Diary of a headteacher: January – time to review

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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If we don’t stop in January to review our progress towards school, departmental and individual objectives then we risk forgetting what they are

The spring term is a crucial period in the school calendar. Of course, one could argue that the autumn term is equally, if not more important, but there are certainly different priorities when we return to school in January.

For headteachers and principals, if September is all about launching the academic year successfully, setting out your vision and strategies, then January is the ideal time to recap and review.

Our schools are incredibly busy and we can become swept away very easily by the myriad of distractions that present themselves throughout the course of a school year.

By January, can every member of staff recall the key priorities for the school? Do all the teachers in your school know how well you are progressing in relation to the objectives set out in the school development plan?

If you took a straw-poll of your staff, how many would be able to accurately recall the same three key strengths and three areas for development for the school? While these are topics most headteachers will cover thoroughly with staff during those first few days of the academic year, by the start of the spring term it is likely that many people will have forgotten some of these key messages.

Last week, I took the opportunity to remind my staff of these important areas. I am always conscious of not patronising my staff and therefore the language used is crucial here. Introducing this review and recap exercise in a staff training session might be met with yawns and groans if it is not presented in the right way.

By using phrases such as “here is a reminder of how we are progressing with our key priorities” or “this has been the impact of our work so far in this really important area of focus”, I hope it gives staff a feeling of being involved and updated.

Similar review processes should be occurring at a department level. Development plans, if not constructed in the right way, are merely documents that tick a few boxes, take up a vast amount of time in writing and then are filed away and forgotten about.

I have worked on a format for some time now, refining it every year, each iteration a slight improvement on its predecessor. The key aspect of the document is that there are six review stages that punctuate the academic year, one for each half-term, and this requires the leader who owns the development plan to track their progress towards the objectives they outlined at the start of the year.

This process has to start at the top, with the headteacher modelling effective review and evaluation techniques, and then this practice can be cascaded down through all other leaders and development plans across the school.

The spring term is also an opportunity for teachers and leaders to review their own individual progress towards their appraisal objectives. An effective appraisal system has mid-year reviews built into its framework, but not all schools have a robust process that requires staff to do this.

If teachers don’t revisit their appraisal objectives at a mid-point in the academic year then we are in danger of falling into the same trap as I outlined earlier – many people will forget what they are working towards and before we know it, the academic year has passed us by and we haven’t made progress towards our objectives, or our objectives ceased to be relevant at some point earlier in the year but we did nothing to amend them.

In a world of performance-related pay, where pay progression can be limited by such an oversight, this can have a detrimental effect on the career progression of teachers and a knock-on effect to staff morale.

While the spring term is incredibly busy with mock exams, controlled assessments and rushing through the increasingly demanding and content-heavy specifications, we must, as school leaders ensure we are making time to remind ourselves and our staff of the key priorities we are working towards at a school, department and individual level.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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