Full day meeting for Primary and Nursery Headteachers. As I’ve set out elsewhere in this weblog it is my intention to establish a culture amongst East Lothian schools which is characterised by a shared purpose, belonging, openess and mutual trust. This is the culture I’ve always set out to create whenever I've had the opportunity to take the leader’s role. It was relatively easy as a PT – achieveable as a Headteacher, but I’m not sure if it’s possible to do at an authority level. However, we are going to have fun trying. What are the obstacles?
- A “them” and “us” mentality between schools and the centre.
- Poor communication.
- Directorate giving orders without any clear rationale or sense of purpose.
- Headteachers running their schools as personal fiefdoms with no respect shown to colleagues in other schools or anyone else outwith their own sphere of interest, i.e. seeing themselves and their schools as operating autonomously and not belonging to a wider community of professionals.
- Pressure of work which prevents anyone from lifting their nose from the grindstone.
- A focus upon the negative.
I'm sure there will be others and I'd welcome observations, such as “idealistic Heads of Education” but this list will suffice in the meantime.
Anyway the feedback from my colleagues was very positive and the early signs are encouraging. What are the challenges? Sustainability – can we keep this going?- particularly in times of stress – or will we retrench into “them” and “us”. Can I/we deliver?- people hear so many promises throughout their careers from leaders who come in say they'll do this and that and never see it through. It's vital that everything doesn't depend upon one person, i.e. me. We must distribute leadership; we must establish long-term strategic plans which are not dependent upon particular personnel; and we must link change to long-term budgetary planning.
We sat , 45 of us, in a circle. This was both symbolic and practical. It prevents a front and back from setting up; it engages with all the group; it enables people to make a contribution; it enables everyone to listen to contributions; and it allows leadership of the group to move around, as opposed to being located at the front.
The morning was given over to an description of, and discussion about our attainment action plan. Some excellent points were raised and we also made significant progress in a number of areas which we can now take forward as agreed action. We also shared the department's budget and discussed the communication paper – both of which were well received. There is a concern that primary schools have been/are discriminated against in comparison with secondary schools. I'd like to open up this debate by looking at the facts and engaging primary and nursery Heads in discussion with their secondary colleagues. If we don't tackle this perception head-on (if you'll excuse the pun) and either demonstrate that it's incorrect, or that is does exist and that we need to put a plan together to rectify the situation, we will only make peripheral progress in seeing ourselves as belonging to a unified whole. All groups must be prepared to put aside their traditional interests and look at it from an objective standpoint – told you I was an idealist!! – but what fun we'll have.
The afternoon considered emergency scenarios and what we would do in such situations. This proved very interesting and should help s put together very useful emergency plans.
Back to the office at 4.00 for e-mails and correspondence. I had a chat with Alan Ross, Head of Children's Services. I was still chuntering on about what we should be trying to do with integrated community schools. I value Alan's prespective – he has exceptional experience at the “hard” end of children's social work – where children's lives are at risk. Educationalists sometimes have the luxury of being idealistic and adopting a higher moral group perspective. A child social worker has incredibly difficult decisions to make about whether to remove a child from a family or not. I can chat all I like about whether or not we should be trying to give all children the same opportunties and support – Alan cuts to the heart of the issue and asks “Can I stop this child from being “broken” any further”. The problem is that when a child is “broken” can anyone – including education “fix” them? I'll look forward to more in-depth discussion about this with Alan and other colleagues over the next few weeks, especially as we look at how we might better integrate education and children's services.