more hours in extra curricular maths clubs and private tutoring (as their children do – often working well into the late evening) and this inevitably will lead to some children feeling overtly pressured and stressed and this may lead to an increase in suicide rates.

I have worked in education since 2001 and I have a simple approach that I’d like our government to take when it comes to education. By all means look around at other countries and cherry pick some of the best ideas but before you do that then think clearly about what our strengths as a nation are and what we want to develop. What do we want our children to achieve and go on and become? The UK has always had a reputation for entrepreneurship so why not make this a feature of the system? If you build this in with a maximum of four other goals based around: social development/moral compass, mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing and of course academic achievement then we’d be creating a UK based approach that develops strengths that our country are proud of. A by-product of this approach and focus would be an improvement in data from a unified system but, and this is the key point, it would be the driver for the system.

With the GCSE results out on August 24th this year there are plenty of headlines on the BBC website (click here) and in the ‘i’ paper about how our results are ‘lagging’ behind the world’s ‘star pupils’ with ‘research concluding that students in England need to score around two thirds of a grade higher on average to match performance of the world”s best grades (source i News)’. Headlines like this only seek to reinforce the point that as a nation our educational philosophy is completely focused and driven on being at the top of the Pisa table but with very little awareness other than increasing rigour about how we get there.  The reality, unfortunately, is that until we start designing our own world class systems that we value and hold dear with clear goals and stepping stones (that can be articulated by all within education) we are always going to be chasing other countries. Now is the time for us to work to our strengths and be self assured as a nation about what our educational values and drivers are and create a unified approach.



By ht1education

A focus on teacher workload…

There is no finer or better career to go into than education. Teaching is not a job, it’s a vocation, a way of life, a calling. Many jobs offer better financial rewards but there is no job quite like teaching that ticks the moral compass side of things. Influencing children’s lives is an absolute honour and pleasure and the ultimate reason that people head into education.

Yet we are in the middle of a crisis within the profession. Last year more teachers headed abroad than passed through the teacher training route. This means only one thing…a shortage of teachers and a strain on schools.

So, if teaching is such a fantastic career, why are we in the position that teachers are leaving the profession, or heading off to foreign lands to ply their trades? It really comes down to one main and unavoidable reason – workload. You see, there has never been a tougher time to work in education be it as a teacher, senior leader, deputy or headteacher. Whatever the role, the reality is that increased accountability, pressures on schools to achieve improved data, and a tougher curriculum all flow directly into one outlet – increased workload.

At Robin Hood Multi-Academy Trust we have been looking for some time at the issue of high workload among the teaching staff and the negative affects it has had on our culture and ethos. When you have a collective staff who are dedicated, talented and extremely hard working, the great downside can be that if you aren’t careful that team ethos and spirit within the group can begin to erode.

This isn’t because people don’t get on. It isn’t because people aren’t valued. Quite simply, as workload increases small things start to take hold; staff stop going to the staffroom, they eat their lunch in class while marking, they arrive earlier, stay later, have less free time in the evenings. This naturally begins to erode morale and the very fabric of the organisation.

It’s at times like these that new thinking is required. When thinking about workload, we looked at several key factors to determine how we could make a change to have a positive impact on staff. We considered:

  • How do we ease workload without compromising standards?
  • How do we maintain our ethos and culture?
  • What elements of reduced workload would teachers value the most?
  • How can we cut workload but increase the educational experience for our children?
  • How can we consistently work towards reducing workload: one step at a time?

We thought long and hard about these questions and how we could improve the organisation as whole whilst recognising that in many ways the last 20 years have institutionalised us within the profession. Ofsted now don’t have an opinion on marking – they did. Ofsted now don’t judge lessons – boy, they did do in the past. When you’ve been working to such rigid systems as ever- changing Ofsted frameworks, behavior and actions become deeply engrained. Shifting the focus within an organisation takes time and careful planning.

Mindfulness and mental health

Our first steps along the workload journey have taken two phases. The first is beginning to tackle work-related pressures through mindfulness and mental health. We’ve been fortunate to partner with a number of universities in the West Midlands to tap into their expertise in this area. And we are also lucky to have one of our staff who is not only a teacher but in her previous job was an assistant psychologist. This has enabled us to deliver mindfulness and mental health training to the staff to help with their own well-being and also that of the students.

We are only at the start of the journey, but we have already created a mindfulness/mental health team of dedicated professionals across our schools who want to make a difference. Over the course of the next year we aim to ensure that the mental health of our pupils and staff remains at the forefront of what we do. By creating a dedicated team we are committing to driving change in this area.

‘No pen Friday’

The second phase for us was to look closely at workload and link this directly to staff morale. We sampled and tried a number of initiatives but in the end the one that we committed fully to was ‘No Pen Friday’ which takes place on the second Friday after the start of a new term and the penultimate Friday before the end of a term. We chose these Fridays carefully to ensure that they are at the right points during a half term to reduce stress and workload. During ‘no pen Friday’ we have an expectation on staff that they do not record any work in their books; we expect them to think outside of the box and create learning experiences for the children that tap into a different learning style and approach. We still expect staff to teach maths and English, and to deliver great lessons on these days. But we want them to think differently about how they take the learning to the children.

The benefits for the staff are that in not having to formally record the work, they do not have to mark and so, twice each half term, they have a greatly reduced workload. Naturally, as you can imagine, the children also gain hugely from the experience because they are able to learn in a different way and apply key skills in a more fluid manner. Make no mistake, we do not expect children to get an easy learning ride on these Fridays or that they are simply given tasks to mark time. We expect children to be inspired, motivated and to soak up new learning experiences.

After we considered the actual workload aspect of ‘No Pen Friday’ we then began to consider how we could use it to nurture team spirit and further develop our collective ethos and culture. Over the past two years we have seen the number of staff visiting the staffroom drop off hugely at lunchtimes and so, on ‘no pen Fridays’, we lay on a lunch for the staff. This is no gourmet banquet, but it is a lunch covered by the school that the staff don’t have to prepare or bring in. We simply insist that all staff spend their lunchtimes on ‘no pen Fridays’ in the staffroom socialising and getting to know their colleagues that little bit better. On these days the staffroom is a hub of activity and there is a buzz and energy about the school.

Enforced early closure

The final piece of the ‘no pen Friday’ jigsaw is that of an enforced closure time of the school. Staff within Robin Hood MAT are notorious for staying late so on these Fridays we’ve put in place a very basic rule: all staff are to vacate the premises by no later than 4pm. This is non-negotiable and means that for two Fridays a half term staff are guaranteed to get their weekend started that little bit earlier than normal.

The multi-academy trust has seen huge benefits with this initiative. Staff have more time for each other, children get to learn in a different way and the collective morale and spirit of the group is vastly improved. We would, however, be lying if we were to say that this incentive for staff hasn’t come without its challenges – some of which we simply could not have predicted.

One element that surprised us was that a proportion of the staff actually found ‘no pen Friday’ more stressful to plan for at the start than a normal day – because they had to think in a different way about how they would cater for the children and structure the day. This led to an initial period of anxiety for some people that we had to work through. For the first few cycles, we still had staff insisting that children recorded their learning in their books. It took a concerted team approach to ensure that staff thought differently about learning experiences for the children. Just because a child is not recording their learning in a book does not mean that they are not learning.

The final challenge that we encountered was in actually getting staff out of the door at 4pm. Some staff take a lot of comfort in getting their rooms set up for the next day of teaching and actually found this deadline more stressful. If we are honest, this is something we’ve had to be a little bit flexible over and on some occasions, even though it is a non-negotiable, we’ve had to compromise and put the time back to 4:30pm for the odd individual or two. After all, our aim is to reduce their stress and not add to it!

Improving staff workload and reducing stress is an ongoing issue across schools and needs a long term, nationwide strategy. At Robin Hood we cannot claim that we are where we want to be, yet, but we are making an effort to step in the right direction and make changes that have a positive impact n staff. After all, as Mother Teresa once said, ’I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’

The more schools work to tackle these issues together, the greater our chance of invoking meaningful and long-lasting change.


By ht1education

Non conformity…

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened but no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Friedrich Nietzsche

You are looking at a picture of the sun setting. At first glance all appears to be normal. The sun is present, there are some clouds in the sky and yet something is not quite right. You look again and notice that there is no colour. The picture is a contrast of dark and light greys. The vibrancy of the sun has been replaced by a dull grey. The landscape looks bleak and the clouds are a drab colour. There is detail within the picture but the beauty of the moment is lost.

This picture represents the Governments view of education – learning that can be brilliant and vibrant is replaced by a diet of  almost exclusively Maths, English and SPAG. A diet lacking in diversity, richness and full colour. If it were a sound quality it would be mono when it could be in full dolby stereo sound.  The core subjects are important and indeed vital for children in the future but they are not the only thing they need to learn. There is so much more and yet there is a problem. Many schools are paralysed by a fear to conform and in following the Government rhetoric they are doing a huge disservice to the children who attend them. Education is not about tests, it is not about stuffing children with information, it is not about getting things right all of the time, it is not about SATS (and retaking them in Y7 if you ‘fail’ them in Y6), it is not about a fronted adverbial. Education is about taking risks, failing, learning from mistakes, trying new things, gaining experiences that you wouldn’t normally, stepping outside of your comfort zone, developing resilience, developing character, achieving more than anyone ever expected you could, and above all is else it is about being excited to learn.

Education is currently at a cross roads and we can go one of two ways; we can follow the safe path which is the Government line and implement everything they suggest in just the way they want or we can take the other path. The other path is much riskier. It is a path of non conformity. This path means that we disregard the Government stance on education because we know it is wrong and instead follow what we know to be right and yet we also acknowledge that children need to meet certain standards. Personally, I went into education to help children become brilliant and talented adults who do not worry about fitting a social stereotype but set out to create their version of the world in whatever way that looks like. To do this children need to be exposed to the wonder of learning. They need to know that they are all talented at something. They need to know that things they find challenging can be things that they succeed in if they work hard enough at them. They need to know that there is no such thing as failure if you learn from where you went wrong. They need to know that some of the most successful people in the world ‘failed’ at school and yet were still huge successes and this was because of their mindset.

I am fortunate enough to be the leader of a school with a remarkable group of staff who believe in giving children vibrant learning experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. There is a culture of non conformity where staff and children break the rules and takes risks because they know this leads to great learning. We want children to be different and not the same. Every child at Robin Hood Academy, from Nursery to Y6, learns Mandarin – we could teach easier foreign languages but we believe this one sets them up best for the future. We open the school up to all parents for the first half an hour of the day in what we call ‘Independence Time’ – why keep the parents out when they can come in and learn with their child? We spend thousands of pounds each year working with Birmingham Rep because we know that a child performing a play or script gains so much more than just reading it. We’ve had the Mona Lisa in school and it was stolen! Ok, it wasn’t the real Mona Lisa but the children thought it was (we even had security guards guarding it) and the writing opportunities that came out of that were incredible. Our Y4 children were learning about the Viking diet and, rather than just reading about it, our creative teachers made up some Viking faeces (which included peas, fish bones and other items) and the children had to wear gloves to dissect it. That is real learning because no one remembers a boring lesson but who forgets the day they dissected a Viking turd? Our Y5 children were learning about space and rather than reference books and the internet alone, the staff wanted to push the boundaries and so they sent a weather balloon up to the edge of space with a rocket on it which was designed by our children and built using a 3D printer – we also put all the children’s photographs into it so that we made them all astronauts (for more information on this read here).

The point I’m making here is not that Robin Hood Academy is perfect because no school is but at a time when school’s are restricting their curriculums we are rebelling and growing ours and we are only at the beginning. I am not interested in the term ‘outstanding’. It is a term bounded around by OFSTED. I want Robin Hood to be a ‘flagship’ school which means that it is at the cutting edge of education and trying things that others deem not possible or too risky. That is what education is about. It is about doing what is right and more than ever we need schools to trust in themselves, cast off the shackles and actively rebel. Leading a school into non conformity is a risk but it is a much bigger risk to follow the same old trodden path and  do nothing to engage our children. If we want to show our children how to succeed then we need to model taking risks ourselves.


By ht1education

The Recruitment Drive

As any school leader will tell you, we are currently entering into a fairly frenetic period in the academic year where teachers begin to consider making career moves for Easter and September. Between now and May headteachers and school leaders up and down the country will be looking at their staffing and wondering who will be staying, who will be going and how can they attract the best teachers to their schools.

Within my own school we currently have three teachers who are due to have babies and maternity leave is beckoning (they are three talented individuals who help drive a lot of change in school), we need a new teacher as part of the expansion project we are in, and we have two full time vacancies to fill for September. As a result of this we thought we’d get our adverts in nice and early in February to beat the rush of advertised vacancies and therefore have the best possible chance of recruiting high calibre candidates. It turns out though, that many other schools have the same idea and this year, more than ever, there are an abundance of jobs out there. It seems to me that with the current stresses and strains on the profession, greater numbers are leaving teaching and less are coming on board. In short we have a problem. But, just when I was starting to have the odd negative thought about how we were going to make our school stand out from the crowd in terms of the recruitment drive, a number of things began to happen that filled with me with optimism. We started to have some really high calibre people look around and it wasn’t by chance.

CC Peter McCoubrie

CC Peter McCoubrie

Candidates who viewed the school came from a number of areas – some had seen our OFSTED report from last year (which was really positive so this helped) and some knew of the school’s reputation in the area – both of these facts were pleasing. However, what pleased me more was that we had candidates apply for the position as a result of networking the school had done – we had made links with schools in the Midlands and nationwide and this had enabled the school to be seen as a positive, forward thinking place to work which encouraged a number of candidates to apply. We also work hard to spot and nurture talented teachers in a variety of settings and, through keeping touch with these up-and-coming individuals, and offering them guidance and career advice, we ensured that when jobs came up they were keen to apply. This aspect I find the most pleasing because, as a headteacher, I feel a moral responsibility to develop, nurture and inspire (hopefully, although I can’t promise to get it right all of the time!!!!!) the next generation of teacher and leader coming through as many others did for me. There were times in my career when I’d phone up an old HT or a HT that inspired me to ask for career advice and my mantra as a headteacher is to repeat this kindness and trust that I was shown. The by-product of doing this has turned out to be that these people look for opportunities and want to work in the school.

In an ever competitive job market where schools struggle to recruit now more so than ever, the main way forward has to be to make links with talented people at the onset of their careers and that is where Schools Direct, links with universities, SCITTs, networking and other forums really come into their own. I also think that the benefits of Multi Academy Trusts, federations and established networks are becoming more and more evident because they enable the net to spread wider to harness talent and they also allow schools to retain talented staff because the secondment and developmental opportunities for a range of leaders are huge and varied.

The bottom line for me on recruitment is that if you want talented, passionate and vibrant candidates to apply then you have to put in the groundwork and make sure you do everything you can to attract these high calibre individuals after all – you only get out what you put in. The secret to a successful recruitment drive is the development of people and the investment of time in nurturing trust and inspiration.

Supporting NQTs

It’s been over 13 years since I was an NQT but I still remember it vividly. Two things really stand out for me about that time: firstly, I was incredibly fortunate to work in a school with a fantastic headteacher and supportive staff who went out of their way to help me – they gave me a real platform for my career. Secondly, the first six weeks of being an NQT passed by in a complete blur – I literally cannot remember them. In fact the main feelings that I felt at the time, in-spite of working in a great school, were those of trepidation, vulnerability and anxiety. That age old feeling of ‘Am I good enough?’ What you don’t understand as an NQT is that in many ways the vulnerability and reflective questioning never leave us but what does ease is that the more frequently you pass through those processes the more you learn how to deal with them. You understand that you are passing through a phase. I think that is why the NQT year is hard because you don’t have that understanding to draw upon.

The First Term

I was discussing how hard the first term is as an NQT the other day with a group of first year teachers and the message that I wanted to give them was simple. This first term is tough. It tests you resolve. It makes you question your ability. It makes you feel isolated. The bad news is that they are currently in the most difficult phases and, in many cases, this is when many NQTs question their ability and generally have a wobble. The good news is that, come January, many of them will have a new sense of resolve and determination to stay the course. And stay the course they must do because as leaders we need them to make it. Education needs them to make it. Children need them to make it.

photo 3

The Need to Succeed

In an age where I believe it is the hardest time ever to break through as an NQT we need these new generation of teachers to succeed, flourish and learn to push the educational boundaries to take education into an exciting new era. It is important that whilst we bring a sense of realism to Newly Qualified Teachers we also need to inspire them to go into leadership and want to be headteachers. The key question is how do we do this? It’s not an easy question and the answer is even harder because if we really knew how to do this there would not be a shortage of headteachers nationwide. I personally believe that the way forward is to encourage big picture thinking amongst the NQTs from an early stage – let them see how decisions made influence the big picture. Let them see that leaders are fallible, have self doubt and like anyone else question their decisions.


The other phase in helping NQTs to succeed is the more obvious – surrounding them with great people and a structured programme of support. It is vital that NQTs are encouraged to be reflective, put the children at the heart of all they do and understand key principles of pedagogy. It is also vitally important that, even with the reduced roles of the LA, we provide opportunities for NQTs to network with their peers across a range of schools. In many ways this is the most important support we can offer them and it is important that this isn’t lost in a time when some schools are looking more internally than ever. The NQT year makes or breaks a teacher’s career and, as leaders, the onus is on us to make sure that we are creating a new and brilliant generation of teacher.


If you’re an NQT and you’d like guidance then watch here http://youtu.be/6mCBduRlNzo

By ht1education

Reflecting on learning via social media

As Headteacher of a primary school I have been blogging for just over two years. The main aim was to engage parents and the wider community in showing them the learning that was taking place and how this was moving the school forward. A number of other positive aims were also achieved including: showing parents that I was a different style of leader to my predecessor, building further lines of communication and also creating an online evidence base for OFSTED to trawl. With this in mind I created ht1parkhill.wordpress.com and so far in just over two years there have been over 40,000 hits.

The aim was always to roll out blogging to each phase in the school and to allow the children and staff to personalise the experience further. The only problem was that I kept on putting off implementing this with staff (this usually happens when I’m unsure of the potential impact) because I know that, whilst WordPress can be easy for some to pick up, it can also be quite challenging for others. I started to wonder if there was an easier and more effective solution. The vision was about sharing learning and the journey the children were on – I began to question if WordPress was the right format because blogs of this nature take a while to write (especially for staff who already have marking and planning to do) and in the worst case scenario a child may show the teacher a great piece of work but, due to other pressures, this may not get added to the blog until the following week and in this case the impact of the learning is lost. The conclusion that we came to was that a traditional blog is great for the HT or a senior leader to relay information but there are better formats out there for showcasing work with the best being Twitter.

twitter v social media

The advantages of Twitter are: it’s not time consuming for staff (max of 140 characters), it’s easy to use and access, it works well on a mobile device and most importantly it is instantaneous. With a Tweet taking no more than 30 seconds to write it is the ideal format for showcasing learning – we live in an age of social media where people expect instant recognition. Twitter is great at providing instant feedback and, when a child has produced an outstanding piece of work, there is instant verification and recognition that they have achieved great learning. This is where Twitter has the edge over Facebook and WordPress. Below is an example of a Tweet referencing learning and top tips for showcasing children’s work on Twitter.

PH tweet

Top Tips

  • Make sure that you have upskilled parents (we do this with workshops during parents evening).
  • Create a Twitter account for each phase in school.
  • Always photograph the learning and add a sentence to place the learning into context.
  • Use only first names of the children so as to not give too much personal information away.
  • Use a hashtag. We use #ParkHillPrimary because that way if a parent wants to see learning from Nursery through to Y6 for the day they simply have to search the hashtag.
  • Ensure that you have enough mobile devices around school to capture learning.
  • Build in time for staff training – we use five minutes at the start of a staff meeting to practice Tweeting.
  • Place a minimum expectation for how many Tweets should be generated a day – we started with a minimum of one and worked upwards from there when staff were comfortable.

If you are interested in the learning at Park Hill then follow @ParkHillPrimary

Why it’s ok to fail sometimes…

In the past few years I have been thinking a lot about education and how it compares to the corporate world. In particular I’ve been interested in entrepreneurs and how often the most successful ones seem to have come through periods of real struggle and often downright failure in their professional lives only to bounce back stronger. A couple of months ago I was reading about the founder of Shutterstock, Jon Oringer, and he was describing how he had made Shutterstock such a success (the first company in Silicon Alley, NYC,  to be valued at a billion dollars). When he was questioned as to how he’d achieved it he said, ‘I had failed ten times before and I was willing to fail for the eleventh time.’  Clearly here was a man who did not take failure personally but built upon it each time, kept moving forward and learnt from errors made. I love his mindset and the ability to come back stronger and it made me think: do we do that enough in education?

In education it’s personal…

I know that when an entrepreneur fails it can mean that they let lot of people and other businesses down but there is something altogether more personal in education when failure occurs. If a school leader fails then is it ok? After all if they get it wrong then it leads to children being let down and I think that’s where education becomes intensely personal because who wants to let children down and fail them? We went into education to make a positive difference not a negative one! It is for this precise reason that it is simply deemed unacceptable to fail as a school leader and for the most part I agree with this however, I think that as a profession we are becoming so risk averse and afraid of failing (particularly with OFSTED) that it is inhibiting many leaders from making big calls that could push the learning forward for children in a huge way. If you fail in education as a leader then there is an element of being consigned to the scrap heap and being seen as ‘soiled goods’ particularly if an OFSTED judgement goes against you. We seem to often miss the point that a lot of entrepreneurs inherently get and that is: it’s ok to fail as long you learn from it and the failure isn’t a catastrophic one. Really there are two types of failure. The first type of failure comes from apathy – a leader who has rested on their laurels and become complacent. The second type of failure happens when a risk or innovation has occurred and for some reason, whatever that may be, it hasn’t worked out. By the very definition, entrepreneurs (for the most part) fall into the latter category when failing because they are innovative leaders who are go getters and therefore less likely to become complacent but possibly a little more likely to over extend themselves. They key is that unless you take risks, are prepared to fail and learn from it then are you ever really going to achieve excellence?

A changing mindset…

CC @thinkingIP

CC @thinkingIP

I love this image which was created by @thinkingIP. It sends out a great message and in particular to education. We should set our goals (make them ambitious) and work towards them with the realisation that things rarely go as we perceive they will and along the way we are going to hit many stumbling blocks that we need to overcome. It also shows that sometimes, just when you are about to succeed, you’ll often face your biggest test. It’s important that when we set out to achieve anything we are prepared to fail, learn from it and bounce back. In education that’s a really fine line because we are dealing in children’s lives but it doesn’t mean that we can’t take risks, fail, learn from it and then come back stronger. We just have to build in safety measures to ensure that when we do fail it is in a way that can be salvaged and turned around.



Personally I can accept that I may fail through taking risks and attempting to innovate but what I cannot tolerate for myself is failure through apathy and complacency. That sort is failure really is unacceptable when dealing with children’s lives because it sends out a strong message that you as a leader hold yourself above the good of the children. No one should ever want to fail in that way!

If you’re interested in reading up more on how failure is a key contributor to success then I fully recommend that you read  the book below by Tim Harford. It’s an easy read and really thought provoking!

ADAPT (Book)

Reasons to be a headteacher

This post comes about as a result of @gazneedle highlighting that in previous posts there is mention of the ‘positives’ of going into headship without actually alluding to what they are. He said that he’d love to have it sold to him. Well here goes…

This might seem strange but I’m going to begin with a perceived negative and try and flip it on it’s head. By far the biggest reason that I hear of teachers not wanting to aim for headship is the responsibility that goes with it – the fact that the buck stops with you. Well I guess the short answer to that is ‘yes it does’ but there is another point to be made. As a headteacher the buck does stop with you and yes that is daunting (at times) but life is about taking risks, stepping outside of your comfort zone, pushing yourself into unchartered territory and putting your head above the pit. It’s one thing to think headship isn’t for you because you enjoy the role of day to day class teaching too much (although as a HT you can still be heavily involved in learning with the children) but don’t be put off by headship because of responsibility. When you eventually depart the Earth no one will judge you for being a good or bad headteacher – they will judge you on your strength of character and attitude to life. With that in mind here are the positives of being a headteacher so, if you are a teacher or senior leader, then take them onboard and start aiming for what is a great and fulfilling role.

#1 Implementing your vision

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

There is no feeling like steering a school in the direction that you totally and utterly believe. It is a great feeling to know that you have the ability to draw out everything you believe in education and implement this into a school. I’ve worked for some great HTs who had exciting visions but nothing beats guiding a school in the direction you believe.

#2 Empowering the children – showing you care

When I first started as HT two years ago I set myself the challenge  of getting to know the name of every child in the school (360 of them) within a month. I managed it and now, when I stand on the gate in the morning, I welcome them all in personally. I also know what interests they have (this takes longer to acquire this information and then remember it!) and it’s a great feeling to see their face light up when you welcome them onto the playrgound by using their name and referencing an interest. Children know when an adult is genuinely interested in them and it matters to them that the person in charge of the school values them as an individual.  We’ve all worked in schools where the HT locks themselves away and is rarely seen – to know that standing on a gate, smiling and welcoming children into school makes a difference is a great feeling especially when the child who is often quiet and shy starts to come out of their skin and shine. As a class teacher that’s a great feeling with a class of 30, imagine what it’s like with 360. Magic!

#3 Developing people

Photo Credit:  CC Marfis75

Photo Credit: CC Marfis75

It is a real privilege knowing that you have the ability to positively influence a person’s career – this is the real moral compass of headship. So many leaders had a positive influence on me and if one of them hadn’t shown interest and faith in my ability the journey to get here would have taken longer. To know that I now have the responsibility of similarly developing people is a real honour and, when a staff member who you have invested so much time in, takes a step forward in their career it a very rewarding experience. It might sound a bit twee but I love the quote: ‘All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.’ That quote not only rings true for the children but also for all staff under your stewardship.

#4 Leading change

I know a lot of people dislike change but that is an element of the job I love. I really enjoy looking at the school with a clarity and objectivity to see what we have done well that’s worked and what else we can do to improve. The process of focusing on an area that needs improving, implementing change and then assessing the impact is rewarding and you get lots of feedback (quickly) about whether the strategies you are implementing work.

#5 Validation

This one is totally selfish but I think it is very important. Headship is a wonderful experience but also stressful at times, particularly in your first one. The amount of times I doubted myself, worried that I wasn’t up to the mark (see the post on coaching for how to deal with this) and generally felt daunted was quite a lot in the first year in particular. There were only two things I didn’t waver on and they were the direction I was taking the school and the vision – I may have doubted everything else but I never doubted these two things. So, when you get your first OFSTED inspection, it’s a big thing. If it goes well then you are validated – no one can ever take that away from you. I was fortunate that mine went well (OFSTED REPORT 2014) and instantly, for the first time in my mind, I had credibility. It’s hard to describe that feeling – it’s (and this is rather sad) one of the best feelings I’ve had. To know that you have led a school through a period of change and come out the other end with your methods vaildated is a hugely motivating feeling. I’m not sure that I’ll ever replicate that feeling and I may spend a lot of my working life chasing it. It is a unique and highly personal thing to experience.

Education needs YOU!

It’s a well known fact there is a real shortage of headteachers – that’s because it’s a pressured job and a lot of people can be very negative about it. Don’t let them put you off. If you are a good to outstanding teacher or senior leader and are reading this then you need to be seriously considering aiming for headship and what’s more schools need you. We need talented, inspirational leaders who are willing to give it a go.Of course you’ll worry about whether you’re ready. Of course you’ll doubt yourself. That’s natural but don’t let these barriers get in the way. Aim for headship!

If you would like a a free copy of my guide to aiming for headship then click here Securing and Surviving the First Year of Headship. If you are thinking about taking the first steps towards headship or are about to step into the role then get in touch with me via staylor@ht1education.co.uk or on twitter @tambotaylor and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. It is a genuine offer so take me up on it!



The launch of @PairandShare #PairandShare

As HT of a primary school in Coventry I have been fortunate enough to have been able to link with some fantastic schools and colleagues from across the UK. I have visited schools who are Outstanding, Good, RI and in Special Measures and on each visit I have gained so much and brought something new back to my own school. I always find it fascinating to see how another school operates, the approaches they have and the way they go about providing the best learning opportunities for their pupils. It is amazing what is going on in other schools and the more I see the more ideas I have for my own school.

@PairandShare came about because I now have a good network of schools to tap into but I’d like to see more ideas from a greater range of schools and, to be honest, locating further schools to look at with the same approach to sharing ideas is not always easy. After all, how do you forge links with a school outside of your local authority unless someone has given you a recommendation? It’s not that easy and that’s where @PairandShare comes in – it’s free and all you have to do is complete the short form (click here) where you highlight what you’d like to see, how far you are willing to travel and what you are able to offer a school visiting you and the rest is simple – I will pair you up with a like minded school. The one and only aim is to raise the quality of pupil outcomes through school to school collaboration.

Recent experience shows me that school leaders worry when they have to share something good about their school – they don’t want to seem boastful or underestimate the practice they have going on. It’s important to realise that what one school sees as basic good practice another school will not have thought of this idea – this is a particularly strong argument for linking with schools outside of your local authority because we all approach things in different ways.

How to use @PairandShare

@PairandShare links you with another school (this is done on a termly basis but it’s up to you how often you signup from once to every time we do it) and the rest is up to you. Personally, for my school, I plan to use it in two ways. The first way is that I aim to get out with the Senior Leadership Team and see how other leadership teams approach school improvement and secondly I aim to send groups of staff to look at a specific focus (this is going to be a real driver at Park Hill Primary where each staff member has an entitlement to visit another school every term because it’s all too easy to become insular within our own school).

@PairandShare #PairandShare

@PairandShare #PairandShare – it’s the dating agency of School Improvement!

The more schools that sign up the more great practice we will be able to share – if you sign up we’ll find a school for you to visit. The only thing that is asked  (if you have a Twitter account) is that you take photos of what you see and tweet about it using the #PairandShare so that we can all see the great practice going on in schools.

Inspiring Future Leaders


The current state of play

With at least one in four primary schools who advertised for the position of headteacher unable to recruit in 2013/14  it seems that more and more teaching staff are reluctant to ever aim for the top job. In particular a growing number of deputy heads are turning their back on leading schools which leads to the question of why? From conversations with fellow professionals it seems that the most common reasons for passing up the opportunity to lead a school are:

  • Too much pressure and accountability.
  • Being a headteacher is a little like being a football manager these days with people ‘moved on’ if the right results aren’t achieved.
  • The ever present threat of OFSTED.
  • The step up in salary from deputy to head is too small for the added responsibility.

Personally I was always driven to be a headteacher and had some great role models to learn from and to aspire to but maybe there is just too much negative vibe around. I think headteachers have to question, as a collective group, if we are doing enough to inspire others to join us. Don’t get me wrong there are some great heads out there who have a real moral compass in trying to grow future leaders but there are also a large number of headteachers who moan about the job, complain about the hours and generally are constantly articulating the negatives. There’s nothing worse than hearing a leader counting down the years to retirement. Headship is a great job, yes there are considerable pressures, but the positives far out way the negatives. Therefore the question has to be: how can we inspire and grow future leaders to go all the way?

Promoting a leadership journey

mountain range

The first stage in developing any future leader is in creating a positive ‘can do’ mindset that is open to taking risks, sees leadership opportunities within school as stepping stones to success and overcomes stumbling blocks that naturally occur. Ultimately it is a balance between providing up and coming leaders with developmental opportunities whilst not piling too much on them too soon which risks disengaging them. I think that any staff member who has leadership potential needs to be exposed to ‘big picture’ thinking as early on in their career as possible so that they have the ability to see past the impact on themselves and their own and class and to think of the good of the school community as a whole. They also need to hear that they have leadership potential and the ability to go on to be a headteacher. All too often future leaders do not want to be seen by their peers as ‘above their station’ in admitting that they are aiming to be a headteacher one day – it would be good to flip this it’s head and assume that if you are an outstanding practitioner that you will be considering headship – why wouldn’t you?

Pushing staff on

If any of my staff members asks me what I recommend in terms of leadership journeys; should they stay in one school or move across a number? I have only one piece of advice. Don’t stay too long anywhere (a maximum of four years) and experience as many different kinds of school and leadership as possible. This is where it helps to identify leaders with potential early on in their career – we want people who are driven to be heads rather than those who reluctantly take the step because there is no other move left to make. If we see this quality early on then we can help them make the right moves. As a head I don’t want to lose my best staff but I have a moral purpose to push them out of their comfort zones and encourage them to achieve their potential. I think, ultimately, a school that is seen as one that grows leaders and pushes them on will be able to recruit higher calibre and ambitious candidates in the first place.

Failure is ok – it’s how you bounce back

I often think that in business the most successful of business men and women have often come back from the brink of oblivion – they have been bankrupt or had a business fail and yet they still reinvent themselves. A good example of this is Jon Oringer who founded Shutterstock (a company that has been valued at over a billion dollars on the NYC stock exhange). When asked what his secret for success was, Jon said that he’d had twelve companies fail before this one and was prepared to fail a thirteenth time. I love that mindset. I know education is different because you can’t continue to fail children but I do think that how we can learn a lot in terms of leadership from the corporate world in how we deal with failure. We want new leaders to be capable of taking risks, prepared to fail and reflective on how they can improve their leadership qualities. Growing leaders is as much about showing them how we deal with failure as how we deal with success. If we grow leaders who come back stronger when things don’t work out as planned then I think we will ultimately be growing leaders who aren’t afraid to fail and in doing this creating a new leadership mindset that says, ‘I will have a go at headship because I can make a difference’ rather than, ‘Headship is too pressured. I might fail and so I’ll stay as deputy’.


Leadership ripples…

As headteachers we have a moral purpose to develop and create a new generation of leaders who are positive about education, up for the challenge of  dealing with a constantly fluctuating educational landscape and not afraid to step up to the plate. Our role is to  highlight the positives in the job, provide leadership opportunities, articulate (in a constructive way) how we deal with pressure and generally to sell the position of headteacher. After all, if we don’t then who will?


By ht1education