Headteacher’s Report. Six Weeks In.

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Through struggle to the stars.

I love the Highbury Grove School motto:  Per Ardua Ad Astra.   Through struggle to the stars.  It captures the spirit of the school’s journey and spirit of the staff.  It’s the message we’re giving to our students too:  Work Hard; Aim High – or better still, Work Extremely Hard; Aim Extremely High. Why? Because the stars are worth reaching – with all the joy, wonder and personal fulfilment that learning and achievement bring. Six weeks in, I can safely say that I love my new job.  I really do. Every morning I zip into work on my bike relishing the challenges that lie ahead.   It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, finding out who everyone is, getting a feel for the dynamics of the different populations – students, staff, parents and governors – and trying to move forward with some confidence and clarity.   It feels like we’re on a mission and the commitment from everyone associated with the school is magnificent.  I couldn’t ask for better conditions or better people to deliver the ambitious goals we’ve got for the school and that is pretty exciting. I’ll write about my experience in the classroom in due course – that has been an education.  Well, more like a re-education; wonderful and challenging in equal measure.   For now, to give a flavour of the journey so far, here is an edited version of my Headteacher’s report to Governors. It illustrates the range of issues I’ve been dealing with.  This is Headship. Headteacher’s Report to Governors. October 2014

  1. Introduction
  • A priority issue has been to complete a draft of the School Development and Improvement Plan. The style is deliberately evaluative rather than absolute.

I’ve inserted some extracts in the relevant places below to give you a flavour : (The Development Plan numbering is different to the report – in case you find that confusing!)

  1. Staffing, HR and Professional Development
  •  I am exploring a new recruitment and retention strategy based on creating optimum working conditions, clear progression pathways for all staff and comprehensive, tailored professional development.
  • I’ve undertaken a first-wave review of SLT roles and responsibilities leading to some changes.
  • I have identified some gaps on the TLR structure for providing appropriate career progression for teaching staff.
  • The Appraisal system in the school needs to be reviewed during the year so that we can adopt an approach that is far more orientated towards career development rather than accountability and target setting. Crucially, this needs to apply to all staff in every role equally.  We’re introducing the BlueSky software to make this work efficiently.
  • We’ll be undertaking a review of contracts, additional payments and loadings to eliminate anomalies and give greater clarity for all staff.
  • We’ve already made progress in implementing a CPD structure that can support staff at different levels. We will soon be joining the National Teacher Enquiry Network and will use their framework as a tool for planning future CPD. In May we will be holding a Teaching and Learning Conference on our INSET day where all staff will share their learning during the year.
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  1. Community and Partnerships
  • The Parents’ Consultation event in September was a great success with 160 parents in attendance representing a good cross-section of the community.  (This is was wonderful event – a great buzz with lots of excellent ideas coming forward). A report based on their views of the school will be published soon.
  • Our Open Evening was very well attended and the immediate feedback was very positive.  There’s a strong sense in which people in the local community are determined to support their local school.
  • I’ve undertaken several Primary School visits to talk to the Heads about transition and partnership: In November we will be hosting a meeting of Heads of our feeder schools and Transition Forum meetings for Maths and English.
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  • I have attended my first meetings with other Islington Secondary Heads and partners.
  1. Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Achievement
  • The Examination Review has been concluded for Y11 and Sixth Form outcomes.
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  • During this term we will commence our Review process. We’ve decided to focus on Key Stages rather than Year Groups, starting with Key Stage 4. This will include lesson observations and work sampling.  (In the New Dawn of grade-free lesson observations, we’re determined to foster a strongly supportive, developmental spirit behind these reviews – exciting times.)
  • In addition, I am beginning the process of observing every teacher myself, focusing on one faculty at a time, with 5 or 6 observations each week. My lesson observations are intended to be informal and exploratory; each teacher will see me for feedback as part of the process of allowing me to understand each teacher’s perspectives, strengths and areas for professional development. (Probably the best bit of the job so far… I love doing this.)
  • We’ve established a Curriculum Working Party that has had one initial meeting so far. We will be looking at models for every aspect of the curriculum, hoping to present options for consultation and decisions in the Spring Term.
  • We’ve had some initial discussions at SLT with a view to using this year to devise a new assessment and reporting system.
  • Homework has been a prominent issue this term. We’ve succeeded in giving it a very high profile already.
  1. Pastoral Issues, Behaviour and Student Support
  • The top priority of addressing behaviour has led to a launch of our Behaviour for Learning strategy with two very productive half-day closures. The opportunity for all staff to work in integrated groups was received extremely well by everyone.
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  • We have introduced a two-week cycle rotating House and Year Group Assemblies. I am currently leading most of the House Assemblies, which gives me an opportunity to deliver coherent ethos-reinforcing messages to all students.
  • We have re-started the student breakfast service from 8am every day;
  • The English department, Learning Support Team and Library are  to making a big push on our Accelerated Reader scheme
  • We’ll be conducting a review of intervention, learning support and reading development,using data tracking to work out which strategies have the greatest impact.
  • Acquainting myself with the school’s exclusions processes has been necessary already this term. (I’m so impressed with the Behaviour Team at HGS and all the Heads of Year – a non-teaching role that works very well.)
  1. Sixth Form Developments.
  • We have held the first meeting of a Sixth Form Working Party. This group of staff will run some student focus groups to find out what they’d like to see in the Highbury Grove Sixth Form. I have outlined the idea of an HGS Baccalaureate.
  • We’ll be hosting a National Baccalaureate Summit at HGS in November, gathering various people with an interest in this area.
  1. Buildings, Systems and Finance.
  • I’ve had initial meetings with all the key people involved in our PFI and Facilities Management contracts.
  • Enhancing communication systems has been an early priority introducing universal parent email, insisting that every family has an email address.
  • We need a long-term rolling plan for IT replacement, upgrades and developing wireless access so that we make the necessary capital investment year on year.  That process has now started.
  • I have had productive meetings with the Business Manager to explore our budget profile, some forecasting and the projected surplus.  It’s important to know where the pressure points and opportunities lie.

Thanks to everyone who has made these early weeks such a joy.   In particular, I’m grateful to all the students who have welcomed me and taken time to share their ideas.  I’ve run several small meetings with key opinion-forming groups of students who have told me what they love and what they’d like to change about the school.  I’ve had students asking to rent a theatre for our school production with a fully costed proposal; a student asking to run an anti-poverty campaign linked to our  music programme; students asking to set up a new magazine.  Every day different students stop for a chat in the corridor in the most lovely engaging way.  Thank you all.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyable post which offers a great insight to your first 6 weeks. I can feel the sense of excitement and development coming through very clearly. The review process and pointers to NTEN and BlueSky are particularly interesting and I’ll follow up myself.


  2. A great post and was particularly interested in your points on retention of staff. Governance in Scotland makes this aspect harder to control. I would be interested in your practical strategies in managing short term teacher shortages when there is no supply staff (cover teachers) with the specialism and the absence stretches across a term.

    Some of our approaches to the shortfall with senior pupils include-

    Reorganising classes so that available expertise is spread over all classes
    Using a dual qualified colleague for an advanced classes for one period
    Focusing on a topic which has a significant research basis orientation
    Using scholar – an online distance learning tool.
    Request to colleague HTs but no surplus available
    Lack of capacity in faculty means end of day supported study is unavailable but a request will be made to nearby schools in case a colleague can help

    However parental pressure is growing and there is not an end to the shortage in sight.
    Is this situation peculiar to Scotland?
    I would be interested in hearing how a comparable situation like this is managed in England.


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