NPQH Diary Entry 2

So since my last residential back in October, I have been concentrating on three main tasks as part of NPQH:

  1. Establishing my school based project (Focused around improving homework practices across the school).
  2. Starting my placement school project (Focused around improving outcomes for vulnerable learners).
  3. Continuing to work my way through the online units- 3 out of 5 completed so far!

It was now time for residential 2. This was to take place on a Friday and Saturday with a focus on Finance and Governance and a side of curriculum leadership. There was also an optional day on ‘data’ on the Thursday. In for a penny, in for a pound… I decided to attend the Thursday.

I drove the 3 hours up to Wyboston lakes accompanied by 5 Live- West Ham V Manchester City and arrived at the hotel ready, and optimistic, about the training that lay ahead.

Before the training started, I was grateful to bump into some friends I had met at the previous residential. This is an underrated part of the course- You meet some great people who are all at about the same point in their own careers. I have become good friends with many of them and I suspect they will be on my list of who to call when I find myself with a difficult decision to make in headship.

Day 1- Data. I found myself planted in the ‘expert’ cohort! This came of something of a surprise but I had done my homework and felt prepared. The pre-course work consisted of analyzing another participant’s RAISE data and preparing some leading questions in the style of a SIA or mini OFSTED visit.  My own SIA experiences had left me well prepared for this task. I am fortunate that my coach is a bit of a maths genius and it became clear that my knowledge of how to read the various RAISE graphs and tables was probably better than most (largely due to what I had picked up from my coach). This task was of more use to some than it was to others. It was largely self driven so the usefulness was determined by how much prep participants had done. This was, in truth, mixed.

Anyway, I found the whole experience worthwhile. It refreshed my knowledge of RAISE and this will be useful in an interview situation. My tip- take up the offer of the data day. You or your school are paying for it so make the most of it. Tip 2- do the homework.

The Friday was centered around Finance and Governance. This sounds like the title to a documentary I would avoid at all costs. I approached the day with a slight sense of trepidation. Still, breakfast was good.

Governance was good. I consciously made the decision to be a governor at my children’s school because I felt it would give me a useful insight into the academisation process, the role of being a ‘critical friend’ and an opportunity to see how a different head managed her governing body. I’m so glad I did this… It has provided me with many useful learning opportunities- some of them (such as disciplinary hearings) unpleasant but all useful prep for headship. The training itself provided plenty of useful hints and tips for creating an effective gov body and I found the training reassuring.

I was worried that I would find Finance challenging. I did. If you are not a head then the chances are you will not have run a whole school budget before. For me, the training was pitched too high and there should have been a distinction between primary and secondary. This is becoming something of a theme in NPQH- too much is focused on secondary. It is too easy to say ‘This can be applied to primary’ before embarking on 2 hours of training entirely focused on year 7 onwards. The most useful learning I took from this day was from my fellow participants on the course. One of my new found friends is a current head in Kent and she talked me through her process of budget setting, forecasting and managing the budget. I was grateful for her time and it reassured me somewhat!

The Friday night was spent in the bar. There was some reverting to student days of drinking games and thumb master! I was sensible (pretty much) but there were some people looking a little the worse for wear over their bacon and eggs in the morning…

The Saturday began with curriculum leadership. I enjoyed this but again too much time was spent looking at secondary. Discussions between participants revealed just how little we know about each other’s curriculums. A good example is that secondary colleagues were at a loss as to why primary spend so much time ‘focusing on handwriting’. I explained that this was necessary due to the interim statements at the end of KS2. Secondary had never heard of these and it became clear that our desired outcomes do not marry up. A hugely under discussed issue in my view and perhaps one for further debate.

The Saturday afternoon (definitely the graveyard slot) was spent back with finance and budget setting. This was really disappointing in my view. I was optimistic as the presenter was articulate and clearly knowledgeable. However, again it was pitched too high and almost entirely secondary based. We were shown formulae for calculating student/teacher ratios which, for 99% of primaries, are simply not relevant. I’m afraid it then descended into a rather self absorbed display of excel expertise. I’m not on my own here. The feedback from our table was very negative and it was a shame to end the weekend on such a low. I hope the course facilitators learn from the feedback and put this right.

Right at the end, there was a quick run through of how we should be managing our three tasks and submission dates. This was really useful and, in truth, this should have been done in residential 1. The administration of the course is a bit untidy. For example, the dates given out in residential 1 for submission times etc were not the same as those declared in residential 2. This, combined with a clunky website, makes the task of doing the task difficult. It’s a bit like going for a run when someone’s always moving your trainers.

So, I have now booked submission of task 1 for May. I shall continue with my 2 tasks and slog my way through the online units. I have a day on HR and performance in London at the end of March and I’ve set aside time over Easter to write up my 2 tasks. Tip- Keep a rough running record/diary of your tasks and match this to the competencies. This will save time in the final write up. I hope.

I shall post again  in Easter.


Making Change Happen

So, a valuable lesson learned today! So often, as senior leaders in school, we are tasked with changing something: making it better… solving the problem. But how do we do this?

It is easy I suppose to act like a doctor. First we diagnose the problem then we apply the plaster or pass around the medication (like we learned at medical school) and thus the problem is solved. At least until the plaster falls off.

There is a problem here though. First we are assuming that we really understand the problem. What if no-one else thinks there is a problem? Or they think it is a different problem? Secondly, our solution is just that… our solution. If we turned the problem into a question or a hypothesis then all our staff would be able to be involved in the diagnosis.

By facilitating this, our staff would then be able to drive that school improvement themselves. They would have full ownership over the idea and surely then the chances of energetic, enthusiastic and sustained improvement are more likely.

As a side point, if it is the teachers themselves driving the change then they are more likely to be open to being accountable for it.

So something to remember…



Emerging Assessment

Having recently attended Wiltshire Head Teachers’ briefings, I am now due to feedback to the Trowbridge Collaborative Deputy-Heads on the current state of play on assessment.

The first section of the briefings was given over to assessment with a presentation on how schools are approaching life without sub levels. The information delivered in the briefing really centered around 4 key points;

1. Schools decode how to assess pupils and track their progress in between key stages

2. Schools to have a robust system of tracking pupil progress in place.

3. Schools to be able to articulate what their assessment system is clearly and succinctly.

4. The driving principle is readiness for next stage of education

In truth, this caused a collective sense of frustration in the room. We all know and surely understand the challenge that faces schools. It seems to me that what we are really want is 2 fold. Firstly, we want an assessment tool to accurately gauge where the children are: a replacement for APP if you will. Secondly, we want a tool to track and analyse that data: something that would replace Wiltshire Tracker for many of us.

Interestingly, it emerged that advisers at local level have been clearly told by the DFE not to assist schools with the first challenge. It really is up to us to create our own systems. Some examples are available of course on the DFE website but the quality of these is questionable to me.

The AIR Index (Average Index Rating) linked to Wiltshire Super Tracker was introduced as a possible tool to track and analyse data but this is, without doubt, a complex and detailed system that would require real training needs.

So perhaps the most useful message is that, there ‘is no rush’! It is acceptable to maintain sub levels for this academic year as long as moves are afoot for September 2015. I would suggest that the closer schools work together and the more we share, the easier this 9 months of transition will be.