Embarking on a school improvement journey in my first headship role
Paul’s experience of Leading Together helped his team develop a strong team culture to improve his school during his first headship role.
At Hazel Wood we have 655 students, so we're a small secondary, but we serve quite a deprived and diverse population. 54% of our pupils are pupil premium. We are in the lowest deprivation index and more than 20% of our children are EAL (have English as an additional language), so we have all the challenges that come with those kinds of statistics.
I joined as headteacher in April 2018. This is my first headship role. Three weeks later, Ofsted put the school into ‘special measures’ category. We've been on a journey towards improvement ever since. Part of this journey has been making sure I've got the right leadership team.
Bringing the leadership team together
Our motivation for joining Leading Together was routed in the school we are, the journey we’re on and getting the right support with that journey.
Now as we've started the Leading Together modules and the group coaching, the programme has been getting us to work closely as a team. We’re a relatively new senior leadership team with different levels of experience, and Leading Together is getting us to think about some of those key issues like school culture, and how we're affecting that culture together.
Quite often in leadership you've got your own job to do, and you just get on with it. And it doesn't always gel with what the other senior leaders are doing. It’s tricky for a head to bring that all together. But I think Leading Together has given us the opportunity to look at some of those bigger themes, like culture and strategy and change, and how we can combine those as a leadership team together.
Support from other headteachers means it’s not a lonely job
The support you get from the other schools on Leading Together is great, especially with COVID-19 as we've not been able to go anywhere. We’ve missed getting out to other schools and getting inspiration and ideas on good practice. This has definitely come at the right time for us to help us supplement that a little bit. And for me, being able to talk to six other headteachers, it's reassuring to know that someone else is in the same position. We're all fighting this so we can support each other. And we're all roughly in the same area, so the local context still applies.
Getting advice and support from your individual coach
While part of the appeal of Leading Together was being able to work with schools who are at similar points to us and sharing good ideas, the coaching model that’s offered through the programme was a big factor for us signing up. The individual coaching we received has been amazing.
My initial thoughts were, ‘How am I going to fit this into my already busy schedule?’ But taking yourself out of the business of the day just to have a chat for an hour, or half an hour, to share and talk through priorities, has been great. Our coach has been really good at emailing over great ideas after we’ve had a chat about something.
He’s been that objective soundboard as well, someone who’s dealt with the job I’ve done, and if I’m having difficulties sometimes it's just good to talk to someone who's not involved directly in it. There's no judgement, he can just offer advice and coaching.
Keeping up with progress during lockdown
COVID-19 brought quite a lot of challenges to our progress. The real challenge was being out of school, in school and then out of school again. We’ve had to deal with remote teaching, and when we’ve been in school we’ve had to deal with a different way of operating. It’s been really difficult to get to the improvements we need to make, and the skill development priorities don't always get the attention they should get. Not everything we’ve introduced because of the pandemic has been bad, but the actual challenge of day-to-day life has increased dramatically.
There have been some upsides of the pandemic. Being able to contact colleagues remotely and have meetings remotely has been great. Remote teaching and learning went fantastically well too. The big challenge, experienced by the school, was deprivation and that meant that a lot of our students did not have access to devices and the internet. By working with the DfE, and engaging with our community links, the school managed to get over 300 laptops, which is over 50% of their school population. This meant, as the school headed into the second lockdown, every single child in the school had access to a device to support their remote, online learning, which was absolutely phenomenal.
Looking to the future
It has been good to reflect on our journey so far. We've come quite a way and it’s been great to recognise that together. It was nice for us to have that moment of pause and think, we've been there, and now we’re here. When you're in it, you don't realise the difference you’re making. But when you have the opportunity to reflect on your school culture and talk to other schools, it just gives you that real kind of satisfaction.
Our vision for the future is to get the school to at least ‘good' in the next couple of years. COVID-19 has been a challenge for that as all the evidence you’d usually rely on for that is a bit up in the air, but I think we can get there.
In terms of the team, I really want to see the way we gel together, the way we work together and the kind of culture we have between us become embedded in the school. Together, we can lead the school forward.
If you’re looking to build stronger leadership across your entire senior team, find out how your school can benefit from Teach First's Leading Together programme.