Capital Culture. Week 2, NPQEL #6

As I wrote last week, leadership is about drawing out threads and joining the dots. As a leader, you need the ability to seek out patterns, draw on past experience and knowledge and simplify the complex.

At school, we are currently working through the complexities of two frameworks that will drive school development in the overarching areas of wellbeing and mental health (WMH). From workload to mindful classrooms, positive physchology to CBT in understanding pupil behaviour, our aim is to improve outcomes for pupils and staff through a focus on our collective WMH.

The reason for putting these two frameworks together is to explore how the opportunities presented in one have measurable outcomes in the other. The first framework is the Hertfordshire Schools Wellbeing Quality Mark (WQM), an opportunity to engage the whole community in collectively addressing WMH. The second is Artsmark, again designed to drive community-wide engagement this time in developing arts-based activity and cultural engagement across the school.

Artsmark is the ideal vehicle to plan for high interest, engaging activity, but it also serves to generate debate and discussion about the Arts and its place in the lives of our children and their families. It involves the children in the development of experiences that engage them in a wide variety of art-forms so that “the arts” are not “done to” the children, but they can gain experience, explore interests and pursue burgeoning talents. And, as the new OfSTED inspection framework places “cultural capital” squarely in the frame, we are able to explore how the arts impact on the wellbeing, aspirations and intellectual development of our children.

For us at Jupiter, and indeed the fellow Heads working in our NQPEL peer group, some of our most vulnerable children are those that, because of family socio-economic factors, are less likely to engage in culturally enriching, arts-focused experiences. As a result, the children’s aspiration, creativity and fundamental sense of self and others in shared human experience is greatly diminished. Therefore the arts leads to greater opportunity to experience and explore this sense of self and one’s place in the world. In turn this leads to improved wellbeing as well as intellectual and spiritual growth.

The WQM framework for Emotional and Mental Health and Wellbeing asks schools to address the following:

The teaching of the arts is used to support the mental and social needs of CYP. They have opportunities to explore a range of arts (1-1 tuition, visits, performances etc.) to enable them to explore talents and interests

Hfl wellbeing quality mark

The question emerging therefore is: To what extent does engagement in the arts, enhancing wellbeing, lead to improved outcomes for our most vulnerable children? We intend, as we engage in the journey towards Artsmark, that we will fulfil many of the requirements of the Wellbeing quality mark. As a result our vulnerable children will be more fulfilled and happy at school, with improved progress and attainment in English and Maths.

More will be written on this, but most certainly we will remain very mindful of just what the arts will mean to our children and this will play an important part…


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The Story Behind the Numbers: Week 1, NPQEL #5

It’s a family thing

When asked the question “what are you doing one week on from #BrewEdHerts19?” the replies were naturally a mixture of the thoughtful and the literal!

“Let’s do it again”

“Inspired”

“Still makes me smile”

“Just chilling”

“At a wedding”

And we’re a week into (officially, I guess) the work of our NPQEL cohort and I wonder how we are all getting on…

For me, I was helping my cousin cook curry and cater at his daughter’s fundraiser for her next trip to Kenya with Mission Direct.

As an accountant, my cousin is a treasure trove of advice about financial planning and business development. However, he is starting to realise that his clients, and indeed future clients, are and will be in greater need of support that is less to do with the numbers in their business plans and far more to do with personal and professional development through coaching and mentoring. Imagine that, an accountancy service more interested in you than your figures!

Having a background as a Head in Independent Education, I am all too familiar with the need to see the school in business terms. To survive and thrive, independent schools require prudent financial management alongside the maintenance of core purpose, namely to educate children and young people. Moving to the maintained sector, I am not certain that this balance is effectively established or sustained. Consider the current parlous state of the English schools’ financial landscape.

So, borrowing from the NPQEL course materials, I dived into generating a set of KPIs that would more than satisfy the requirements of the Integrated Curriculum Financial Planning process.

Pupil numbers, attendance, adult:pupil ratios, percentage of staff salary over income, contact time, costs per pupil, etc. As a committed educator, reducing my school to numbers like this makes my skin crawl. It is not right, surely, when we have the lives of vulnerable children in our hands, to be fiddling around with performance indicators and numbers. Schools are places of humanity and empathy. Aren’t I contradicting everything I have discussed in these blog posts?

Well, no. And here are the reasons why:

“Data is only as good as the questions it provokes.”

My mantra is the caveat to any meeting that I have which involves numbers. From pupil progress and attainment to monthly profit and loss reports I’m not going to believe the numbers, I want to understand the story that lies beneath them. And this story is about the wellbeing of the children in our care, the support that staff are giving (the children) and receiving (from leaders). Other threads feed into this: staff feedback, professional development reviews, pupil attitude to school surveys, parent questionnaires. Themes and issues, even dilemmas and tough choices, can be drawn together by a proper scrutiny of both the data and the narrative that led to the outcomes.

Data is to be shared.

It is not the preserve of governors and trust boards or leadership teams sequestered away in an office or meeting room. Any information that we produce is shared as widely as possible. Admittedly, the majority of my team don’t care a fig about numbers – and that’s as it should be. However, the act of sharing and telling the story behind the data, is part of the trust-building and relationship management that keeps teams buoyant and purposeful.

Data is a work of non-fiction

And this story is the truth. We teach our children to be truthful, so why not extend this to how we describe the state of play within our schools? It is this that is the subtle art of school leadership: to be able to draw the threads together and connect the dots. The amount that staff cost is linked directly to pupil progress. If you are investing in teaching and classroom support, if you are paying a hefty top slice to an academy trust, if your costs per pupil are going up and not down, then this all has to have a positive impact on the outcomes for children, vulnerable, stable, able and everything in between. It’s not? Then you are not provoking the right questions.

Leadership should present no barriers to others, but connect them with the bigger picture, the system, in which they work. Michael Fullan’s (oft quoted by me) Six Secrets of Change #2 is “Connect Peers With Purpose.” So if the ultimate purpose of our work in schools is impacting the progress and improving outcomes for children, then through the information we generate about this purpose, sharing it, telling its story, is part of this act of connection.

Love IS Power. NPQEL #4

After 2 days of residential to start the NPQEL, there followed a very special Saturday event in a small corner of Hertfordshire that summarised EVERYTHING the landscape of schools and education could be. It chimed perfectly with the aims of NPQEL that leadership, at all levels, is not simply about knowing things, it is about expressing the behaviours, vision and guidance that will have lasting impact on the children in our care.

BrewEdHerts19 is the latest iteration of the stunningly successful BrewEd movement in the UK. Put simply, a BrewEd event is this:

…a grassroots movement for people from all phases, sectors, and areas of education.  BrewEd events provide a space for educators to come together, enjoy each other’s company and have some robust, open and challenging debate around thought-provoking ideas and issues. They should also provide a platform for local educators to have their voices heard within their community.

Daryn Egan-Simon, http://brewed.pbworks.com

I am fortunate to have freinds with reach through the avenues and alleyways of education and, with fellow organisers Adrian Bethune and Dr Emma Kell, we brought together a fantastic range of people with significant voices. Moreover, it was the opportunity to interlace these voices with others less well known but no less powerful, that created an enegry and synergy that resonated incredibly well with everyone present, in the room and online.

However, the relevance and connection with NPQEL, and the reason for connecting both experiences is contained in the above Tweet from Laura: “No one stood on a stage and said ‘Yes I did this great thing and it was pretty easy, actually.’ “

I wrote a blog post back in 2014 when exploring the notion of “service” in leadership, of giving rather than taking as outlined by Adam Grant in Give and Take. In the post I explored the idea that real power comes through a personal charisma which egages people, that makes them feel good being around you and which, in turn, makes them feel more powerful and empowered.

As leaders we have an obligation to enable others to do their job well. We hold others to account and challenge them to develop and improve where it is required. But we also empthise and support, counsel them when they’re down, coach wherever possible and mentor when necessary.

As an executive leader we have to have the skill to see the widest, broadest picture; to see our organisations as systems. We must be able to understand the KPIs and appraise the accompanying narratives. However, this must be coupled with the ability to identify the point from which change will occur when focus is applied.

Then when that focus (whether one or many) has been identified, it is how we behave that is crucial to the sustainability of the change that follows. Change can be simple, like agreeing a format for reporting to Trustees, or more complex, like raising attainment for boys across a number of schools. The success of this change lies in the ability to sustain it with care and thought, maintaining positive working relationships.

Whether it is called charisma, love or compassion, the behaviour of leaders sets the tone and expectations within and around an organisation and its communities. To do this well, embracing diverse voices and opinion, we can and should express vulnerability and be open about the challenge, wary of hubris and over-blown confidence and self-importance. People see through this very quickly.

Working in and around schools is not easy but it can be, should be, rewarding. Supported and empowered teams do amazing things for the children in their care. The honesty of the speakers at BrewEd Herts clearly expressed this. And it is this that I will take from the past 3 days: Leaders can create real change if they are brave and take risks, yet all the time confident in the vision and core purpose of an organisation built upon creating better outcomes for children and young people.

NPQEL #3: Day 1 & The Tensions in Executive Leadership

Day 1 is complete (apart from dinner & drinks & the social thing). We have a slightly clearer understanding of the tasks ahead. We have introduced ourselves and found eachother to be a fascinating and diverse set of students. And we have recognised that Executive Leadership itself is fascinating, diverse and, to a certain extent, somewhat still uncharted.

The word that seemed to emerge from the day was “bravery”. Brave to participate. Brave to consider the move to Executive Leadership (EL). Or brave to already be in the role of CEO or Executive Head. Leading beyond the entity of a single school is a role that is challenging to prepare for and ultimately seems to be a delicious collection of tensions, opposites and extremes.

Soft & Hard

To understand relationships and bring cohesion to communities of staff and parents needs a sensibility and skill in communication and listening. To read a profit and loss spreadsheet, to set a budget and make tough choices, requires resilience and perseverance. The challenge in EL is to combine these attributes into a seemless whole that instills confidence in both the Tustees’ Finance and Audit Committee and the Senior Leaders concerned about their staff teams’ wellbeing.

Calendar & Schedule

It is no longer an 8-6 job. It no longer has carefully defined school calendar boundaries: length of school day, length of school holidays. EL necessitates some careful personal organisation, management of the diary and time for personal space. However, EL also enables you to be present in the life a school, to celebrate its achievements alongside the Head and school community. While the connection with school communities is more distant, an EL can still retain some of the buzz that we get as Heads from seeing children thrive.

Hearts & Minds

EL requires an incumbent to be at once a Visionary; leading a disperate collection of professionals, enthusiastic amateurs, parents and young people. Yet this can be at odds with the logic, reason and sound business sense required to steer this particular fleet through uncharted oceans, rapids and rocky shoals to the clear blue waters that will benefit all of the children and young people fortunate enough to be guided by your wise and benevolent hand.

And so bravery is the word of the day. Bravery to let go. Bravery to hold tight. Bravery to trust. Bravery to hold and be held to account. Its a delicious prospect and working with a collection of other school leaders will give each of us a much clearer insight into how we can engage with opportunities that might come our way. If we are brave.

NPQEL #2: 3 Things at the Heart

After a number of years the Adventure gets a another kick start. I named this blog “Adventures in School Leadership” at its inception some 12 years ago. The idea at the time was to describe just how exciting, thrilling, exhausting, mysterious and “new” leading schools can be; that leadership is an adventure.

The eve of the first steps

And so now I find myself consolidating my past experience to develop a stronger understanding of school leadership by undertaking NPQEL, the national professional qualification in executive leadership

As a summary of that consolidation and at the start of the next stage in that Adventure, I am putting forward here 3 things that are at the heart of what I feel makes for strong personal development. And this, I beleive, becomes the core, the heart, of what it takes to become a more effective leader.

I have been a Head for some 12 years, in 3 schools and in 2 (perhaps 2 and a half) sectors – independent prep schools and a free school, state funded and independent. This has given me a unique opportunity to learn how successful, sustainable schools can be developed and managed in both academic and business terms.

Today I travel to Birmingham to join the Spring cohort for NPQEL facilitated by Best Practice Network and Outstanding Leaders Partnership. As an experienced Head and a man of 50 years of age, I’m all over this right?

Well, not quite. There are still, inevitably, uncertainties and insecurities. Just like any learner – the four-year-ols forming their letters or my daughter completing her A levels – we share characteristics that make us both fragiile and able to to cope at the same time.

So in order to keep things in perspective and accurately document the journey that we are on as a cohort, here are 3 things to keep in mind as I start this next stage of my learning journey.

1. Avoid Hubris

Confidence is fine, over-confidence is catastrophic. Confidence is built on preparation, research and an awareness of self and others. We are none of us perfect and as leaders in schools, let alone this “new breed” of executive leaders, humillity is a prerequisite. To place the needs of others – children, staff, parents – ahead of your own, is to be truly aware of what you school(s) need to grow and thrive. Whether it is prudent management of resources, being someone to moan at, litter picking or representing community interests to the local authority or even starting an NPQ, our effectiveness as leaders is enhanced with a confidence built on knowledge of self, others and the world around us.

2. Nolan Principles

When I was a lad, the Nolan Principles suggested happy, harmonious family values where everything could be right with the world if we were just kind to one another.

Since 1995, the Nolan Principles guide those serving in a public office behave in a way that ensures public trust and confidence: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. Not too far removed from what Anne, Denise, Maureen, Linda, Bernie and Colleen where able to achieve with their cheery brand of 70s pop cuteness…although perhaps without the same level of accountability for the use of public funds! Wouldn’t it be great if, as leaders, we could enshrine both sets of Nolan Principles in our roles? Although maybe without so much singing.

3. People

By striving to create sustainable working relationships, our roles as parents, teachers, governors, Heads and so on, are greatly enhanced. I have a long held passion for learning about people: how the brain works, about our social ecology, about language and communication. In understanding people in all their many and glorious forms, we are better placed to work with those around us for the good of the children in our collective care.

I am looking forward to documenting this journey and sharing what I continue to learn about myself, about the people around me and what it requires to lead and manage schools effectively. With maybe the odd song or too alongh the way…

NPQEL #1: The Welcome

As an introduction to myself at the start of my voyage to NPQEL, we are asked to introduce ourselves on the Welcome Forum. Here is my contribution.

I am the Head of a 2 form entry Primary Free School in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and part of a 3-school MAT.  I joined Jupiter Community Free School in September 2017 after 25 years in Independent Prep Schools, 11 as a Head at 2 schools.  

As for the other me, I love natural history, sailing (although I have no craft…yet) and Leyton Orient Football Club.  I have been a vigorous user of social media since the ancient days of Web 2.0 in the early 2000s!  I have an MSc in Environmental and Development Education, a Coach Trainer licence and a Diploma in NLP.

thinking seat

I share my time living between Essex and North London but my favourite place to be, above all others, is in the hills of Mid-Wales and the Shropshire border. 

With NPQEL I hope for 3 things:

  1. To continue to develop skills in collaborating with peers across schools to improve outcomes everywhere
  2. To improve relationship management and communiction to support Heads and SLTs in a range of settings
  3. To explore innovative ways to fund and support SEMH, SEND & wellbeing initiatives for the whole community

Joining Jupiter unleashed in me a a zeal for social justice and social responsibility that had been present since starting my career journey in environmental education in Florida in 1991!  I developed Education for Social Responsibility in 2012 as an initiative for the Independent Association of Prep Schools.  However, it is my latest experience with the Jupiter School community, in a very mixed demographic area, that has shown me how Values and Character Education, along with relentless communication across the community, has direct and sustainable impact on outcomes for our children.

By the way, just to clarify – my school was named after the road it is on in Hemel Hempstead (Jupiter Drive) and is not an attempt by our MAT to riase standards with motivational nomenclature!  However, it is a fantastic gateway to the Classical world of literature, myth and legend.  Awesome for children! 

I look forward to meeting you all along the way to NPQEL!

Why We’re Here…3 Essential Teaching Tools

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” 

Sue Monk-Kidd

Story is how we learn to understand the world. Story shows us the good and the bad, the frightening and the wondrous, the serious and the comical of our life experience. They guide, advise and suggest. They entertain. Story helps us to dream.

One term’s inspiration across our Primary Literary Curriculum

In education, we have the opportunity to draw on story to enhance the learning experiences of our children. Story is not merely constrained in the pages of a book, although we are surrounded by many fabulous and inspiring children’s books. Story is how we communicate; weaving words into phrases that transmit ideas from one person to another.

Real storytellers still exist. Ben Haggerty and the extraordinary Crick Crack Club offer us an insight into how story and storytelling has been key to our social evolution over 1000s of years. And if we, as educators, are to continue to make an impact on the development of our children, make the difference to the children in our care, then we need to embrace the power of language and the richness that come through the telling of stories.

Here, then, are 3 essential tools that every classroom practitioner should possess. Tools that will enrich practice, not because they address the bureaucracy of teaching (that’s what “no marking” policies are for), but because they make communicating with our pupils – and our colleagues – so much more useful.

1. Learn to Tell Stories

True storytelling is about rhythm, pattern and engagement. Drawing your audience in, keeping them enthralled and making them think will allow your message to percolate through into the unconscious mind. Whether its food webs or volcanoes, Cartesian coordinates or expanded noun phrases (perfect for storytelling), everything comes to life when you consider the way in which you choose the language and use your voice. Understanding how to tell stories fires up your ability to put across even the most mundane of topics.

2. Get to Grips with NLP

Quite apart from the criticism levelled at it, understanding neuro-lingusitic programming (NLP) gives a smart insight into the influence language, words, have upon us. Away from the disputed therapeutic value of NLP, in the classroom rich and meaningful use of language can get messages across, enable better understanding of the way children think and clarify understanding. Its not a new idea and Roger Terry wrote a brilliant guide for Teachers over 10 years ago.

3. Read Children’s Books

Like the telling of stories, observing how others craft story is an insight. While also modelling behaviours for children, reading books aimed at children allows us to see how we can get our messages across. Whether the pulp fiction style of David Walliams, the elegant simplicity of Jon Klaasen or the masterful minimalism of picture books without words, there is always more than one way to tell a story, to teach about ancient Egyptians, to learn about writing poetry.

Choosing the right way, at the right time, for the right audience is the art of the storyteller. And as educators, we are the ultimate storytellers! That’s why we are here.

The Literary Curriculum

 “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Sue Monk-Kidd

Our introduction to Literacy Tree and the Literary Curriculum was somewhat accidental. The Education Show 2018, the Literacy Tree Stand and an NQT bold enough to dress up as the Selfish Giant. Because of this we won a year’s free subscription and we were sold! However, what sealed things for us, and encouraged us to take up the offer for a year, was that the books were to the fore. We love books, we love stories and we love storytelling at Jupiter.

We have now been using the Literary Curriculum for just under a year, across all year groups and have decided to commit for the long term. This commitment is driven by varying amounts of parent literacy and parent engagement in our corner of Hemel Hempstead. Our most vulnerable children may find it challenging to access quality books and reading outside of school. Furthermore, closure of local libraries has impacted on parent opportunity to share books with children and economic conditions affect purchase of books, especially for lower income families.

As soon as we introduced the curriculum we observed an immediate impact in the engagement of the children. The beauty of the curriculum is that it completely immerses children in a single story for an extended period of time and interest and enthusiasm in literacy lessons rocketed across the school. The children are able to hang on to an enjoyable story, using it as the foundation for writing for different purposes and fuel their interest of richer, more descriptive language. The range, subtlety and beauty of language in the books is something that they are now exposed to more often and that they are embracing with gusto.

Children love to hold on to stories; they treasure favoured characters, plots and settings. They love to be thrilled, they love suspense and drama and they delight in puzzles and cliff-hangers. The Literacy Curriculum and the books that lie at its heart opens a doorway for children to the magic and wonder of story and does so in a way that matches perfectly the children’s own innate love of how story enriches their lives.

Four things school leaders can do to develop better SEND provision in School

Recently, the DfE announced that £350m would be made available to support children with complex needs and disabilities. Families will also benefit from more choice for their child’s education through an extra £100 million investment to create more specialist places in mainstream schools.

This is good news, of course, but serves to create questions about how needs are identified, how funds are distributed and what provision should look like in schools.

Schools already face enormous challenges to provide effectively for SEND and are possibly beyond breaking point in some cases. Extra funding will undoubtedly alleviate some of the burden being placed upon them. However, unless systemic change is addressed, it is highly likely that many of the challenges will remain.

For me, working in a school that is typically hugely varied, with the desire and drive to include the needs of ALL children, our focus is increasingly on what we can do for ourselves. Instead of creating uncesseary anxiety about lack of local authority resources and funding, we work out what we can do with what we have got…

Here are four areas of focus for school leaders:

  • Learn about cognitive behaviour, neuroscience & SEND. Staff (including the admin team) are increasingly knowledgeable about how the human brian works, about systems thinking and SEN. Regular updates and input ensure that theory is very closely linked to practice.
  • Teaching Assistants: agents of change. It is trite to call TAs a valuable resource. They are not a set of African drums. They are, and have the potential to be, agents of change and support the progress of the children in our care. Bring them into the process of development planning. If a TA has a passion for an area of school development, excite them to find CPD then fund them to take it up.
  • Train & develop staff. Self-sufficiency: the addage “teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life” applies here. In a world where we have unprecedented access to information, use it to inform. Give the team the skills to manage the challenges they face in the classroom and the opportunity to bring in support when they need it.
  • Stay focused on staff well-being. Data, yes, but you are a Senior Leader, so juggle. But if your drop the well-being ball, slowly but surely, all the others will fall too. If you look after the team, they will look after everything else for you.

With an empowered, skilled and informed team of teachers, support staff and admin, everyone, the children included, will feel the professional and personal safety that we all crave. And we won’t have to rely on or wait for anyone to find funding for us.

Ecologising the Dialectic: 4 ways schools can be ecological in their thinking

“Mermaids Hate Plastic” (2016) by Von Wong

I completed my Masters in Education for Sustainability just over 20 years ago. As should be the case, some things I have remembered!

Apart from the statement that “one day, they’ll call it education” (when discussing sustainability education in schools), a phrase that has remained with me is “Ecologising the Dialectic”.

At the time, I hadn’t a clue what this meant. For those of you who are students of Hegel (what? Science of Logic not on your summer reading list?) or Marx (dialectical materialism?), you will know that “dialectic” refers to discourse over differing points of view to establish truth through reasoned argument. “Ecologising” relates to the synthesis of thinking that brings these differing points of view together to see them as a whole system in which human society relates to its environment (see Murray Bookchin).

I am, at heart, a “green” ecologist however it wasn’t until one of our PGCE students introduced me to the work of Urie Bronfrenbrenner, that a very large and important penny finally dropped! Far from being a “green” issue, ecology and ecological thinking is applicable to human society and social ecology is a manifestation of this.

Society is an inter-dependent system. Just as in the natural world each element acts to influence or be influenced by other parts of the system. It has been our wilful disregard of this principal that has led us to the state of emergency over plastics in the oceans, for example. Therefore, using the same thinking, schools (with Bronfrenbrenner in mind) are also inter-dependent systems and seen as such will lead to greater improvements in how they work.

Seeing your school as a social eco-system will enable you to bring together the often disparate thinking that sets in. Staff, classes, departments, leadership teams, can consider themselves separate to each other in a way that overlooks the powerful influences that exist between them. Far from the top-down, bottom-up, process-driven approach that has dominated education, “ecologising” our thinking about schools will lead to improved performance and greater engagement from all elements of the system.

Here are 4 ways that you can think more ecologically about schools and education. Separately, they are intuitive, however together “the whole is greater that the sum of its parts.

1. Early Intervention

From SEND and safeguarding to literacy in under fives, from parental engagement and behaviour to quality first teaching. The “earlier” change can be effected, the quicker improved outcomes can be achieved. Therefore consider “early” in both senses of the word: “early” in a child’s life or in a parent’s involvement with the school, and “early” as soon as concerns are raised.

2. Things go in spirals

Dialectical thinking has given us the problem-reaction-solution approach which has in turn led to the Shewhart Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act/Adjust) which we all now know as Plan-Do-Review. It’s active learning, action research or just good sense. But it’s a spiral, it’s iterative, with each turn of the cycle leading to progress. The review leads to further planning, which takes you further forward than the last time you planned. Whether it’s performance management, school improvement plans or assessment for learning, each turn of the spiral builds on that which has gone before.

3. It’s all connected

Child achieves a learning objective, this leads to next steps. A teacher assesses and facilitates learning of next steps impacting their planning for the next set of learning objectives, and the next… Progress of the whole cohort is monitored over time and support for learning is necessary where children require it. SLT, Governors, OfSTED are all interested in the progress being made, the rate of progress and support utilised. This affects the school improvement plan, which in turn affects the quality of teaching and learning which in turn affects the learning objectives, which in turn impacts upon the child.

4. It’s not “engagement”, it’s “enabling”

Engagement is a “point-to-point” connection. Parents should be more “engaged” in reading with their child. Governors should be more “engaged” with monitoring outcomes. But where there is engagement, there can be dis-engagement. Therefore, to be more effective and sustainable, there must be an enabling of involvement and inclusion that has greater impact in the long term. Take parents and reading for instance. Parents should be regularly and consistently given opportunity to understand WHY reading is important – newsletters, seminars, guest speakers, coffee mornings, well-trained parent readers…This then “enables” parents to become comfortable with HOW they can encourage reading and WHAT they can do outside of school to PLAY A PART in developing children’s reading ability. By consistently and regularly providing messages and growing knowledge and skills in parents, they will feel enabled to respond when the cry goes up: “you must help your children to read!” If they don’t feel enabled, any amount of “engagement” is not going to impact on progress.

I am sure you will have other ways that “ecological” thinking can support schools to become more effective and I would love to hear them. However, these 4 principles underpin all relationships within a school, between the school and parents and between the school and the wider world (especially other schools and local services). These are Bronfrenbrenner’s principles and from plastic in our oceans, to early childhood literacy, a greater understanding of ecology will improve our schools and the systems within which they operate.

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