Our Core Purpose: Ambition for All

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Key influences in our thinking: Music, Baccalaureate models, The Trivium

Vision matters.  In a complex organisation with multiple stakeholders, everyone needs to know what the overarching goals are.  When things are difficult and messy, it’s very powerful to keep the long-term vision in mind so that the journey feels worthwhile and the problems seem solvable – in the long-run, if you give yourself enough time.  I’ve written about this before:  Great School Leadership: Vision

In a more recent Course Correction post, the map images always have Port Jefferson as the destination, the analogy being that, as long as we know where we’re heading, changing course is usually necessary and healthy.   At Highbury Grove the more fundamental question we’ve been asking is: What’s our Port Jefferson? The last 18 months have been dominated by exploration and change.  It takes a good year to really get to know your school – and the first set of exam results certainly gives you a dose of reality to puncture any hype.  Part of the exploration has been to affirm those aspects of the school that everyone loves: its inclusive ethos; the prominence of music; the community school identity.  But there’s also been a wave of change: new Headteacher, new Chair of Governors, new Governing Body and, as of April this year, a completely new team of Head and Deputies (our new Heads of School.)

Along the way, we’ve been preparing the ground for the long-term with a revised curriculum structure, a new behaviour system and numerous revisions to policies that shape the professional culture we’re trying to create.  We’ve also been exploring elements of pedagogy and curriculum planning taking on board ideas from the Trivium and various strands of contemporary educational thinking.  With this exploratory work well underway, the challenge has been to articulate the long-term vision to everyone connected to the school.  We made an attempt last year to write a Vision Statement; it hit the buffers of ‘being all things to all people’, bogged down in lofty language and details of our ambitious goals for everything we could think of, spilling over onto too many pages.  Partly this was because we were in transition between governing bodies; there were different views of what constituted ‘the way we do things here’.  We were losing sight of the audience too; people want a simple message; not a complicated one.

After a term of further internal examination, I was tasked by the new governors with producing a Core Purpose statement building on all I’ve gathered from my 18 months of exploration; capturing but cutting through the complexity of demands from all the school’s stakeholders and firmly putting my stamp on it as the leader.   The brief was to produce something clear, simple and powerful.

Here it is.  Ambition for All.


Ambition for All


The concept is that there is one core purpose: Ambition for All.   This is our attempt to capture everything Highbury Grove is about in one phrase.  It echoes our motto but has a different emphasis:  Ambition for All applies to all students and to all six areas – the hexagons. The focus on ALL is the key; we’re an inclusive comprehensive school that has to deliver for everyone; no exceptions.  If could have been ‘Excellence’ instead of ‘Ambition’ – but that didn’t feel like our phrase; it felt borrowed and possibly over-used.  Ambition does a better job of suggesting that sense of being on a journey from where we are to where we want to be; ambition has no limits.

The diagram places the three core elements of our provision for students at the top: Academic Learning, Personal Development, Broad Curriculum; these are supported either side by Community and Behaviour  – elements that provide the facilitating environment in which the other elements take place. The whole thing is underpinned by Leadership – from staff and from students.

Academic Learning is firmly at the top.  If pushed for one central priority, this is it.  We’re deliberately and explicitly saying that all students should focus on academic learning as the key driver of their educational experience. We opted for Academic Learning – as opposed to Academic Outcomes or Academic Success – because we wanted to capture the process of learning, the journey, as well as the end point.  The rest is self-explanatory – hopefully!

After some initial consultation with a core group of governors and the SLT, we discussed an early version on the first INSET day in January. We are in the process of a consultation with parents and students on the detail.  We’ll edit the details as necessary after the Student Council and Parents’ Forum meetings this month but the key concepts are unlikely to change too much because we’ve taken stock of what people have been telling us over the last 18 months all along.


  1. Hi Tom.
    This is exactly what a vision for school should look like: inclusive, aspirational, broad-ranging…
    I would ask two questions:
    1. Were all of the community included?
    It can often be case that the process of articulating a vision and set of core principles/purposes can hit the semantic snag; “Oh, we can’t find consensus so please Mr HT, will you finish it off and we promise to abide!” This then causes the skids when the vision/purposes are challenged as some staff are then happy to remind you that they “didn’t sign up for this!”
    2. Should all of the hexagons not be equal in importance and status?
    The diagram is important; it very neatly articulates the key messages in a simple but direct way, allowing everyone to understand. Suggesting that some principles underpin the impact or delivery of others is entirely understandable and eight but your blog seemingly suggests that there’s a hierarchy, which doesn’t fit with the diagram… (I realise that this probably seems pedantic but you’ll know just how picky the detractors can be!).
    When our school was judged RI two years ago I was thankful that I’d dealt with the picky! It was the core vision and entirely agreed principles which ensured all staff were already signed up to the shift in expectations and were partners in driving change. They were and are the benchmark for everything we do, promises we signed up to which should be a bottom line every day for everyone.
    As well as being a primary head, I’m also a high school governor, helping to support a new principal in delivering a renewed vision, so I have some feeling for how much more messy and complex it is in trying to gain consensus worth a large community. Hope you don’t mind the questions; please disregard of they are not helpful.


  2. Interesting to read, Tom – and I like the “ambition” idea, rather than “excellence”. I came across this the other day from a local Teaching School Alliance which talks about how they are “ambitious for children”: http://kyrateachingschool.com/our-shared-vision/

    The very best of luck! I used your ‘Vision’ Great School Leadership piece with primary school principals in Trinidad & Tobago this summer and they responded very positively to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] I need to be clear about one thing.  I loved KEGS.  It’s an extraordinary place to work and to learn – like an Oxbridge college for kids.  That’s how I saw it.  Any parent would be thrilled for their child to go there (albeit it’s only for boys in Y7-11) and you wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to send their child there.  I learned a great deal at KEGS about what learning looks like when everything clicks into place: strong traditions, supportive parents, motivated students, experienced stable staff, everyone fully focused on learning and achievement.  It’s a rarified learning environment where magical things happen.  When I left I wrote a blog about ideas from KEGS that I hoped to take with me: https://headguruteacher.com/2014/07/06/lessons-from-kegs-ideas-im-taking-with-me/  My KEGS experience has certainly helped to influence my vision for Highbury Grove: ‘Ambition for All’. […]


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