“Getting the best out of everyone.” – JTMAT Governance Conference 2018

As we approach the end of the academic year, I look forward to our annual JTMAT Governance Conference.  This annual event is a great opportunity for many of our colleagues from local governing bodies across all our schools to meet, share, and learn together.  We have benefitted from the generosity of insightful and expert speakers – giving their time freely – on a range of matters as diverse as the strategic direction of the system in the region (from a Regional School Commissioner perspective), through working with a Teaching School to risk management strategies.

This year, our theme is “Getting the best out of everyone.”  We will be hearing from a MAT CEO who has developed workload mitigation strategies for her staff, recognised by the Department for Education.  We’ll be listening to presentations about ensuring Pupil Premium funding is spent effectively to make a difference to children who need additional support to overcome disadvantages, and we’ll be developing our skills of data analysis to ensure that no child, or group of children, is left behind. I’m really looking forward to the day.

You may well have read the Secretary of State’s speech recently about the importance of great governance.  If you missed it, there’s a link to it here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/damian-hinds-speech-at-national-governance-association-conference

He drew to a close with the phrase, “Without you, our schools simply wouldn’t run.”  I firmly agree with him.  Within JTMAT, in addition to the annual conference, we try and support good governance through a variety of mechanisms.  We have a governance portal that is a valuable repository for resources, contains links to sources of support, and an excellent way to view agendas, minutes and meeting papers.  We have a Clerk’s Forum in which our clerks can meet and discuss best practice, supporting one another. We have committed to providing governor training via the National Forest Teaching School free of charge for all who want it.

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JTMAT Governance Portal

As we’re mid-way through the World Cup, I’ll close with a football analogy. Perhaps governing bodies are like football referees: the best ones don’t interrupt play unnecessarily, know the laws of the game and interpret them wisely and consistently without fear or favour, and seek only the best outcome from others.  Like referees, sometimes the great governors and governing bodies go unnoticed a great deal more than the bad ones!  So, here’s a great big “Thank you!” to our governors, and for the time and expertise they give freely and selflessly.  “Without you, our schools wouldn’t run.”

Thanks for reading.

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Mike

Management Matters

One of the most popular books amongst educationalists at the moment is Andy Buck’s “Leadership Matters”. If you have yet to pick up a copy, I’d highly recommend it. The blend of theoretical models and contextual reference, written by a leader with many years of school experience under his belt, has made this work a best-seller and a go-to repository for many of us.

The title, on the face of it, says it all: that leadership in schools is hugely important. In a previous blog, I cited the Hay McBer survey that confirmed the strong correlation between effective leadership and school effectiveness. Again in an earlier blog, I signposted readers towards the work of John C Maxwell and his “Five Levels of Leadership” in which he argues, in the upper echelons, leaders have a ‘multiplier effect’ on their organisations in that by developing other leaders, productivity and effectiveness grows in an exponential rather than linear fashion. As with “Leadership Matters”, I’d recommend it.

In another work, Maxwell shows the cultural shift from “management” (the 1980s) through “leadership” (the 1990s) to “team leadership” (2000s and beyond). Certainly, we can see a shift in nomenclature in our schools. When I started teaching, schools had “SMTs” (senior management teams), supported by “middle managers”. Ambitious staff were sent on “management courses” to develop their skills towards the next stages of their career. Staff were allocated “MA”s (management allowances) for extra responsibilities they held in the school. And so on.

By contrast today, schools are “led” by senior leaders in an SLT, supported by middle leaders and teachers as “leaders of learning”. The profession was supported for almost a generation by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, previously-entitled the National College of School Leadership. Courses such as “Leading from the Middle” were followed by NPQMLs, NPQSLs, and now NPQELs (National Professional Qualification in Middle, Senior, and Executive Leadership respectively). Again, you get the picture.

But in my blog here I want to return to management. With a shift in priorities towards leadership – which is both understandable and desirable – I believe we run the risk of downgrading or neglecting altogether the importance of managerial skills.

So often the term “leadership and management” is used that the words may almost appear to be interchangeable (arguably, as “teaching and learning” became). I think this is a mistake. There are numerous excellent definitions of the difference between the two. Perhaps the more popular, and memorable are that “management is doing things right, and leadership is doing the right things” or (my own preference) Peter Drucker’s “management is the maintenance and development of structures whereas leadership is the maintenance and development of cultures”. I wouldn’t contest either of those definitions as helpful. I would also argue that “doing things right” and “maintaining and developing structures” are really important.

In my experience, great school leaders are so effective because they’ve created the space to lead. They do this in my opinion as often as not through also being great managers. They prioritise, they delegate, they plan, they generate efficiency and capacity, they target resources effectively etc. These managerial facets to their work can ‘clear the road’ so that they, and consequently those around them, can see the way ahead.

To close, I’ll take the liberty of sharing two of my favourite management models with you. The first is the Eisenhower Matrix of “Urgent versus Important”. The diagram below speaks for itself:

Chart.pngSo much of the recent drive towards workload reduction is either overtly or indirectly linked to this matrix. If schools and their staff are to have time to plan for their “important” work (the teaching, assessment, and care of children), then the “not urgent” and “not important” functions need to be positioned appropriately or removed altogether.

Great leaders use this matrix instinctively to find their space to lead.

The second model was, I believe, more coined than developed. NASA during the years of the space race devised this to fend off criticism from over-eager senators and presidents. Again, the diagram is self-explanatory:

GoodCheap

I think this is a great way of looking at our education system in general and can envisage many a conversation in the Department for Education, and in our schools, entering into the territory of the messages here. If we want educational innovation and improvement to be “fast” and “good” in our schools, it won’t be “cheap”.

I’ll leave you to consider the implications of the alternative permutations. In a context of budgetary constraint, effective managers as well as leaders can help us deliver more with less, and the importance of their skills shouldn’t be totally neglected in the pursuit of leadership excellence.

Thanks for reading.

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Mike

Full breathing apparatus on? Right Mrs Jones, which tree is Tiddles in?

My latest blog has been prompted by a series of coincidental encounters this week – not involving cats, but information technology in schools.

As a Trust, we’re looking at our over-arching strategic plan for the next three years and, as you may anticipate, technological change and the opportunities and challenges it brings to our work in schools will feature.  We’re looking carefully at what cutting edge organisations are doing using information and communications technologies and trying to ascertain how we develop our infrastructure and approach to dovetail with our teaching and learning philosophy.

We’ve also been looking closely at the Education Endowment Foundation research on meta-cognition and deliberating how we teach children how to learn more effectively, and clearly information technology can have a part to play in this.

Also this week, I saw a school proudly claim in the media that they’re continuing to issue all their many hundreds of students with tablet devices for use in “all their lessons”.

I’m not particularly ‘tech savvy’, but this school’s approach for me carries risk. Not the logistical issues (lost, damaged or stolen tablets, misuse during lessons, upgrades and recharging etc.) as these can arguably be overcome, or at least mitigated – but the educational risks. At a time when funding is tight, I can envisage the strong encouragement of use of such devices – even when they may not be the best resource to deliver the learning objectives the teacher intends.  The effectiveness of such an approach must be demonstrated in what additionality such technology brings: can it result in children knowing more, being able to do more, understanding more and engaging in learning more?  The answer to all these questions is, sometimes, a resounding “yes”. But sometimes it isn’t.

CEO-Blog-May2018-2It’s no more logical to suggest that pupils – of any age or ability – should use a specific piece of technology as a matter of routine than it is to argue that a firefighter should wear all their rescue gear to get to a marooned cat.  Indeed, as with the firefighter’s breathing apparatus, oxygen tank, mask, visor and axe when scaling a tree, inappropriate use of technology is worse than useless – it’s an encumbrance that makes the process of learning more difficult.  Justification that the firefighter equipment has been bought so must be used would, rightly, be viewed as ridiculous. And yet we still witness schools pursue such a strategy when, crucially, the impact on the achievements of their pupils isn’t at all visible.

Of course, there are superb examples of schools where technology is used creatively and intelligently to drive forward learning, engagement, and – topically – metacognition. It is to these schools we should all look when shaping our own future.  My experience of such schools is that their ‘magic bullet’ is not the technology, but the teaching, learning and leadership culture within which it is deployed.

So, within our Strategic Plan we will be giving due consideration to the appropriate use of technologies to help our children learn, but framed within our approach to teaching, learning and leadership.  That’s the way it should be.

Thanks for reading.

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Mike