April 2018

The know zone

  • Bold fashion statement
    Reckoning that pupils who sported designer handbags could be less likely to succeed than their purse-free peers, one headteacher describes what led to her decision to de-accessorise in the classroom. More
  • Un-social media?
    With more and more social media platforms becoming available, and with the rise in the number of news reports on how social media is affecting children's mental health and wellbeing, we asked ASCL members to share their thoughts on this. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Empower yourself
    Val Andrew explores the theme for this year's ASCL School Business Leaders' Conference - 'Empowering Agile Leadership'. More
  • Next steps to higher learning
    Schools now have a statutory duty to allow further education (FE) colleges and other providers on to their premises to talk to their pupils. Here, Kevin Gilmartin examines the so-called 'Baker clause'. More
  • Pregnancy and maternity
    We have seen an increase in member queries on pregnancy and maternity, but before you stop reading, thinking, "This so isn't for me," says Sara Ford, please be aware that the issues being raised need to be understood by anyone managing staff. More
  • Speak up
    We must start talking more about SEND funding and stop using the complexity of this provision as a barrier for not doing so, says Julia Harnden. More
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Val Andrew explores the theme for this year’s ASCL School Business Leaders’ Conference – ‘Empowering Agile Leadership’.

Empower yourself

Good school leaders need to be able to lead consistently, to ‘steady the ship’, ensuring pupil attainment is maintained at an appropriate level, managing change and keeping staff motivated and enthusiastic through unsettled times. In contrast, there is the expectation that we can embrace change and make it work successfully, developing innovative ways of delivering creative curriculum options, seeking out every opportunity to squeeze the last drop of efficiency from our resources and being proactive in our attempts to collaborate more widely.

Agility versus consistency

Researching this led me to a piece in the Harvard Business Review by John Coleman (https://tinyurl.com/j7wtrh4) who wrote that the best strategic leaders are able to strike the balance between agility and consistency – two traits that are potentially polar opposites. Coleman’s theories about how to achieve this balance fit the context of a school business leader (SBL) perfectly. He states that the best leaders are consistent, they set and achieve objectives, plan diligently, consistently perform well and possess resilience and grit. Staff appreciate consistency in their leaders and this can motivate and inspire them to perform well. However, being overly consistent can lead to rigidity that manifests itself in experiencing difficulty adapting to change, an over-reliance on safe habits and established ways of working and a reluctance to consider doing things differently.

Agility, on the other hand, is necessary to be able to respond to changing environments. Personal agility is the capacity to retain perspective, be proactive in terms of professional development, requiring intellectual curiosity, a willingness to learn from others and the ability to collaborate and communicate widely. Professional agility is the ability to identify where business strategy needs to respond to change, to develop creative ways to deliver organisational success. However, while agility can produce visionary leaders who respond to change with dedication and commitment, it can also lead to indecision and a lack of focus that can breed a culture of chaos and instability, particularly where there is a lack of determination to see things through.

There are so many obvious analogies with the role of the SBL – hence this choice for our conference theme this year. The context of the current fractured educational landscape and the constancy of change, has meant that all SBLs have had to develop significant personal and professional agility in order to respond effectively, efficiently and to be sustainable in their roles. Once regarded as senior support staff, SBLs are now more broadly recognised as fully integrated in leadership. Practitioners have had to become adaptable, flexible, resourceful, innovative and proactive. They have developed the ability to encourage and empower multi-functional teams, by supporting their continuing professional development (CPD) and providing delegated decision making and an environment that stimulates talent.

I become increasingly frustrated when I read about how SBLs can save their headteachers significant amounts of time. This assertion fails to acknowledge the diverse range of skills and competencies this profession now has, and how these contribute to outputs and ultimately to raising standards in our schools. Many practitioners are now actively and regularly involved in very complex projects, such as the process of conversion to academy, multi-academy trust (MAT) and federation growth, managing the changing requirements of financial accounting and reporting, due diligence and risk management, on an unprecedented level, and not forgetting the increasing scope of legal compliance.

Even in the face of constant change, SBLs are tasked with managing depleting teams of school support staff, coping with the demotivation that ensues with repeated restructuring and trying to ensure that people remain enthusiastic and continue to perform effectively and efficiently in a climate when budgets are under severe pressure.

The right balance

To summarise, it’s the combination of consistency and agility that makes for a rounded and strategic SBL who performs to a high standard, has an eye on the external positioning of their school/ academy/group, embraces change and implements new systems and practices, while retaining the respect and commitment of their peers.

If you want to find out more about your own levels of agility and consistency, then you need to come along to the conference this year. We have some excellent keynote speakers and workshop presenters. Many of the topics covered will link directly to the concept of developing greater agility in both personal skills and professional competencies.

Your CPD

ASCL Conference for School Business Leaders is taking place on 17 May in Nottingham. Book your place at www.ascl.org.uk/BLconference

Val Andrew
ASCL Business Leadership Specialist