For those of you who are contemplating taking the next step in your professional career aiming for Headship or are already in a senior management position and looking to develop leadership skills I would highly recommend this course ‘Leading an Independent School’.
This four week online course is a flexible and productive way of developing the skills necessary for successful independent sector headship. It helps senior leaders in both independent and state schools decide whether independent sector headship is the right route for them, and support their applications and preparation if this is the case.
I was fortunate to participate in the course last term (summer 2015) and have gained a great deal from the interactions with other course participants and live webinar discussions and associated tasks.
The course is facilitated by Jill Berry and Andrew Hampton.
Jill Berry is past president of the Girls’ Schools Association and is the former Head of Dame Alice Harpur School in Bedford (now Bedford School for Girls), now working for the National College for School Leadership, doing educational consultancy work and a part-time
Doctorate in Education. Jill worked with the SLT and SMT at St Hilda’s last year advising and assisting in developing our new leadership team. She is a regular tweeter and is worth following @jillberry102.
1 To explore some of the main issues that you might face as the headteacher of an independent school
2 To consider the importance of having clear vision and values, and to encourage you to think about your personal priorities and convictions with respect to the school whose leadership you might inherit
3 To identify the distinctive features of independent education, for example with regard to governance and accountability, and the school as a business
4 To understand what is expected of you as the headteacher of an independent school
5 If you are in the process of seeking headship in the independent sector, to prepare yourself better for taking on the responsibility
6 To understand the requirements of an Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) inspection
7 To prepare yourself to lead an independent school through an inspection.
As a participant on the course, I was expected to:
• Read and review the materials presented
• Reflect in a blog and contribute to others’ blogs
• Engage and reflect with fellow participants through the blogs, discussions and hotseats
• Undertake tasks using my own school experience
• Contribute to discussions and shared documents
In the first couple of weeks we explored how to go about shaping a clear vision for a school that we lead, the importance of building that vision, one which fits both the specific context and my own educational philosophy. After that we considered how to communicate and market that vision. Louise Hitchen, marketing professional led the live hot seat to support the associated task of reflecting on the importance of having that vision then working with staff, pupils and parents to ensure that the vision, aims and values are clear to all.
The units focusing on Governance and Accountability and Schools as Businesses was fascinating and an area which I possibly learnt the most from in terms of my current knowledge base and senior leadership skills. Everyone on the course had very different experiences of working with governing bodies and I felt very thankful that my experiences of the governing body at St Hilda’s and Aldenham were so positive. Linda Trapnell led the hot seat discussions on Governance and Accountability and her wealth of knowledge and experience as a former Head Teacher and Chair of Governors throughout her 45 years of being involved in education was shared by all. One simple statement that she said stays with me, ‘As with a HT, a Governor should be a role model for staff, employees and other stakeholders. Not all understand that initially.’
The associated task of writing a termly Governors’ Report was useful and Jill and Andrew offered helpful feedback. We were also asked to come up with a ‘Dream Team Governing Body’. This was an insightful and thought provoking exercise as we debated and reflected on the professions/skills that a Governing Body should consist of. However, Andrew made a very good point regarding his ‘wild card’ governor, ‘It is not always about what people do, but who they are and the values they hold.’
We also discussed the importance of governing bodies appraising themselves as to their effectiveness; an area for further discussion I am sure.
What with all the recent media coverage on independent school fees the live hotseat with Jean-Marc Hodgkin who is a serving independent school bursar/business manager was excellent. I think that we were all heartened by the idea that Heads don’t need to be accountants and for many of us as school leaders it is an area that we are most unfamiliar with. Jean-Marc’s response to the question on what the bursar requires from the Head was very straightforward – ‘to listen and respect each other, to seek blended solutions to issues (educational objective with financial / HR input), and candour in communication’.
This unit also opened up interesting debate surrounding scholarships and bursaries; schools that try to cover up falling numbers by over-offering bursaries which then end up creating a system which is then not sustainable. Andrew Hammond summed up his thoughts , ‘I think whichever way you play the bursary situation it is fraught with a thousand ‘ifs’ and ‘depends ons’.
The Top 3 things that I learnt from the Bursar Hot Seat discussions and associated tasks were:
• The importance of having an honest, candor relationship with the school bursar to maximize the money spent on education.
• The explanation of ‘capital’ v’s ‘revenue’ and the healthy debate regarding the capital development ‘shiny facilities v’s quality teaching’.
• Understanding that as a head you do not need to be a qualified accountant but helpful to have some good financial knowledge regarding school finances and are ready for Headship interviews.
Click here for a useful and though provoking blog Jill recommended to us to read by a senior teacher applying for Headship posts.
Leading a school through an ISI inspection was the penultimate unit on the course where we were required to write our blog to include the following;
• How would you ensure that the inspection process is a positive one for the school?
• How would you encourage governors and staff to see it as an opportunity rather than a threat?
• How would you encourage the community to be receptive to criticism? Can you model this personally?
• How would you gather information about the progress the school has made against the recommendations from the previous inspection report? Can you demonstrate clearly that the school has moved forward?
• Imagine you have just taken the phone call telling you that the inspection will take place in five working days. List the five things you will do first.
This task was very relevant and useful as I am very aware that our last inspection was back in 2011. I am sure there are many teachers who dread inspections but one of the course participants put it very succinctly in his words “the school needs to develop an on-going culture of self-evaluation and reflection” and Jill’s response ‘so inspection is a stage in the journey rather than the end-point we’re all working towards’. Wise words to remember!
Having recently attended the ISI consultancy workshop on the future of ISI inspections I was fortunate in being able to have the opportunity to discuss ideas and concerns with the Chief Inspector, ISI staff and other independent school heads. Compliance is an area which I am sure for all schools is constantly being addressed and I as DSLP I have already updated our Safeguarding policy four times in one academic year to remain compliant! The proposed separation of inspection of compliance from the inspection of quality of the broader provision and outcomes for pupils can hopefully only be a positive for independent schools in the future.
In the final week of the course we made a ‘Commitment to Action’ to reflect on our leadership journey, our challenges and the next steps. I cannot recommend this course enough as it has developed my skills and knowledge as a new Deputy Head and enabled me to make a difference at St Hilda’s and in the Aldenham Foundation working as part of the SMT. I have been inspired by all the participants and our shared knowledge and experiences.
The course is run by the drb group .
For the next coming year the course will be running each term:
Autumn Term 2015: 4 weeks beginning Monday 28 September 2015
Spring Term 2016: 4 weeks beginning Monday 18th January
Summer Term 2016: 4 weeks beginning Monday 2nd May 2016
I am happy to share more information about the course if you are interested in participating but I would highly recommend it to aspiring leaders.
Wishing you all a great start academic year 2015-2016.
Shirley Drummond | Deputy Head | St Hilda’s