Thursday, 28 April 2016


It has taken me a long time to realise what really matters when it comes to school improvement and I suppose that the only thing I would say in my defence is that I have been doing it for a long, long time now. 

In the early days , when I worked in North Yorkshire I worked on a hands-on science project called Earth and Space at the Hospitium in the Museum Gardens in York. Rowntrees were one of our supporters and they provided free Kit-Kats for all the children... and they always talked about their batch system which produced the same unique product. The focus wasn't on creativity or development or ideas... it was simply producing the same high quality product; millions of times!! 

Schools aren't like that; they are unique, dynamic, organic organisations that are all about creativity, ideas and development and the product is never the same. Schools therefore need different things; they need learning leadership, beautiful systems and intelligent accountability as the three key elements driving excellence in terms of teaching and learning. It's true that some of the basic infrastructure is the same across the educational estate and that is where good local authorities were able to add value and connect schools to help them share, network and learn. Good local authorities were also 'diplomats and detectives' supporting, advising, auditing and defending their schools as they managed a phethora of contracts and agreements. These needed to cope in a world where local management and devolved school funding had created a multitude of small and medium sized businesses where schools used to be.
The danger with the constantly changing learning landscape is that head teachers are increasingly distracted from the things that matter to focus on the things that count. There is a real danger that they become the beancounters and pigweighers in a system that focuses on management rather than leadership, product rather than process, the basics rather than the creative edge. That doesn't mean that management, product and the basics aren't important... they are but they aren't what is needed to build a world class education system in a world where 85% of the school are good or outstanding. In a unique, dynamic and organic system we need a differentiated approach... whether we are talking about phonics, learning, teaching, leadership, or schools in general!
If you read the brilliant McKinsey reports 'How The Best Performing School Systems Come Out On Top' and 'How The Worlds Most Improved Schools Systems Keep Getting Better'  they very clearly outline the steps and stages we all have to go through to build brilliant. It's very clear that a one size fits all approach never works and that we need a sophisticated, responsive and intelligent approach that nurtures learning leadership, beautiful systems and intelligent accountability.

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