The top 5 concerns facing school leaders

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What are the big five concerns facing school leaders today? Philippa Wilding discusses the most common worries she encounters and offers some solutions.

With changes to the Ofsted framework, schools are now under increased pressure to provide detailed evidence that every student is making progress. Headteachers are also having to get to grips with Pupil Premium funding and the usual problems relating to behaviour and truancy. 

This article discusses some of the most common concerns of the school leaders I meet and I also suggest practical ways of addressing these key concerns for school leaders.

1, Pupil Premium 

Many of the schools I visit are struggling with the need to ensure the additional funds for Pupil Premium students are having a direct impact on these students’ progress. This is probably their number one concern in recent months. So, how can headteachers ensure that the strategies they have introduced are making a difference?

The first task is to go back to basics. Every member of staff needs to be aware of their key groups of students. When a teacher has a class in front of them, do they know who their Pupil Premium, English as an additional language, or looked-after students are?

Evidence suggests that employing different teaching strategies for specific groups of students raises achievement, and so the starting point must be teachers knowing who they are teaching. 

Staging professional development training sessions on the particular needs of your Pupil Premium students is a good idea too, as this helps to target learning for this group. Then when a teacher is planning a lesson, they can incorporate different strategies into that process. 

One of these CPD sessions might look at student feedback. Research by the Education Endowment Foundation has shown the importance of good feedback for Pupil Premium students in raising attainment – but it has to be the right kind of feedback.

To have an impact, students will need more than a few brief comments and a grade. I would suggest that staff point out positive improvements in their work as well as suggestions for their next steps. Some schools hold one-to-one feedback sessions for Pupil Premium students so they have the chance to ask questions. Others encourage a two-way dialogue by allowing students to respond to a teacher’s comment with a different colour pen. 

Additional opportunities for CPD can be highlighted by examining the progress for these students across departments or classes. If a particular teacher is seen to be making great strides, consider adding their methods to your professional development programme or use them to act as mentors to those who are in need of further support.

I also highly recommend that schools ensure a member of the management team and a named governor is responsible for this group of students, if they do not already have this in place. This ensures that individuals are held to account on how you are spending the funding you receive. More importantly, it ensures the progress of every Pupil Premium student is being monitored.

2, Teachers’ pay

Now that a teacher’s pay packet should be directly linked to their performance in the classroom, many of the headteachers I meet debate how they can ensure any pay awards are fair and justifiable.

One of the clues to getting this right is to ensure that every teacher’s development goals are linked directly to the overall school improvement goals. 

If behaviour is an issue at your school, it is likely that every teacher will need to evidence some improvement in student behaviour in their classes to get a raise.

Targets need to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time specific) with the emphasis on being able to measure progress against them. Collating evidence can be a shared exercise so that the teacher themselves is given access to the data that demonstrates their progress against goals. This allows them to feel in control of the process and know if more work needs to be done.

3. Persistent absenteeism

Persistent absenteeism is an issue that crops up again and again. This is because even a good school’s attendance figures can be blighted by the recurring absence of just a few students.

A one-size-fits-all approach may be the answer for those who occasionally skip school, but for those where attendance has become an option, the root cause of any problem needs to be identified. This usually means a home visit where parents and students feel able to speak freely.

Once the cause has been established you can start to work on getting the student back in to school. A mentor can be allocated to the student – either a teacher the student likes or another student. The student option worked well for me when I was teaching and I remember one girl in particular being quite literally transformed by the support of another student her age.

Sometimes outside help is required if the issue is confidence or low self-esteem. A few one-to-ones with a trainer or counsellor skilled in this area can work wonders. The key is that once you know the cause, you can generally work with the student, the family and your staff to find a way to address the truancy.

4, Governance

Under the new Ofsted framework, a governor must now become an active member of the school team. Many headteachers are struggling with how to ensure their governors have the skills and information they need to fulfil these expectations.

An inspector will now ask to meet a governor for up to an hour on day two of an inspection. This means that they must be able to discuss with ease, any question about the school and any area of responsibility that they may have.

Consequently, it is good practice to introduce training sessions for every member of a school’s governance team so they understand what their role is, what they need to monitor and also cover any skills they may need (for example, understanding assessment graphs).

Think about regularly distributing “e-shots” to governors with the latest assessment data, details of any curriculum changes, recent successes and information on any events taking place at the school. 

Also, encourage governors to increase their presence at the school by attending parents’ evenings, or come in to meet different members of staff. This way you can ensure they take an active role in the school and fully understand its strengths and weaknesses

5, Maintaining your grade

The changes to the Ofsted framework have left many heads in charge of schools that have previously been judged “outstanding” or even “good” wondering if they have done enough to retain this title come the next inspection.

In my view, the key lies in rigour. An Ofsted inspector will want to see evidence that all aspects of the school are geared towards meeting the needs of every student – from CPD and analysis to safeguarding and bullying.

They will want to see a detailed implementation of your school development plan. Every member of staff and middle management must be working towards the same goals and have the support that they require, tailored to their individual needs. 

I also believe that data access is important. It will allow everyone to monitor the progress of every student. The ability to access information about individuals and groups of students will ensure your senior management team can keep a close eye on different departments.

  • Former teacher Philippa Wilding is head of the SIMS School Improvement Programme at Capita SIMS.


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