Hope and inspiration: so many brilliant school leaders driving change.

As I go about my  business as a consultant and speaker working with schools and colleges around the country, I’m continually impressed by the people I meet.  Although I am often dismayed by the direction of government policy and I worry about the rate of recruitment into the profession, there is no question that our system is packed with very committed, talented, energetic people working incredibly hard to tackle complex issues around teacher development, curriculum, assessment – all the things that really matter.

To give a flavour, here is a run-down of some of my interactions in just the last two weeks:

31st January: Joanne Rumney, Head of English Oldham College.  Brilliant Head of Department, running superb departmental CPD for teachers of GCSE English.  The thinking behind the curriculum planning is excellent – strongly supported by her engagement with research and the wider English-teaching community – and the process of developing a consistent approach across a big team is impressive; motivational but also driven by high expectations.

1st Feb: Jez Bennett, Headteacher, Elizabeth Woodville.  Jez is one of the original supporters of the National Baccalaureate for England; we met at a trustees’ meeting where he shared the work of the pilot schools.  His commitment to the Bacc and the arts in particular is inspiring and, having visited, I know he’s taking his school forward with great determination.

2nd Feb: Helen Ralston,  Deputy Head, The Rise School, a school for children with autism. We spent a morning looking at Helen’s plans for the whole-school curriculum KS2-KS4, spanning a wide range of ideas across all subjects.  Her ambitions for her students is inspiring and she’s thinking hard about the process for engaging staff, building a structure that can be sustained over time.  Fascinating work.

3rd Feb: Canons Park TSA #CPTSA18

Caroline Creaby, Deputy Head and Director of Sandringham Research School.  At the excellent free event organised by Kev Bartle, I heard Caroline share her work at Sandringham.  They are exploring lots of great ideas around curriculum and assessment, engaging staff in their own enquires processes and exploring the idea of a Super Curriculum for each subject, extending opportunities beyond the classroom.

Mark Enser, Head of Geography at Heathfield School, gave one of the best talks I’ve seen by a teacher-leader; fabulously insightful about how various ideas from research find form in his classroom and thinking about the geography curriculum.

4th Feb:  Peter Hyman, Head and CEO: School 21.  This was a social meet-up; it’s always fabulous talking to Peter; we manage to debate ideas and not always agree whilst finding masses of common ground.  It’s so inspiring hearing about the progress of School 21 and Voice 21; the various challenges and triumphs and the continual process of trying to develop a superb curriculum, build a great team of people.  It’s brilliant that we’ve got people like Peter with the confidence and insight to be truly innovative, pushing to find a better way within our system.

5th/6th Feb:  I do a lot of work with Brune Park School in Gosport. Here Kirstie Andrew-Power,  a Headteacher with GFM/BayHouse, is working flat-out with her colleagues to push forward on many fronts; she’s continually seeking to empower people to own solutions, building long-term capacity; this isn’t always easy but is brave and necessary.

Faye Longden-Thurgood, AHT and  Claire Gudgeon, Head of Humanities, at Brune Park worked with me on a day of lesson observations as part of a cycle of inputs from me.  It was a real joy to see so much progress being made; a team of people led by deeply committed leaders, working hard on curriculum and assessment issues with real determination, balancing support and challenge and succeeding.

7th Feb Emma Wijnberg, AHT, David Sheppard, CEO, Leathersellers Federation.  A new and growing group of schools coming together to share ideas on a joint INSET day.  I had the pleasure of talking to 300 staff to kick off their day, and it was inspiring hearing about their journey and vision from Emma and David.  Here’s a group of schools in very good hands embracing ideas about stretch and challenge.

9th Feb: Esther Messinger, AHT Bristol Cathedral Choir School. Esther is one of the people I meet with the best job title:  AHT with responsibility for teaching and learning.  She had put a brilliant INSET day together as part of their CPD programme.  I love their ‘thinking hard’ concept which blends curriculum thinking with questioning and ideas about stretching high attainers.   Esther epitomises that energetic commitment to improving teaching and learning that I see around the country; bringing in external ideas but shaping them for their context and working with talented teachers to harness their skills and knowledge with a shared sense of direction.

10th Feb: ResearchEd Birmingham.  Finally, I had an absolute blast at #rEDBrum.  An exceptional event hosted by the amazing Claire Stoneman, Deputy Head at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School.  Her organisation was impeccable but, much more than this, her passion for the event spoke volumes about her ambitions for young people in her school and the importance of engaging teachers in professional dialogue.  The show of hands for first-time attendees at a ResearchEd event was fabulous – over half the room at a rough guess.

As well as the wonderful Philippa Cordingley from CUREE, I saw two talks by leaders in schools:  Ros Walker, Physics Teacher, Lead Practioner gave an exceptional talk about knowledge structures in physics and the implications for understanding progress.  Here it is. It’s an important bit of thinking that has implications for assessment and whole-school processes.  More than anything it made me want to teach physics again! It’s fantastic to engage with subject specific ideas at this level and to have people like Ros prepared to communicate their thinking in this way.

Rebecca Foster, Head of English, Associate SLT, St Edmund’s Girls, led a superb session about the design of the KS3 English curriculum, with a focus on weaving in a coherent knowledge building structure  and the need to study texts that represent genuinely high aspirations and real cultural capital.  It was an absolute joy – and, once again, I was given a strong sense of hope that, with people like Rebecca doing what they do, the system is very far from broken.

Massive thanks to all the people I’ve mentioned.  You are inspirational!

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