Imaginative leadership in action

SSAT National Conference 2018

At the heart of this year’s conference is a conviction that schools should always do what’s right for young people. Although it may not feel so at times, technically England has one of the most autonomous education systems in the world. It is our belief that autonomy should always be exercised in the interests of young people’s learning and achievement; and for no other purpose.

However, we know through talking to many of our member headteachers, principals and senior leaders that the demands of the system sometimes makes doing the right thing hard. There is such pressure to perform well against the key measures; and we all know the possible outcomes of a poor year’s results or damning Ofsted report.

At the same time, Ofsted is changing. It is clear that the direction of travel for the new framework next year will be to provide a counterbalance to DfE performance metrics, perhaps commenting more on what it feels like to be part of that school. We are delighted that Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, will be in conversation on the main stage, dispelling myths around inspection and encouraging delegates to use their informed, professional judgements in the interests of students.

Likewise, we are also pleased that there is less focus on threshold measures from the DfE, with floor targets, expected standards and coasting definitions being abolished next year.

This all suggests a more nuanced approach to school accountability. You are still held rigorously accountable for children’s outcomes; but the means by which you reach them are determined by you, based on contextual knowledge and understanding.

How, then, do you have the courage to take those bold decisions?

The BBC arts editor, Will Gompertz, will be opening the conference alongside headteachers from the SSAT network, advocating that we need to embed a culture of imaginative leadership across our institutions. The benefits of imaginative leadership filter down across your teams, Will will argue. What does an imaginative culture look like? How do you model it as a leader? How do you embed it across your school? These are some of the questions we’ll be exploring at the start of the conference.

Once you have these big ideas, how do they become a practical reality? We will be hearing from headteachers who have taken these bold decisions and enacted them in their schools, both from the main stage and through a variety of workshops. Jennie Giovanelli, headteacher of Kingsthorpe College, will talk about the importance of storytelling in imagining your future; executive headteacher Helena Marsh will encourage you to be ‘flamingos of hope’ not ‘lemmings of despair’; and school director Gemma Claughton will challenge us to build a gender-conscious leadership culture.

Other workshops on this theme, which runs across both days, include sessions on the bold use of lesson study, setting up an all-through school, thinking the unthinkable, courageous curriculum leadership – and an innovative approach to teacher recruitment, giving sixth formers a route from voluntary teaching experience to qualified teacher status.

View the latest programme, read speaker profiles and book at

Don’t forget

SSAT Secondary Network members have a free two-day pass to the conference as part of their membership and also have the opportunity to bring their School Business Manager for free on Wednesday for a dedicated programme. Discounted passes are available to all other SSAT members.

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