This month I made a transition into a new post. After 23 years in independent education, I have joined a Free School (state funded, independent of local authority control) as Principal. And today was the first day of the new school year. So what has been the difference?
I will write about the “on boarding” process at a future date. I will outline the lessons I’ve learned and how best to approach leadership transitions. This will describe the need to build strong relationships early on, to drink deeply from the cup of knowledge possessed by those who already work for the organisation you are joining and how to prepare and plan voraciously in the precious time you have in the lead up to the start of the new role.
Whilst there are more nuanced differences culturally, in all schools there are broadly speaking four groups that are the focus:
Staff are always adherents of what ought to be best for children. That said, personal views can vary and the expression of this mindset can sometimes be at odds across teams. School staff always know, regardless of sector, that they are in a vocation that puts young people at the heart of why we come to work.
Parents need to put their faith and trust in the leadership and management of a school. Whether parents pay fees or not, whether they have the choice or not, parents must have belief that the best interests of the children are at the heart of the school. And that their children will make progress equal to or surpassing expectations, age-related or otherwise.
Children. Well they are children. They are joyful, growing, curious, needy, learning. They are affected by their backgrounds, families and early childhood experiences, but they are not to be held to account for that. Schools work with the children presented to them and, in essence, they are the same precious individuals wherever you go.
Good governance can be found anywhere – temperate, positive, supportive of Heads and ultimately transparent. Governance should not be cabalistic micro-management that creates division by operating with subterfuge and in underhand ways; dividing communities and not uniting them.
The change I am experiencing most on moving sectors is one of the mindset possessed by the organisation above me – the Governors and the Trust that support our schools. It creates a platform for the leadership teams to develop provision and a mechanism for reflecting on the success of that provision in the progress of the children and the operation of the business. The fact that my school and the trust are only 3 and 4 years old respectively, is certainly a factor in this mindset but I know from experience, and knowledge of good governance models, that this is can also be achieved in much more established schools and trusts.
I am learning systems, working with the team at school to establish new ones and modify those that exist. This is the function of school leadership. As is building and sustaining relationships. And given that this is arguably my first task, change has been manageable thus far.
I miss the parents, staff and children of the school I have moved from but I know that I can build strong relationships in the communities that I have been fortunate to lead. I am looking forward to exploring the management of change and to forging the strong relationships between staff, parents and children that make schools successful.