A deputy head and a vice-principal describe the new perspectives they have gained from working in different organisations through a scheme run by Headteachers and Industry (HTI).
Seeing the world through a new lens
Mike Collins, deputy headteacher at Hengrove Community Arts College in Bristol, is on a 12-month HTI secondment with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, working on a project that explores how the extended schools agenda can help with neighbourhood renewal and youth engagement
‘The challenge is keeping your eye on the long term whilst dealing with the day to day…. Twenty per cent of what you do accounts for 80% of your effectiveness.’ So said a wise colleague during the first months of my time as a deputy headteacher in a busy urban secondary. The meaning of the ‘the day to day’ was, of course, all too clear. A school is a busy place and the pace relentless. The long term often meant six months or a year.
Several years later as I reflect on the first months of my secondment to the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, in an odd way the challenge is reversed. The challenge is being clear how the long-term work will translate into day-to-day impact. The short term is often six months to a year. I am now in an environment where change, on a national level, is planned and implemented. The time frames are different. The change in the pattern of my day and style of work could not be more marked. Adjusting has been interesting and fun. I’ve often had the impulse to do a bit of corridor duty to make sure everyone is working; unfortunately there aren’t any corridors in our open plan office!
The Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU) is responsible for implementing the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal, a long- term initiative to ‘close the gap’ between the most deprived neighbourhoods in England and the rest in the areas of education, crime, health, jobs and training, housing and ‘liveability’. My secondment is to the part of the unit that deals with directly funded programmes in neighbourhoods around the country (for example New Deal for Communities). The objective of the Youth Engagement Project, which I am managing, is to improve the extent to which young people are engaged in their communities and to support the development of stronger partnerships between communities and mainstream agencies, particularly schools. Not much then!
Professionally, the challenge has been to absorb the details and culture of a national strategy focused on regeneration and renewal. Many of the values and objectives underpinning this are the same as those that drive work in schools: the belief that every young person deserves the best and there is much to be done to ensure that the full potential of each is realised. There are distinct differences however, as the focus of NRU’s work is on neighbourhoods and the perspective of residents; the themes are more holistic than one exclusively focused on schools.
Working outside school and in a context that is not focused solely on education is challenging, exciting and mind expanding. I am reminded on a daily basis that we are all learners.
Developing new partnerships and networks, and strengthening existing ones has been central to the work so far. We are working directly with neighbourhood renewal partnerships in neighbourhoods, with other sections of the NRU and ODPM, government offices, with other government departments and other national organisations such as ContinYou and NCSL.
Understanding the perspectives and concerns of all these and bringing them together where interests coincide has been an exciting professional and personal challenge.
Many of the skills required in school have proved directly transferable; managing staff, budgets, planning, monitoring and evaluation are all familiar territory albeit applied in a different context.
The most dramatic part of the change has been learning a new perspective on many of the same issues that face urban schools. It is like seeing the world through a different lens. As I think about returning to school in 6 months’ time, I know that my approach to, and understanding of, working with partners, strategic and local, has been transformed.
Secondment opportunities with HTI
HTI Group is an independent social enterprise that works with education, business and government. It provides a wide range of professional development opportunities, including secondments for teachers and business employees.
City & Guilds: a six-month secondment based in London, working as part of the E-strategy and Learning team on innovative web-based projects to support learning, teaching and CPD in schools.
Turner & Townsend: a four- to six- month secondment for a senior teacher or headteacher, based either in London or the Midlands, to help this global construction and management consultancy firm with its work on the academies programme.
HTI Trust Fellowship: a 12-week research project (commencing January 2006) for an experienced primary phase specialist to explore how primary schools can foster a culture of goal setting to help pupils raise achievement levels.
Department of Education, Northern Ireland: this 12-week secondment (commencing January 2006), based in Bangor, aims to widen the involvement of pupils and parents in shaping educational policy and practice.
HTI Trust Fellowship: this 12- week research project (commencing November), culminating in a think piece, will investigate whether the ‘skills gap’, frequently quoted by business leaders, is as real as perceptions lead us to believe.
Find out more about these secondment opportunities by contacting Jana Parker on 024 7641 0104, email: [email protected]
Never too old to learn
Jeremy Taylor, vice-principal of Fleming Fulton School in Belfast, has recently returned to school following an HTI secondment to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Working within the Economics and Public Policy group, Jeremy worked on a number of education-related projects, including a curriculum project for the Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment
I had first heard about HTI during its previous incarnation, when it was still Head Teachers into Industry. At that time, the secondment opportunities in Northern Ireland were restricted and seemed largely confined to working in various departments of Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) for a set period of 12 months. Given the name of the scheme, I had also thought that placements were only offered to head teachers and that, as a deputy head, I probably wasn’t eligible. So I never applied.
Why should I? I was happy in my own comfort zone – I had my set routines, was very familiar with how the various systems at school worked, enjoyed a senior position of influence, and, if I’m brutally honest, didn’t want to leave all that and step into a situation where I could be left looking foolish or incompetent.
But then last year word came through of the possibility of an HTI secondment to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), working in their public policy consultancy team. The idea of working with a high quality organisation with an international reputation was attractive.
Also, unlike NIE, much of the work would be focused on education – so there was slightly less chance of me making a fool of myself and ending up looking like a complete fish out of water. Lastly, the secondment was for four months rather than twelve so, I reckoned, if it did turn out to be a disastrous move, at least I wasn’t in for a life sentence.
As a teacher it is a particularly strange, and humbling, experience to step out of your comfort zone – a bit like being the new boy in class, or stepping up from being one of the older pupils in primary school to suddenly being bottom of the ladder in secondary school – except that I definitely remained one of the ‘older pupils’. Companies like PwC seem to be largely made up of young, highly qualified, and very capable people. On my first day, I was introduced to my 25-year-old boss (nearly 30 years younger than me!). When I went to the staff dining room for lunch I was the only one with grey hair – and the difference wasn’t only in colour but in quantity – not another bald head in sight!
I learned a great deal in my four months – not just about specific topics, but wider lessons also. Yes, I became very informed about some areas – those in which PwC was commissioned to carry out consultancy work. If I was ever to be on Mastermind I could confidently tackle ‘Strategies to Support English as an Additional Language’ as my specialist subject.
But more important and valuable were the lessons I learned from having stepped outside my comfort zone. It was good to be reminded what it is like to be a junior in any system, to be faced with the uncertainties of being new to an organisation. Since returning to school, I have a renewed determination to support new members of staff and help beginning teachers through their first year.
I certainly got a very strong sense of education’s bigger picture, and was given a valuable insight into how policy is shaped and formed. Instead of working with individual pieces of the jigsaw and trying to get them to fit together and make sense, as is often the case at school level, I spent time looking at the picture on the front of the box and now have a much stronger understanding of how all the pieces fit together.
Also, although I had thought of myself as reasonably competent at using a computer, working with colleagues from the generation who have been reared on computers and being part of an organisation whose very life blood is such technology, in ICT terms I am barely recognisable from the person I was before.
There is no doubt that a degree of discomfort is involved in going on such a secondment. The basic frameworks in your life can be severely disrupted. In order to beat the traffic and get parked I left home before 7am each morning. Joining the rush hour exit from the city centre with thousands of other office workers was unpleasant; I had to arrange for a dog walker because I was away from home for so long each day; I missed the privacy of my own desk and office (PwC is all open plan with a system of ‘hot desking’ that means you can find yourself at a different desk each day); and having to park a mile away from the office and walk the rest of the way in the rain is much less convenient than having your own parking space at the front door of school.
But all that was a small price to pay for the learning experience I was given, and in the end four months was not quite long enough – I would love to have had longer. I felt I was just starting to really find my feet when the secondment came to an end.
It was invigorating to work in a place where the majority of colleagues are in their twenties. I have had a chance to step outside my own organisation, be immersed in an entirely different culture, and return to my school with a whole new perspective, no longer doing things in particular ways because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done them’.
To anyone who is thinking an HTI secondment is not for them – take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, give yourself a fresh challenge. You never know, you might just enjoy it and remember, you’re never too old to learn!