Department for Education today announced that Branston Locks Primary School
(working title) has been approved to open in Burton on Trent. The new school,
which is being set up by John Taylor Multi Academy Trust, is planned to open in
September 2021. It will be situated in the catchment area of John Taylor Free
Gareth Moss, Chair of John Taylor MAT said:
“This is a great opportunity for John Taylor to provide high quality education for more children and families in the new housing development at Tatenhill and beyond. Situated only a relatively short distance away from several of our Trust’s established primary schools, and within walking distance to John Taylor Free School, we envisage close collaboration and exciting partnership opportunities that will add value to all our schools.”
Mike Donoghue, Chief Executive Officer of
John Taylor MAT said:
“We are delighted to have been awarded sponsorship of the new primary school. It is a validation of the Trust’s reputation to deliver great learning and care for hundreds of children in our primary schools, and we look forward with great enthusiasm and a keen sense of responsibility, to making this new provision truly exceptional.”
Luke Tryl, Director of New
Schools Network, said:
“The application process to set up a free school is extremely rigorous, so it is a testament to John Taylor MAT’s hard work that they have been approved to open.
“Today’s announcement is great news for families across the country. These approvals mean that some of the areas most desperately in need of greater educational opportunity will soon have innovative and successful new schools opening their doors to these communities. We congratulate all approved schools and look forward to helping them through the pre-opening process.”
In a previous blog (February
2018), I wrote about John C Maxwell’s “Five Levels of Leadership”, and the
privilege I have of working alongside other leaders at differing phases of
their professional and personal development.
Maxwell compels us to devote time to the coaching, mentoring and
supporting of leaders in that their development generates a ‘multiplier effect’
as they impact more meaningfully on those with whom they work and those who
depend upon them.
Over recent months I have been
asked to work formally with several colleagues across a number of
organisations, in addition to the regular and occasional times I spend with
leaders within our own Trust. Initially
I found this work a daunting prospect, filled with self-doubt of my own
limitations (Michelle Obama’s “imposter syndrome”) combined with a profound
burden of responsibility to help in a meaningful and positive way. In reality, the main antidote to the doubt is
via the affirmation and feedback from those colleagues I am working to support,
together with others who notice the impact from our dialogue.
One of the first areas usually
explored with a colleague on their leadership journey relates to their explicit
efforts towards self-awareness and self-development. The extraction of solutions from within is
almost a definition of coaching, and so it makes good sense to engage in
dialogue that relates to the learning they have undertaken, if any, relating to
their own sense of self. When
considering the future, it is so important to have as clear an understanding as
we can of ourselves and how we relate to our contexts. The argument is a simple one: If you are going to buy a new house for your
future, with a complex range of features and a history of change over time, you
would inevitably want a detailed survey of its current state before you move
in. Likewise, we should want a
“structural survey” of ourselves even more.
We can always reconsider the house purchase, or move elsewhere. We have no such luxury with ourselves, where
our personality and our preferences and prejudices are very much “sitting
tenants” with whom we co-reside!
Until I undertook several myself,
I was quite cynical of personality profiling or diagnostic testing. However, I was convinced otherwise once I’d
sat the Kolbe A test, and the Gallup StrengthsFinder survey. Working several years ago with a group of
students each of whom by their own admission “didn’t have a plan” and an
external facilitator, I took the tests (as much to make the point that I
wouldn’t expect them to do or share anything that I wasn’t prepared to). Through both the initial results and then
through deeper reflection and discussion with others, I gained a huge amount of
self-awareness from them. I recommend
such tests to others quite frequently, and certainly to those with whom I’m
working in a developmental capacity. Not
only do the results give rich conversation themes for us and reduce the
‘imposter syndrome’ risk on my part, but they also signal the willingness of
the colleague to look at themselves as a starting point before looking at their
career development. As Friedrich
Nietzsche wrote, a long time before Simon Sinek, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
Such diagnostics are also useful
in that they are inherently positive.
They highlight what we’re good at, scenarios that make us productive,
situations that make us happy. All too
often, we focus on comparison with others that can almost inevitably leads to
disappointment at falling short. On a
planet with seven billion residents, there will always be someone “better” –
stronger, richer, wiser…
Self-improvement is the putting away of the childhood comparisons with
others that psychologists argue is necessary for children to generate rapid
learning, and turning to the much healthier pursuit of comparing oneself today
with oneself yesterday. Here, our
‘structural survey’ lets us know which features of our personality are going to
withstand the tests of time and the elements, and perhaps where we need to get
our tools out. Working with young
people, we know only too well that the tools we all have for such improvement
are those readily to hand, and of our own making. Faulty or inappropriate tools will lead to a
faulty outcome. Using the same faulty
tools repeatedly will create an inherently unstable and unsustainable building
of a life in which to live. Arguably
then, our key responsibility is to be there to help those whom we care about,
and care for, to fashion and then select the best tools they can – and the
positive outcomes will follow. Sounds
easy, doesn’t it?!
Finally, the phrase “know
thyself” dates back to the temples of Ancient Egypt at Luxor, and was perhaps
placed into more common usage by the Ancient Greeks. It has stood the test of time through its
openness to interpretation and universal application. Its earliest meaning related to a rejection
of the adulation and criticism from others.
Later, it became a compulsion to seek enlightenment and peace from
within. Alexander Pope wrote: “Know then
thyself, presume not God to scan. The
proper study of mankind is Man.” The
phrase even endures into the modern age, with the phrase in its Latin form temet nosce inscribed on the Oracle’s
door in the movie blockbuster The Matrix (see below). But of all these cultural usages, the one
that resonates the most with me – especially having worked with so many young
people – is Benjamin Franklin’s assessment that “There are three things
extremely hard – steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” We can but try!
Back in the 1990s, when I first assumed
formal leadership responsibility in a school and started to correspond
regularly with parents, I noticed a problem.
Our school letterheaded paper on which all letters would be sent (and,
pre-email, there were many) had an area in which to type that was just about
half of the size of the A4 sheet itself.
Underneath the obligatory school crest, address, phone and fax numbers,
headteacher name and qualifications was the “window” within which the contents
needed to be inserted.
Beneath that modest white space
of parchment, there was a plethora of assorted logos and icons. The school proudly reported its “Arts Mark”,
“Sports Mark”, and “Language Specialist School” statuses. An Assistant Head counterpart at the school once
wagged that if we collect enough subject-specific accolades, perhaps we could
be described as “comprehensive” again!
We were a “Fair Trade” school. We
were even insistent on declaring to the world that we’d been successful in a
“Big Lottery Fund” application. In
amongst the logos sat – no larger or smaller than the others – the school’s
“Investor in People” status.
Some years later when I took up
the headship at John Taylor, we explored the “Investor in People” process and
accreditation. As is the case with many
of the ‘kite marks’ above – and numerous others – it is the audit, evaluation,
action planning and implementation that is valuable as opposed to the
letterhead logo. However, we were minded
not to pursue this approach at that time for two reasons. First, there were cost implications. By this stage, school funding was becoming
much less generous than it had been in the late 1990s and the cost/benefit of
even a relatively-modest amount of money needed to be considered before being
spent. Second, it was pointed out to me
that studies had shown that there was no direct correlation between holding the
IiP accolade and demonstrating the attributes that define a “good employer”:
recruitment and retention rates, employee satisfaction surveys, numbers of grievances,
training and development budgets, attendance levels and absenteeism etc. In
short, organisations which profess to “invest in people” didn’t seem to ‘walk
the talk’ any more than any others.
Despite the obvious counter: “What would these organisations be like without this status?” we chose to move
on to other priorities.
I remain open-minded on the value
of ‘formal’ designations, audits and awards for such areas of our work. Certainly, to provide evidence of a basic
standard of provision, and to assure others (for example, governors) that schools
take issues seriously such accreditations can prove beneficial. They also can empower a lead colleague to
drive forward change and improvement by giving an external impetus to what
would otherwise have been just another school priority. When areas such as wellbeing are, correctly,
described as “everyone’s responsibility”, without structure they can easily
slide into becoming no one’s.
Accreditation, and then subsequent reassessment, reduces this risk. Recently we have witnessed a resurgence in
quality marks, including those associated with wellbeing.
However, in themselves such
designations are insufficient to ensure that an organisation’s culture is one
in which wellbeing is considered as a priority and all stakeholders work
positively and harmoniously. As Peter
Drucker famously wrote “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and the
highlighted cases we regularly read of organisations – including schools and
MATs – with “toxic” cultures show that a kite mark can’t protect you.
So, from where does a culture
conducive to wellbeing emanate? In my
opinion, the answer is leadership. Given
that cultures are by definition enduring and resilient, the maintenance and
development of cultures is not the sole responsibility of a school’s most
senior leaders, and nor does our responsibility end when our tenure in a school
does. Drucker’s distinction between leadership
and management stems from the difference between structure (the domain of
management) and culture (the realm of leadership). Structures can be changed pragmatically,
rapidly, and with limited turbulence.
Culture far less so. This is why so
much attention is paid to the legacy of leaders – their presence endures, for
good or ill, long after their departure from the role and the
When we recruit new colleagues,
we always advise them of their own empowerment in the “inter-view”
process. They have to consider whether
their way of working, and their philosophical outlook, chimes with ours. If there is a ‘cultural dissonance’, neither
they nor we will be truly satisfied in the relationship, despite any
superficial KPIs that may point to effective performance.
I have written previously about
the generosity, energy and talent of the colleagues I work alongside. We see those attributes in abundance when it
comes to the wellbeing of children, families, and their colleagues. Supporting individuals through personal and
professional challenges, organising staff social gatherings such as Christmas
parties and sporting events like participation in the Derby 10k recently, and
raising awareness and funds for charities and causes that personally affect our
communities are all to be cherished. A
kite mark cannot guarantee to deliver any of these things, only great people