Knowing what is important

by Sue Williamson, CEO

Since the start of the spring term, I have been fortunate to visit over a dozen schools. All in different parts of the country and with different intakes. However, the schools all have one thing in common – they have an uncompromising focus on ‘students first’. It is not a soft, fuzzy focus, but a steely determination to ensure that all young people in their care succeed. I always enjoy meeting young people – they give such profound insights into a school. One student described her school as ‘an oasis’. What a compliment to that staff and school.

All the schools provide a broad and balanced curriculum that challenges students of all abilities. They are retaining the creative arts and design technology, as well as delivering the academic subjects. I have been impressed by the quality, dedication and determination of the teaching staff. They collaborate with colleagues across the disciplines to share ideas and improve practice. They know their students and give freely of their time to help them progress. But they are worried about the policy changes and what life will be like without national curriculum levels.

My worry, after talking to a number of teachers, is that no one wants to go on to headship.

Headship has always been seen as rather a lonely job. Yes, you work with a leadership team, but the reality is that you are accountable. The accountability framework is seen as a giant weight wearing down heads and stopping them from innovating. However, not all the heads that I’ve met share this view. For some this is because they are nearing retirement age and are happy to go – but others are determined to take the new freedoms offered to them and forge a new direction for their school.

What all these heads share is a desire to develop their staff and to create a high quality teaching team. They relish training new teachers and collaborating with other schools on professional development. They are realistic about the challenges ahead and want to capture knowledge and ideas from colleagues around the country.

I am delighted that many schools are using the redesigning schooling pamphlets  to work with staff, governors and other stakeholders to map out their new five-year strategic and development plan. Dylan Wiliam’s principled curriculum design pamphlet is valuable because of its clarity and focus on the purpose of education. SSAT is running Principled curriculum design workshops in March to help you define and design the school curriculum that is right for your students – as well as readying you to share this back in school with department leads.  I am often asked, when will we get the assessment pamphlet? The answer is in the spring. Also, I’m pleased to say, Dylan will be working with school leaders on assessment throughout March and June of this year to provide a range of models.

Redesigning Schooling pamphlets 5 and 6 – Student impact in the redesigned school, by Tom Middlehurst, and Engaging parents: why and how, by Bill Lucas are leaving the mailing house this week and will be in SSAT member schools when you return from half-term.

All schools need to focus on the student – what do we want young people to be able to do when they leave this school? Yes, examination results are important – but what else? Agree this with all stakeholders and then design your curriculum accordingly. You know what you want your students to achieve,: how will each area of the curriculum contribute, and how will you measure progress? Report progress and celebrate success – be judged on the criteria you have agreed with all stakeholders, and be confident to tell your story. Don’t be lonely, keep putting students first.

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