Working together to develop leadership practice


Schools in West Sussex are embracing the challenge of the Redesigning Schooling campaign to develop their leadership and educational practice in key areas. Caroline Barlow explains.

The West Sussex Deputies Network (WSDN) has been working on “Redesigning West Sussex Schools” and came together for the first WSDN LeadMeet to discuss the on-going outcomes of SSAT’s Redesigning Schooling campaign.

Redesigning Schooling recently hosted a series of symposia with themes including teaching and learning, curriculum and assessment, and accountability – they saw school leaders and academics discussing how schools can set the agenda and develop educational approaches in each of these vital areas.

We sent representation to each of these and also enjoyed a one-to-one audience with Professor Dylan Wiliam to feedback and discuss outcomes of our curriculum forum.

Lyn Strathdee, from St Paul’s Catholic College, opened with a concise and informative summary of Professors Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas’s symposium, which posed the question “What kind of teaching for what kind of learning?” – reminding us of the education moral enterprise, and the many different layers of learning. 

The challenge remains to reconcile the different requirements facing students and schools in preparing for exams and measured performance versus preparing for university, work and life in the 21st century. 

We explored the “virtuous residues” or characteristics/dispositions that we would aim for our students to develop and in doing so to be clear on how the experiences and pedagogical approaches we employ assist their development – or not!

The core messages from Prof Wiliam’s symposium on “Principled curriculum design” mirrored those from the teaching and learning symposium – the need to establish a clear, shared vision about what as a school we believe to be “important” and “right”, rather than an exclusive focus on the measurable.

Prof Wiliam reminded us that the received national curriculum is not the whole picture and as school leaders we have autonomy to determine our school curriculum – the daily lived experience of our students.

We can ensure its values, coherence and application to maximum impact in our context. The message of autonomy was clear; while we might receive exam specifications or national curriculum content, the pedagogical approaches and understanding of how to best sequence the learning is solely owned by teachers and no-one else.

This was echoed by Professor Tim Oates who reiterated the difference between national curriculum and school curriculum, arguing the opportunity to create exciting, inspiring experiences was there to be taken, ensuring high quality pedagogical exchange was an integral feature of our institutions. 

Back at the WSDN, Helen Gabrieledes gave the group a glimpse into how that message has been reflected at her school – Oathall Community College – which holds true to its core beliefs and uniqueness.

Oathall’s curriculum model has a clear focus on outstanding teaching, maintains and develops foundation subject time including increased language time, and a clarity that they are doing what is right for each student in their own context – including the pigs, which they will not be weighing!

Pepe Erskine from Holy Trinity outlined former chief inspector Christine Gilbert’s symposium on accountability; describing the three pillars of accountability – national tests, published performance data and inspection – and maintained there is a greater role to be had for school-led accountability.

Four key relationships underpin this: moral accountability (to our students’ parents and community), professional accountability (to staff), contractual accountability (to our employer), and market accountability (our local market and the national/international framework). 

In schools that are working well, moral responsibility is collective. She made clear the importance of accountability within schools, between schools, and the role of Ofsted.

Clearly, greater school-to-school collaborative working is key in strengthening accountability. Pepe left us with this quote from researcher and writer Atul Gawande: “Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”

The central messages emerging from the Redesigning Schooling campaign is for us to have confidence in our own contexts; we work in effective, inspiring schools across West Sussex and are driven by clear moral purpose. 

There is a call to arms – for us to embrace our autonomy, not wait for permission or direction but empower ourselves to do what we know is right and what will give our students the best life chances, not just the best exam results, but the skills and understanding that will equip them in a 21st century that is yet to be developed. 

To deliver curricula of principled design that promote challenge and inspiration, with exceptional, expansive pedagogy where no child is left behind. 

That message is inspiring and reflects the reasons why many of us came into the profession. The challenge that we face is to build the confidence in our schools to do this:

  • How do we encourage inspirational pedagogy in the maths teacher driven down by endless target analysis of their threshold groups?

  • How do we inspire a leadership team on “Ofsted watch” that we can build schools where every experience is an enriching and enlightening discovery.

  • How do we persuade them that schools like this do not have to be the “rebellious few” who eschew weighted concentration on ever-changing performance measures but instead achieve them anyway through the aspiration and fulfilment of their students? 

And to do this when we are labelled the “enemies of promise”, where mono-cultural international comparisons leave us cold and where the goalposts keep moving and the very people who might know where best to place them are the least regarded or consulted? 

This became a little clearer to me in May at the SSAT Annual Lecture with John Cridland from the Confederation of British Industry – we do it by working in partnership, with each other and with all other stakeholders in the future of young people, collaborating to maximise our respective strengths.

Whatever kind of school, in whatever context, we can work collectively to share best practise and build confidence. Professor Michael Fullen said: “The power of collective capacity is that it enables ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.”.

It might be that WSDN (and the Resdesigning Schooling campaign) gives a hint at what is possible, and we suspect with the growing professional collaborations across West Sussex we are doing a pretty good job of it too.

  • Caroline Barlow is deputy head at The Weald School in West Sussex. She co-leads a group of deputies in West Sussex with SSAT to provide a forum for collaboration to develop leadership practice.

Further information
CAPTION: Taking the lead: Professor Dylan Wiliam speaks with headteachers and school leaders at his Redesigning Schooling symposium on Principled Curriculum Design (Photography: Lucie Carlier)


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