Headship: Avoiding the tripwires

SecEd reports. Headteacher Paul Gray speaks to Colin McLean of Best Practice Network about the lessons he has learned from headship during a tough period for his school.

When Paul Gray was interviewed for the headship of Poole High School in 2015 the school had a good rating.

By the time he started in the role that autumn term the 1,900 pupil 11 to 19 school had been visited by Ofsted and had received a requires improvement judgement.

It was a blow but the judgement actually provided Paul and his team with the “crystal clarity” they needed to determine exactly how they would tackle the challenge of getting the school out of category.

Paul and his team brought the school to a good rating by December 2016 and soon after the school celebrated some “amazing” GCSE results which were well above the national average.

Be realistic

“There will be 1,000 tripwires to prevent you from your primary purpose…… You need to ask: ‘How much of my time do I devote to the continuous improvement of the teaching behaviours of my colleagues in my classroom?’”

Judge your priorities well

“It is so easy to pursue an area of activity that feels like school improvement but actually has little relevance to it. To paraphrase Professor John Hattie, ‘the important is continuously cannibalised by the urgent’.

Pay attention to the ‘soft’ side

“Keeping in touch with outstanding practitioners in other schools is so important because it opens your eyes to other perspectives. In a previous school I made a commitment to visit every good or outstanding school in the local authority. In one outstanding school I noticed how a couple of the leadership team referred to this ‘soft-hard paradox’. 

You can tell you are in a successful school if you recognise the four main ingredients:  teachers observe each other’s practice, teachers plan, organise and evaluate their work together rather than separately, and teachers teach each other.

Try some self-scrutiny

“I think it’s useful to ask yourself some key questions as you go along. Is your level of safeguarding merely Ofsted-compliant or do you have genuine vigilance? Is your performance management focused constantly on performance and development or is it merely a snapshot?

Read more Headship: Avoiding the tripwires

Does it always take an Ofsted inspection to make schools improve their performance? ~ Tamsin 

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