Manning the Barricades?

Mark Steed has written an interesting and thought-provoking piece in defence of small independent schools.  As the Head of a Small Independent School I would agree with much of the content of the post.  Although there are some points that I hope might further serve to protect the unique character and importance of the more modestly sized schools.

Compliance and regulation have become more challenging, although ISI has taken some steps in the latest iteration of inspection regulation to address bureaucracy. I have found that our already over worked Bursary ought to have an additional member of staff to assist with the administrative support required. However, being a small school, the salary budget doesn’t allow it.

The blog post points to small schools being prone to tight margins.  The Micawber Principle is simple prudency, essential in the management of any organisation and anathema to most Heads! Result: an effective working relationship between Head and Bursar is an imperative. Micawber is fun to unpack as a character with lessons for Heads and Bursars! Debtors Prison awaits for over extending school budgets, yet living in hopeful expectation is part of a leadership model that will take your school community with you! Far better to be Micawber than Heep.

Another point raised is about the purchasing power of smaller organisations. The Economies of Scale are indeed a challenge although it does encourage the development of good negotiating skills and long-term relationships with suppliers that ensures value. The current economic climate does make it a little more favourable for us, though.

However, I do disagree with the contention that we would “inevitably fall further and further behind their rivals, until they eventually become uncompetitive and fail.” The reason that we do survive is, I feel, two-fold. We are attractive to parents because we are small, because the children are well-known by staff and because the children can grow in confidence through the most formative of years. I am regularly reminded by parents that they chose us regardless of the modest facilities, the somewhat outdated classrooms and the traditional 1950’s design of the buildings. And secondly, it ensures we are creative in the development of our curriculum; that we can remain ahead of the pedagogic curve, assimilating advances in technology in the most manageable and effective way and, because of a small, flexible team, we draw on both traditional and contemporary approaches to learning and teaching.

Finally, it is my experience that in seeking to recruit staff, the environment established at school presents an opportunity to explore professional goals and is attractive to excellent, creative teachers who can strengthen the reputation of the school. This will then ensure that we sustain and, when the economic clouds move aside, grow our numbers because parents want their children to be happy (first) and successful (as a result).

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No Curriculum Policy?

This past April, the DfE published guidance for schools on statutory policies:

As part of the Department’s ongoing commitment to reducing bureaucracy for schools, the Statutory policies for schools document, which can be downloaded from the associated resources section, outlines the policies and other documents governing bodies are legally required to hold. 

This document now states that maintained schools are now no longer required to have in place either a Curriculum Policy or a Prospectus.  I am curious.  Without either of these two documents, how does a school make a statement as to its to commitments, vision and principles in the opportunities that it provides for children?  Existing stakeholders and prospective parents have been able to understand a school’s overarching approach to learning and teaching.

Certainly these documents have become somewhat generic and, by extension, bland and perhaps meaningless.  But what is to stand in their place?  Perhaps this will encourage schools and governing bodies to engage in a dialogue that strengthens the approach to learning, ensuring that schools more effectively define and state its values and outline its educational philosophy.  

By removing the requirement, I hope that schools will grasp the opportunity to dig deeper into what makes them tick as unique organisations, shaped by their communities and particular needs.  The professionals that lead the learning within them understand what is best for the children.  Therefore, by taking away the bland, borrowed and generic, Schools have the space to develop something that is fit for purpose.

What attracts your attention this summer?

Along with the Olympics and a well-deserved break after a furiously busy school year, I’m sure there is plenty to keep us occupied through the Summer. I am always curious however as to what gets into a Head’s head in those lazy, sunny(?) days, when the mind can drift away into the kind of blue-skies thinking that will strike fear into the hearts of Bursars and Leadership Teams in September.

For me there is the prospect of engaging with a personal “Motivational Map” with Mark Turner.  It will further enable me to identify what makes me tick and how to work more effectively with colleagues.  I hope this will lead to an opportunity for our staff team to do the same.

There is finishing Ian Gilbert’s “Why Do I Need A Teacher When I’ve Got Google“.  If you haven’t yet, it is an excellent read and provokes a great deal of thought about the shifting educational paradigm.

We will have brand new ICT & DT provision at School after the summer break and further development of both Google Apps for Education and Edmodo will be a focus for the coming weeks.  We have a new Junior 4 (top class) and they will need an induction to the use of the tools that enhances their previous experiences yet doesn’t present barriers to their enthusiasm and creativity.  We have seen some excellent use of the tools in our trails  in the last school year and we are now in an excellent place to go again with a new cohort and capitalise upon the new provision that we have.

What is attracting your attention this Summer?