Welcome to my January blog.  It’s arguably too late to wish readers a Happy New Year, but it would be impolite not to – and I’d rather be accused of being a little tardy than rude!

I worked with a very skilled, experienced and somewhat battle-scarred Deputy Head who would regularly describe those who appeared to overstate their credentials or promise mountains and deliver molehills as “snake oil salesmen”.  This term refers to charlatans who, purporting to be doctors, swindled the credulous of their savings for a miracle cure which didn’t work, but by the time of realisation by the customer, the swindler had long since left town. 

Whenever we engage in recruitment, and whenever we seek to engage external suppliers of training or expertise, our due diligence compels us to dig deep in order to ensure we have sourced an individual of quality befitting of what we require and what our schools deserve.  Alistair Smith, in his “ten features of world class schools” elevated “Recruit well” to the lofty status of feature #1 on his list, and with good reason.  Great schools are constructed by great people.  Rigorous selection processes, challenging tasks and the testing of competences and values are all a part of the assurances we require. 

Likewise, when selecting individuals to lead staff training and development programmes and events, we need to demonstrate the same levels of discernment.  Certified programmes, such as NPQs and Masters qualifications, carry an implicit, de facto, mark of quality – but only when delivered effectively. The rigour, relevance and legitimacy of other training can be far more hit-and-miss.  Many of us will have heard stories of headteachers and senior leaders who, having hired guest or even “keynote” speakers to major events will sit, open mouthed and agog, as the speaker espouses messages far removed from the school’s own direction of travel or even its fundamental values.  This can only come through a lack of due diligence.  Specifically, being unaware of the content and tone of what will be delivered in advance of the session itself.  We need to be better than that.

Where I have some sympathy for those headteachers and senior leaders is when they are genuinely mis-sold.  The educational charlatan, or to use the language of the millennial, the “grifter” is ubiquitous.  With sanitised yet slick profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter, and a few vanilla testimonials from unverifiable sources, they peddle their wares as consultants, trainers and facilitators.  Twenty years ago, their market appeared centred on “ideating” and “future-scaping” (ugh!), ten years ago their gaze shifted working with disadvantaged learners, and today we appear to have a fixation upon the promotion of diversity, inclusion and equity. 

Please do not interpret the above as an expression that these are areas where I do not believe there is work to be done.  There is.  Plenty of it.  That’s the point.  The “grifter” will “follow the money”. 

We need to be wary.  I sometimes think “what would our best governors on our strongest governing bodies ask?”  They may ask the following: What area for development or problem are you seeking a solution for?  Why is this solution the right one? What alternatives did you reject, and why?  Why is this deliverer the right one? How will you know if this has been impactful?  If these questions cannot be answered with confidence and specificity, I would suggest further consideration at the very least prior to engagement. 

You may be asking what has spurred this blog.  Have I, or we at JTMAT, had our fingers burned?  The answer is “No.” Or perhaps “not yet.” No due diligence is watertight, but we do look to mitigate risks.  Seeking out, rather than asking for, testimonials and recommendations is valuable.  If the advisor or consultant came from a background of working in schools, looking at the performance of the school during their tenure and after (leadership is legacy, after all), may also be prudent.  In the age of information, none of these steps should prove time consuming or costly – and many readers will rightly point out the obviousness and mundanity in all this.  And yet I still see regularly consultants and advisors with no demonstrable evidence of their track record, no legitimacy of their proposed methodology, and no tangible impact of its implementation hired by schools. 

So my advice, such as it is, would be that your time and that of your colleagues is precious, as is the money entrusted to you to spend on staff training and development (a common casualty when the financial cleaver is being wielded to balance the budget).  Spend both wisely.  That means undertaking sufficient due diligence to be confident that what you’re getting is aligned to what you need.  It’s that straightforward.  It really is.

As always, thanks for reading.