March 2014

The know zone

  • Do the right thing
    Four recommendations in the recent report on whistleblowing by charity Public Concern at Work are particularly significant for schools and colleges, says Richard Bird. More
  • Save and prosper
    In tough times, ‘resourceful resourcing’ comes into its own. Val Andrew offers business managers a guide. More
  • Fresh look for inspections
    Suzanne O’Farrell examines the implications of changes to Ofsted’s subsidiary guidance and handbook and looks ahead to the new framework scheduled for September. More
  • Post-16 committee
    The focus in this Leader is on ASCL Council’s Post-16 Committee, which has a wide-ranging remit that includes all aspects of post-16 education in schools and colleges. More
  • Great aspirations
    Kathryn Podmore is Principal of Birkenhead Sixth Form College, an active member of several education bodies and chair of ASCL Council’s Post-16 committee. More
  • Ensuring complete representation
    From time to time ASCL Council co-opts members from groups that are under-represented to ensure that the views of all types of members are taken into consideration when debating policy. More
  • ASCL PD events
    Whole School Leadership of Teaching and Learning, Student Voice Beyond Student Councils, and Strategic Behavioural Management that Works More
  • Analyse this...
    What systems, processes and people do you need to help your staff develop their skills and their careers? Sue Bull and Vicky Bishop explain. More
  • Virtually University
    Virtually University (VU) links schools and colleges with universities via videoconferencing to help inform and inspire students with their HE choices More
  • Adding value
    Walk your way to improved health More
  • Poisoned chalice?
    Schools Minister David Laws recently announced a new programme to encourage ‘outstanding’ heads and school leaders to move into schools in challenging circumstances. Would you be willing to take on the challenge? Here, ASCL members share their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • Take Care?
    No matter the intention, what you call it or how you present it to students, Personal, Social, Citizenship and Health Education (PSCH More
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Schools Minister David Laws recently announced a new programme to encourage ‘outstanding’ heads and school leaders to move into schools in challenging circumstances. Would you be willing to take on the challenge? Here, ASCL members share their views.

Poisoned chalice?

A real risk

There are many talented leaders in ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ schools that have much to share about their successful journeys to ‘Ofsted-gorgeousness’. However, asking them to take on a challenging school is a real risk for both the individual leader and for their ‘home’ school. How do they successfully spread themselves between two (or more) schools to make those key differences?

How does the ‘home’ school feel about their leader being absent? How does the individual leader really gel with the new ‘host’ school? How long is long enough to make that key difference to the ‘host’ school? What happens to the leader (and his/her reputation) if he/she can’t ‘turn it’ fast enough...? For governors, the DfE or for academy chain leaders?

School leaders who are currently working in challenging schools, turning them into ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ schools, also have much to offer to support other, similar schools on their journey to success.

Heather Scott
Headteacher, Bruntcliffe School in Leeds

The A team

My suggestion would be to establish a core team of a charismatic head, a clinical timetabler and a business manager who is able, simultaneously, to exercise tight control and deliver innovative solutions.

The head would build the right team of teachers, inculcate a belief in the school’s drive for success and ensure every pupil reaches their full potential. The timetabler and business manager would maximise efficiency. The core team is the key.

The team would be recruited together; they would work to performance-related, six-year contracts with two-year break options on either side for each individual, independently adjudicated by Ofsted every other year and centrally funded. This elite team would be recognised by fellow professionals and, personally, by decision-makers in the DfE.

It’s the Brian Clough method: Take an ordinary squad and transform it into something outstanding through inspired coaching, shrewd investment and instilling s self-confidence in every member.

Norman Moon
Former school business manager, Hereford

Political football

Would I be willing to take on the challenge? Yes, I have done. I chose to work in a school in a deprived area with three generations of unemployed parents and with students with massive mental health issues and levels of self-harm, where children end up sleeping rough in the park. A school where the parents were used to bullying the headteacher into submission. A school with exam results that never met the floor targets.

It has taken our academy three years to match the exam results of our neighbouring leafy suburb schools. In 2013, we had 14 per cent more children getting at least five ‘good’ GCSEs with English and maths than could have been thought possible for that cohort, even in the best 25 per cent of schools.

We get our results by being exceptionally strict and exceptionally caring – both done 100 per cent of the time by 100 per cent of the staff. We have zero tolerance of underperformance from staff, and we have, consequently, high morale among staff who know they are making a difference.

The government seems to think that pay is what incentivises people – they are wrong. I would do the job for far less pay. My incentive for doing this job was a troubled childhood myself, and a feeling that I was saved by my school. Day after day I front it out to tattooed, despairing parents who are frightened of their own children, who say they want to ‘chin me’, and that I run the school like a prison camp. But, prison camp or not, parents are voting with their feet and we are full next September.

David Laws’ plan is wrong. It won’t work. If you take heads like me out of our own schools in the effort to transform other challenging schools, you risk leaving behind a trail of good schools that will start to fail.

The boys in government need to put the education football down, and leave us heads to do our job of turning around schools, and more to the point, the children in them.

(Name supplied)
Principal, South West England

Need time and support

As the leader of an ‘outstanding’ school, I am currently working to support another school with an Ofsted rating of ‘requires improvement’. Good leadership does lead to good schools but there is no quick fix. Improving a school is a journey and many issues have to be tackled before a school can get to ‘good’.

I think a good leader needs two to three years before real improvements begin to be seen. Ofsted does not allow for this and often they expect to see results within one term. We all know staffing issues can take time to deal with. If the government really wants to see good leaders take on challenging schools then they have to develop a supportive system that gives that leader time and money to make a difference. This includes having a supportive inspection system that allows for this.

Julie Bloor
Principal, Shirebrook Academy in Mansfield