The Festival of Education at Wellington College
I wanted to go and see Rachel Desouza speak about turning round a difficult school. I hope that will be my next job.
It was packed and I couldn’t see the door, let alone get near or in the room.
So I went to a session that I can barely remember with people promoting themselves and talking about teaching kids in Antarctica via the web and being proud. It was probably very good for people into that sort of stuff. I’m not. About five years ago I set up a web forum for my Maths classes. It was mildly successful and certainly helped with revision, but it was a lot of work for mild reward. I’ve never really been into this stuff since. And I am sceptical about a lot of what Sugata Mitra writes. Anyway, I left as soon as the person to my right (blocking my exit) left and went back to Rachel’s talk and listened from the corridor.
I didn’t hear her say anything unexpected (high expectations, do not tolerate poor behaviour at all, no-one goes up the pay scale unless they’re good or outstanding, promote good colleagues, get rid of bad ones, and most importantly don’t worry about being popular). It is just good to hear someone say it and you believe they’ve done it. I would like to see her speak somewhere else. I’d also like to question her. There is a lot of what she said that I want to have the courage to be like, and one thing I want to challenge.
This was titled Leadership for the Future
First up was the Director of Institute of Education – Chris Husbands
Husbands was hard to hear in the Old Hall. By way of introduction, he said that the word ‘Leadership’ was avoided in the 1950s, because the assumption was that this was what we had fought the Second World War against. ‘We’ hence used quite deliberately words that were softer, easier and less threatening.
In the 1970s we were giving Headteachers courses in Educational Management. This apparently means military command.
Husbands: “Are the models of military command the sorts of models that we want for the future? The school system is shifting and different sorts of leadership are required.”
Ironically, we are currently turning our school around from a history of Learning Styles/ Learn to Learn/ SEAL and so on and in doing so, we really are practicing a level of (minor) military management. My role as Head of Middle School (Years 9-11) has basically consisted of not tolerating poor behaviour. Ever. Including very firm lines the kids know that mean goodbye if you cross them. My very worst experiences in my job are sitting opposite Mum (it has always been Mum) begging for “one last chance” for her son or daughter and my saying bluntly “no” and then my pushing across the signed “final warning” and saying “did you understand what you were signing x weeks/ months ago?”. After the inevitable (and any other answer would be absurd) answer of “yes” I have nothing to say.
But I feel like the new Executive Principal giving me permission to do this has taught me more than NPQH ever did. And while I was thinking about this it made me wish I’d seen Rachel Desouza even more. So in response to Husbands’ (admittedly rhetorical) question – well I think we might at least want to learn from military discipline.
At this point I should point out that until the age of 12 I grew up in an RAF household (how this turned out is another blog), but despite that I want defense spending reduced, I have no fetish for our armed forces and am firmly on the left when it comes to every war we’ve fought in my lifetime (almost always, I think we should pull out).
But yes, I think we need to learn from military leadership sometimes. I recognise that this isn’t exactly what Husbands was getting at though.
Husbands pointed out that academies are a majority of secondary schools, and a significant number of primary schools are also now academies. He also referred to academy groups and academy chains – there are over 500 such chains in England. I guess this includes ours (2 schools)
Husbands said that the options for the future are a fully marketised system, school commissioners or to reinforce existing structures. I thought “that’s probably true, but I’d like to debate your premise(s)”
He said in the next 15-20 years things that will have to be in place that will demand intelligent and responsive thinking from school leaders and he listed these:
Balancing coherence and innovation
Planning a system
Needs of the vulnerable
Improvement and future orientation
Here he lost me! Maybe that was the intention and it was a test. Sorry, but all of the above (but in particular the needs of the vulnerable) are priorities now aren’t they? He may have been saying that, but I found it hard to follow because of the room.
I genuinely didn’t follow everything Husbands was saying from thereon in. His academic references were a bit lost in a short presentation. I surmised that this was more “the near future is going to be radically different to the past in education”. While in some respects this is true, I don’t accept it’s anything like as pronounced as one might think.
So then we went onto Steve Munby – whom I thought really did address Leadership for the Future – in fact I thought his presentation offered big gaps between him and Husbands. And broadly, I saw someone who ‘gets it’ even if I didn’t agree with every word.
Munby repeated Wilshaw’s message about “no going back”. In fact he said there is little to disagree with from what Wilshaw said. As I write about later, when challenged on what he actually disagreed with (and by implication agreed with), he refused to answer.
So what kind of leadership is needed from CEOs and school leaders, Munby asked….
Munby’s answer is that what is needed is Power and Love.
By Power he says he means – drive, high expectations, no compromise, relentless determination and to push to a conclusion.
I can’t argue with that.
Munby used an anecdote regarding buying his house that I really like. When he and his partner bought their house they had a huge list of imperfections they wanted to correct in the house or change. However half way through they stopped improving the house. He asked himself why and the conclusion was that they got used to the things in the house that previously had to change.
“Great leaders do not lower their expectations.”
I really liked that quote when it goes with the story. Mainly because I still haven’t done the beading in our dining room in the three years since I replaced the floor. And it is true. And I cannot possibly be like that with my school when I am a Headteacher.
He then refers to Love.
By Love he means – to connect things, bring people in, bring people together, to unify
He quoted Martin Luther King “power without love is reckless and abusive…”
His definitions are:
Power – challenging and competitive
Love – being open to challenge and being collaborative.
Munby said that this is a false dichotomy – I am not sure he fully explained why, but I get that he wants both.
He went on to say that in schools in Special Measures there has almost always been a failure to hold people to account. A failure of the Governing Body to hold the Headteacher to account and a failure of SLT to hold teachers to account.
I sort of agree, though I think of my school as a counterexample. We excessively held people to account while promoting a pedagogy which I now recognise has elements of low expectations and elements of schooling being about entertainment. We’re not in Special Measures. We won’t be, because we’re not about any of that any more, but we didn’t do well enough by some of our students, and it wasn’t because we weren’t held to account; it’s because we were held to account on the wrong things. I suppose you could claim that’s being ineffective in terms of holding the school to account, but I would say that we need to be clearer about our curriculum and about how students learn. But the Governors and SLT were certainly “on” accountability in my school and we were simultaneously going backwards.
Munby went on to say that holding people to account is not enough and referred to the book “why should anyone want to be led by you?” – I make this note because I’ll get it.
Munby said that he loves leadership by power, but says that leadership by power alone, however, is not enough.
He says that if you want to be a successful leader, do not compromise on the power and drive, but welcome challenge and ideas. Welcome challenge from other schools – eg how can we do this better? Welcome challenge from OFSTED and Local Authorities because this is key to improvement.
I thought “depends on what your Local Authority is like, and whether you get a good inspection team”
Munby said this is key for CEOs of chains as well – they can be great at holding people to account, but the danger is that in a chain there is less autonomy and CEOs remove the love.
Every educational system needs accountability – those that argue we shouldn’t have it don’t get that we can’t have autonomy without accountability. Munby continued that this should be fair and transparent and there are issues about that.
I thought – bloody hell yes there are issues! I have no problem with accountability that includes the sack, and I want to be a Headteacher on that basis and no less, but give us a clear playing field (to be fair one of the things mentioned in this session is that the biggest thing that has been done in the recent past to raise standards is the publication of the OFSTED criteria).
So who should be doing the inspecting?
Munby disparaged the argument that there aren’t enough Headteachers on OFSTED teams. Munby said “fair enough argument, but it is a different skill set”. I think that he misses the point of identifying “good”. I’m not sure what Munby says is true. I believe that to judge a school a good school one must be better equipped if one has led a good school.
Munby referred to when he was at the National College and he invited Headteachers to train as OFSTED inspectors. Apparently 50% failed the training. They failed on writing skills, summarising skills and analytical skills (looking at the detail, not the big picture).
To be honest, I thought (a few hours afterwards) “So?”
I mean, let someone else do all that writing and summarising and let people who know what good schools are judge whether schools are good. But I wasn’t quick enough to suggest that.
Munby said OFSTED have power, but need a bit more love. I am no fan of OFSTED, so he might be right.
Munby’s words claimed his own Academy Chain is great, and I believed it – he said one of the aims of CFBT is to give School Principals the ability to evaluate their own schools. He then asked – is there enough self-review, externally moderated self review, inclusion in the OFSTED approach? To be honest I loved Steve in his previous role and don’t doubt his sincerity, so I’d like to see this in action.
Munby then said “If you’re in the state sector, you’re not supposed to talk about competition”. Munby said that he is yet to meet a leader that doesn’t want to be better than other schools. Munby said this is healthy. So not talking about competition is “rubbish”.
He also talked unconvincingly about collaboration – and said this is not by just huddling together and reinforcing complacency. “Not love without power.” The sort of collaboration like in Bradford where schools share data and ask each other questions.
He then posed and answered a question or two (and the audience was allowed to join in):
Q) What sort of system would we have if we had Power and Love were exhibited by all?
A) Well when schools are in trouble, help – but don’t defend medocrity. When schools do well, get them to teach others. Munby says this is true of the private sector as well as public sector, true of agencies, academy chains and government.
He then quotes someone – I quite like this as a soundbite: “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together”
Q) How do you get this?
A) Munby says you model it, and you make sure you model it in your training sessions eg Future Leaders
A) Husbands says that with young people we have to scaffold their learning, and that we have to make this explicit to developing leaders. I can’t expand – I don’t get it.
Q) Does collaboration come from the bottom up or can it be imposed?
A) There are a large number of school leaders in the room; all collaborated before usually to pursue external funding. Husbands answer was about institutions intertwining and didn’t really make sense to me – though I agree it’s not just about a person in A and a person in B liaising – it has to be more formal and just bigger than that to be effective collaboration.
Munby said that powerful collaborations have mostly had strong leadership rather than being a group that is “being democratic”. They have usually had a key figure who is respected.
Q) Concerned for the stress of Head, staff and governors – where’s the passion?
A) It’s a big challenge when you’re school is improving but the bar has been raised (ie the school has gone up but the bar has gone up more!)
Clarity (or lack of clarity in frameworks) is a problem for this questioner – Munby agrees and says something about three frameworks in one year – ie OFSTED are more transparent, but change goalposts too often.
Q) Someone asked about Wilshaw. Munby had said that he agreed with most of what Wilshaw said. The question regarded what does Munby not agree with?
A) Munby asked to move on.
Munby then said that the terrible practice in schools of the 80s has largely been eradicated – but we don’t have as much inspirational, creative practice as schools play safe, so we’ve raised the floor and lowered the ceiling.
Munby made some more comments – he does not believe that there is single congruence between the skills of a Headteacher and the skills of an inspector. The single thing that made the biggest difference from OFSTED was making the criteria for judgement explicit.
To be honest I don’t accept that a good Head doesn’t know what a good school looks like, and unlike Munby I do not accept that inspectors with no experience of leadership are better as OFSTED inspectors than existing or previous Heads. Sorry.
This wasn’t a great session for blogging, but was useful for me to gain a bit of insight into (especially) what Steve Munby was saying.
The previous Festival of Education blog (Sir Michael Wilshaw of OFSTED) is here
The next Festival of Education blog (David Laws) is here