A collection of articles from members of the AASSH Committee.
Phew! No sooner back to school than a proposal to open grammars, first leaked then confirmed as a government plan for consultation. The arguments for? That grammars extend opportunities for academically able children from deprived backgrounds. That they reduce segregation of rich and poor. That the current system contains in-built segregation by house price. And against? That grammars actually segregate even further the few from the many, increase rejection and widen social and academic inequality.
Two observations from a church school head. Firstly, Church schools can neatly sidestep the squabbling: we don’t select by ability, and we don’t (even inadvertently) select by houseprice. Our children – some from the most deprived homes – come because they or their parents attend church. Open to manipulation? Yes, of course. But at least parents can choose. And it’s a choice unencumbered by wealth or academic prowess.
That raises, secondly, a challenge. If Church schools’ admissions are based largely on church attendance, then their social makeup reflects that of the Church itself. If our church doesn’t have a wide social mix, then nor will the church school. We strive to be both distinctively Christian and inclusive. We must challenge our churches to be the same.
While the government shuffles the deckchairs, we have our own work cut out: to support our churches and focus on the stuff that really matters: giving our young people an unforgettable experience of what it feels like to grow and learn in a Christian community.
And I must complete that consultation...
Headteacher - Bishop Luffa School, Chichester
In March 2011 Bishop Justus became an academy. At the time, converter academies were still relatively new and as we moved into unchartered waters with what seemed then to be a complete lack of infrastructure around us we found ourselves gaining closer relationships with our Church of England primary schools as we explored ways to come together and develop a community of schools with a shared purpose and Christian ethos. In 2011, there didn’t exist the mechanism to mix VA, VC and community schools within a MAT, so whilst we patiently waited for the Articles to be developed, we began to collaborate and develop our family of schools.
Given the green light to go ahead and become a MAT in 2013 Bishop Justus, in partnership with Parish CE Primary School, formed the Aquinas Trust and created our strapline ‘Life – Transforming – Learning’. We embarked on a journey that today sees us as a Trust about to be eight schools, including the full mix of primary, secondary, VA, VC and community. In what seems like a relatively short space of time, we have grown rapidly with a further two schools joining in the not too distant future. We have responsibility for approximately 3,500 children, just under 600 employees and we have plans to grow further.
As a family, we work together in each school and across schools to drive improvement and act quickly to tackle underperformance and to ensure effective and efficient use of finances to provide the highest possible standards of education across the Trust.
As part of our journey, this growth has seen my transition from a successful Headteacher into a CEO (the jury is still out on whether I will be a successful CEO!), but what I do know is that the journey has been remarkable. Having the opportunity to share with likeminded individuals who lead schools ranging from the very small rural primary to the large secondary, from the complexities of the A Level programme to the challenges of SEN units and day-care has been an incredible learning curve. Yes, Aquinas has it all - 6 months to 19 years. Our challenge is being able to implement strategies for the schools in different contexts and different parts of the journey and finding ways to ensure that the services we provide centrally free up our school leaders to focus on learning and achievement.
Whilst at times we sink in the logistics, legal paperwork and financial dilemmas, as a more established Trust we are emerging as one family with a truly collaborative approach developing across the Trust which is improving outcomes in all academies and I am confident that this will result in best practice becoming standard practice across the Trust over the next few years.
We are driven by the principle that together we are stronger and that the very best teachers and leaders must have the widest impact; so we now collaborate on lesson observations, through our learning networks we share good practice, through our explicit Christian ethos we worship and celebrate together.
The opportunities to transform the Stage 3 curriculum has happened by working with our primary partners. We have been reminded that developing everything from the more able to aspects of character development begin in early childhood and it is an absolute privilege as leaders in a MAT to impact on children and their families from the age of 2 to 19.
The lessons learnt along the way...
Firstly, take the time to set out a clear vision for what you want your trust to be and take others with you on a journey that makes that vision a reality. At the start, it was not always clear what an effective trust might look like and therefore it was quite difficult to take steps towards it and know how quickly you could take those steps.
Secondly, keep educational improvement and outcomes for children and young people as the drivers for everything you do; your trust should nurture talent at every level, always keeping true to your Christian ethos.
Finally, you have to constantly keep evolving and build capacity that aligns to your vision.
Our vision is of a trust that has a truly transformational impact on the lives of children and young people and the communities we serve. We are not there yet but as each week passes I feel more secure that we are getting ever closer to it.
CEO – The Aquinas Church of England Education Trust
Human truth: I retired from Headship almost three years ago and am at last beginning to enjoy it. The first year after retirement I felt bereft. I missed the school, I missed the students, I missed the staff, I missed the highs and I even missed dealing with the lows - basically I missed being needed!
Create new opportunities: I don't miss the gut wrenching feeling the day before results are out. And I don't miss having to deal with the constant "initiatives" from Government. And I have enjoyed the freedom to travel outside of school holidays and have been to Chile, Brazil, Argentina, India (twice - once to the north and once to the south) and most recently to Cambodia and Vietnam. I also finished walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and have spent happy times with family and friends in France. Last summer I was able to stay for nine weeks. Nine weeks! I had a little party on the first day of the academic year to celebrate freedom!
Finding my way: I also filled my time in the first year saying yes to almost anybody who asked me for help. I continue to be a governor in three very different schools and a member of two Boards concerned with Education. I support my church wherever possible and I am on a couple of committees (including AASSH). I trained as an Ofsted Inspector, got the badge and the certificate, did a couple of inspections, but decided it wasn't for me. But the training, on top of twenty-six years in senior leadership in a number of schools, has stood me in good stead working for academy trusts and individual schools assisting with school improvement and mentoring Heads. This I love doing.
Commit to what is important: There is nothing more satisfying than being able to help make a difference which affects children's achievement. All the visits to schools and academies have one thing in common - whether the school is outstanding or in special measures it very much depends on the leadership, and particularly the leadership of the Head/Principal. There is no one model for outstanding leadership but "servant leadership" appears to me to be the most successful. That doesn't mean a weak person or someone who is subservient. On the contrary it means being confident - in your own values, clear about the vision and values of the school. It means being able to communicate what is needed calmly, even in times of crisis. It means wanting to serve the children in your charge so that they can experience and achieve the best possible academic, creative, physical and spiritual outcomes. And if you want the best outcomes for your children you need to value your staff. If you look after your staff you can be sure that they will look after the children. It means having authority but not being authoritarian. It means bringing people with you on the journey because they understand why it is necessary. In schools that are in trouble there has often been a culture of telling rather than selling and bullying rather than modelling by example. Servant leadership was of course exemplified in Jesus Christ what better role model could there be!
A new stage in one's life, whether you are retired or still leading a school, is an opportunity; take control and make change happen.
Dr Irene Bishop CBE
AASSH also publishes regular editions of our newsletter, 'Angles', which is an informative and thought-provoking publication that aims to offer advice and guidance to our member schools. Below, you can browse and download a selection of our past issues by simply clicking their titles: