Towards a New Vision: for my school; for all schools.

Last week I was involved in three different events that were focused on trying to shape a new vision for education.

  • A staff vision-building exercise at KEGS, looking ahead to 2020
  • The Headteachers’ Roundtable Conference in York, where we constructed our Manifesto framework.
  • The National Teacher Enquiry Network Conference that we hosted at KEGS.

A common theme across all three events was that people were looking beyond what we do now and what we currently experience as education professionals towards a future time when things could be very different and much better.  Building a vision for a school and for a system of schools have a lot in common – it is just a question of scale.

Vision-building in practice: Lots of discussion and post-its.
Vision-building in practice: Lots of discussion and post-its.

Vision Building at my school: KEGS in 2020

In 2009 we wrote a document ‘A Vision for KEGS in 2015’ involving all staff, parents, students and governors.  It has served as a useful reference point each year. As 2015 approaches, we’ve started a new cycle to look beyond 2015 to the next five years.  The staff vision-building session was very simple: staff were grouped together so that each one had a cross-section of staff: teachers, leaders, support staff, different departments.  People were asked to think about the school that they’d like KEGS to be in 2020, referencing a list of categories:

A scatter of ideas, big and small, linking to some over-arching categories.
A scatter of ideas, big and small, linking to some over-arching categories.

Using post-its people put their ideas down, then sorted them and presented them for others to view and comment on.  This generated lots of discussion and reflection.  The output from each group will now be collated and will inform the work of volunteer staff groups representing each category.  Staff will then have input to comment on initial drafts.  A parallel process will happen with Governors, parents and students leading to a final document in the Autumn term.

It’s always interesting to me how the issues range from the micro to the macro.  Some people want an Astroturf pitch and for the students to stop swearing in the canteen; others want a deeper commitment to international issues, more opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration and better communication and CPD.  Vision means different things to different people; very often they’d be happy just for things not to get any worse! Collectively, we’ll shape something ambitious and exciting but also grounded and practical.

The HTRT Conference in York.
The HTRT Conference in York. Chris Holmwood for Shenley Brook End  and Whole Education presenting . The Core Group (minus David Carter) posing for the Yorkshire Post.

The Headteachers’ Roundtable

Ever since I joined this group a year ago, I’ve found it to be an incredibly rewarding professional experience in terms of system engagement.  The agenda for the meeting was shared on the HTRT website and we stuck to it very closely.  The sessions on OfSTED and alternative models of accountability were really interesting.  Chris Holmwood , Stephen Tierney and David Carter all made presentations showing clearly that there are other ways of holding schools to account that don’t have the high-stakes consequences we currently experience and build on a deeper evidence base.

We’re looking forward to pursuing this agenda with the Secretary of State and HMCI in the coming months.  I think the most important thing is to continue to present the alternatives; we’re not just having a moan.  Similarly with the curriculum framework, we’ve made a lot of progress in the last year towards developing a workable English Baccalaureate model and 10 schools are now testing it out for real.

The big vision will come from our Education Manifesto.  We’ve launched an open process (via this HTRT Manifesto site) that will allow anyone to contribute ideas for policies that the next Government could implement after the 2015 General Election. The York Conference gave us an opportunity to thrash out what our manifesto might look like.  We agreed that we want to present a coherent vision for a better system that, in turn, is supported by a coherent set of policy proposals.  Two themes that came up repeatedly were continuity and independence; our vision will be one that demands structures safeguarding educational decision-making from the inherent short-sightedness of the five-year political/electoral cycle.  Let’s see what people come up with.

THE David Didau presenting at NTEN and speed-networking in action.
THE David Didau presenting at NTEN and speed-networking in action.

The National Teacher Enquiry Network

It was such an honour to host this event in our lovely library.  NTEN and its parent organisation, the Teacher Development Trust, owe their existence to the vision of CEO David Weston.  Having recognised that most CPD in schools is rubbish, he decided to do something about it and in less than two years has moved mountains.  The input at the event was not explicitly coordinated to express a specific vision as such, but collectively, participants and presenters were certainly looking ahead to a time when our schools and our profession will operate very differently.

Some of the key themes from the day included:

  • The need to move towards evidence-based practice and CPD with school staff engaged with research and in research.
  • The need for a cultural shift in schools away from formulaic compliance with externally prescribed standards towards a professional culture of enquiry, continual improvement and evaluation
  • The need to radically change structures that rest on making judgements on the quality of teaching from a set of lesson observations – because the evidence to support this isn’t there.

For detailed accounts of the conference and some of the ideas presented see these posts:

Still grading lessons? A triumph of experience over hope

NTEN materials for a peer audit of our CPD: The best feedback we've ever had.
NTEN materials for a peer audit of our CPD: The best feedback we’ve ever had.

My own input focused on the impact lesson study is having at KEGS and the way this has grown out of the research-engaged professional culture that we are continually trying to develop.  NTEN has helped us to get lesson study off the ground.  We’ve also benefited from the peer audit process.  I shared this with others, showing how the standards are very demanding, presenting us with excellent feedback on where we need to go next.  I can’t recommend it too highly.

The NTEN framework represents a vision for what outstanding professional learning could be like in every school. It’s the way to go.  I’m glad we’re on the path but there is still plenty more for us to do.

In all three events, the sense of people coming together with a common sense of purpose was extremely powerful.  I like vision-building: seeing beyond the immediate hurdles, the shackles we’re wearing, the weight of inertia that drags us back – to a place in the future when things are more how we’d like them to be.  It’s liberating and inspiring.  Of course at some stage you need to get down to working out how to get from here to there – but that vision is what drives us along the way.   It’s been a great week.

See also: Great School Leadership 2 : Vision


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