Management Information System (MIS) for schools
MAT Operations | MATs
Category : Blog
I’ve always believed in leading with a strong moral purpose, supported by the idea of servant leadership. The simple values that we learn in everyday life, like treating others how you like to be treated, are ones that should be brought into your organisation. And I take that with me when thinking about culture. Whether
I’ve always believed in leading with a strong moral purpose, supported by the idea of servant leadership. The simple values that we learn in everyday life, like treating others how you like to be treated, are ones that should be brought into your organisation.
And I take that with me when thinking about culture. Whether it be in a classroom, a corridor or on the playground, I’m always thinking, would I be happy for my child to be involved in an interaction like that? Once you start viewing things through this lens, you can be guided by your moral purpose.
A great deal of our work as a trust has been around schools in special measures. When I get asked why I focus on vulnerable schools, I often reply, ‘Why not?’ It’s who we are and what we do. Many teachers get into the profession to make a difference, and I’m no exception. Certainly in the early years, it wasn’t even a consideration to turn down a school who would ask for help. You learn along the way about pinch points within your own organisation and the risk, then, that comes with this approach. Over time, you find the balance of helping others without negatively impacting what you’ve already established. However, I certainly don’t think trusts should have a blanket approach of not taking on vulnerable schools. It’s got to be an informed choice.
It’s also key to acknowledge when thinking about this choice, that taking on a vulnerable school can be brutal, both physically and emotionally. You have to unearth the challenges which have led that school to where it currently stands, which can mean uprooting safeguarding policies and having to look face-on at the harm that the previous ineffectiveness of the policy may have caused to children. That’s difficult, even when you know you are there to fix it. At the same time, there will be people who aren’t yet onboard with their school joining the trust, which can lead to further difficult conversations. Not to mention that trusts aren’t awash with extra capacity given the challenges of funding over the last ten years. You’ve got to have a really good process for identifying what that capacity is going to be, so that you can get that transfer of resource right.
That’s why due diligence is absolutely essential. You need to make sure that the infrastructure is there, so that teachers are able to get on with their job. You can’t have out-of-date servers or significant HR issues – you need to set up the conditions for them to succeed first. Often, people are drawn immediately to focus on the quality of education, particularly in schools that Ofsted would define as ‘failing’, though I’m never comfortable with the term ‘failing school’. That’s undoubtedly important, but you have to get the infrastructure of the school right first. HR, finance, safeguarding… all of those structural things that enable you to focus on education. If you don’t fix those, they’ll keep coming back and knocking you off course. In that sense, the due diligence in those areas is far more important than what’s going on in the classroom.
When it comes to changing the culture, the way I like to think of it is that we are all there for the same ‘why’, as dubbed by Simon Sinek. What people begin to understand is the reason they’re in the school is exactly the same as yours – to provide the best possible education for the students in that school. It’s important to communicate that, especially when talking to those who have been through the emotional toll of going into special measures. This way, you can be sure that, whatever comes next, your moral purpose and values are aligned. The next step is convincing them that they’re part of the solution, and not part of the problem. For a long time, staff would have been told they’re part of the problem. Their understanding of the weight of responsibility they take is disproportionate to the impact they’ve had. Often they’re the people who have tried everything to help that school, but the conditions haven’t been there for them to have the impact they want to have.
When we take on a new school, we do this by getting everybody together. Every single member of staff, be that the caretaker, office manager, through to the head, comes together so we tell them exactly why we’re there. More importantly, we show that we’re there to listen and to stay for the long-term. It’s an open-door policy. We’ve done it quite formally too, where in some cases I’ve met with every single member of staff individually. I would ask them what they feel are the problems and what they think is to come, unpicking how they feel about their situation. That’s really good intelligence to unlock.
The same goes for parents, as creating that external culture is important too, especially where they’ve lost confidence in the school. If parents are angry or uncertain, the answer is also an open-door policy – let’s get them into the school and allow them to get it all off their chest. Let’s convince them that we’re in this together.
What it comes back to is that acid test of, would this be good enough for my own child? That’s the ultimate measure of success, in my opinion. It’s an indescribable feeling when you are walking through a school that was a huge challenge, and teachers are teaching, children are learning. Or even seeing a particular child who has had some real difficulty making progress, however small the steps are.
A longer version of Sajid’s article appears in our free ebook, alongside four articles from other key MAT leaders. Download your copy here.
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