I have been reading and listening to comments for the last two weeks about the definition and rationale about coasting schools. To be honest I have mixed feelings and remain frustrated that we seem to be focussing on being told what to do again. I have written previously about taking responsibility and seeing the positive, this is another example where we as a profession can take the lead.
I would be staggered if any schools set out to be ‘coasting’ or were even happy with that description. The teaching profession never stops striving to raise outcomes for children or adapting to the ever changing demands of education that are driven from government or those that society present to us. However we do need to raise outcomes, that is a fact and I am a strong believer that we, as a profession, know how to do this best. So why is it that we don’t do this or exploit the freedoms that are given to us to do this?
I know that supporting schools to join a Multi- Academy Trust (MAT) is not the ‘done thing’ but when like-minded individuals come together, to truly work together then the outcomes are amazing. I am sure that people reading this might say ‘but you don’t have to become a (MAT)’ but the freedoms within this and tight partnerships allow partnerships to go beyond school self-interest and personalities. Although relationships are always the key drivers in any partnerships and need to be central to their development.
We choose to become a MAT. We choose to decide the structures, the values, the philosophy, the focus for our partnership. Schools have this chance to do this for themselves without waiting for a MAT to swoop down and “take them over” which often is not the case, it’s more likely to be ‘join our partnership and this is how we work’. Autonomy is essential for all roles and institutions, the use of the phrase “earned autonomy” is now common place and if we are honest has always been the case; it’s just that if things aren’t going well people intervene quicker now. But then isn’t that what children deserve?
I think Trusts like ours and others who have set up, have a responsibility to share what we have done, why and how we achieved it to allow other like-minded schools to come together and learn from our mistakes. It shouldn’t just be schools joining existing MATs but new MATS forming with MATS in partnership with each other. We have been incredibly fortunate with our partnership with the Flying High Trust in Cotgrave (http://flyinghightrust.co.uk/)and over the last three years knowledge sharing has been central to our development. Without it we would have walked into so many more bear traps without knowing it.
As Headteachers, we need to redefine ourselves and our understanding of what partnership means, shared accountability has to be part of that. Headteachers need to evolve a new skill and mind sets about their jobs. This will be incredibly difficult because we have been looking over our shoulders for too long, but now could be the time, if we are brave enough take that leap of faith.
This week saw the launch of an exciting venture for us, the set of EPIC “Education Psychology in Communities” which will be a non profit making education psychology service for schools. The key aim of this provision is to provide school with an effective service at cost and develops a psychology provision that provide a well-being offer in schools that addresses issues for children and families in a timely manner.
This is a extremely exciting project that will cover a wide range of new initiatives for schools and the include of psychologist in our research and development programme which will really strengthen our outcomes. However the set up and inception of this is a bigger undertaking than we thought! The resource implications for its creation are huge and require a large upfront investment. I think my biggest worry will be managing expectations of schools and the work demands they will require. We want EPIC to develop into far more than a diagnosis offer and look to see how we as a trust and a TSA can develop systems and processes to provide preventative measures.
Dr Paula Hopkins one of the psychologists we are working is a specialist in the development of a mental health strategy for children, which I believe will be particularly relevant for our schools who are all focusing on developing a character education programme in each school. I am particularly pleased with how our schools have developed bespoke programmes linked to their children’s needs. There is an article in this weeks Schoolsweek @johndickenshaw about how Carol Dweck is concerned that broad use of the philosophy of using the “Growth Mind Set” is causing more harm than good because people are using it to focus on happiness. There are also some really good motivational speakers like @Andycope and @ShonetteBason who are fabulous at reminding us about how to get into a positive mind set and a way at looking at world. I feel that our schools now need more than that now, we need to make sure as the need increases we have a clear policy and process that is embedded into our school provision to ensure we are able to meet the needs of children and I include families in this. Mowmacre Hill Primary School @mowacreprimary employ a Councillor for specific children to support the needs. They used this Councillor to support a parent with high emotional needs and the impact of this has been incredible for the child but also for the relationship with the school and parent. We live in a highly charged stressful world and by working with families and children we I am sure we will make a bigger impact.
I want our schools to go beyond creating a happy school, with a good policy for character development. What about those children who struggle to achieve this even with a greater focus? How can we help them to remove the barriers to success? Mental health is a complex business why is it that one children can respond so well to an initiative and for another it has no impact? We need to ensure what we do is not quick fix, knee jerk reaction to external demands but well thought trough strategies to ensure success for all. The development of EPIC therefore is a truly exciting step forward for a school led system where we can use experts to guide us in a area and make sure our thinking is joined up.