Primary headteachers should strive for a consistent approach to school improvement. Jane Golightly explores this process, explaining why you need to consider Who, What and How when following your vision

I was struck by a comment made by the comedian Jenny Eclair in The Observer Magazine, 7th December 2008. She said, ‘I’m very jealous of my daughter’s education. She’s been inspired by her teachers, and nobody inspired me as a teenager.’ It’s this very type of comment that confirms the importance of working at a vision that has aspiration for every child. In issue 2 we noted that for visions to become reality school leaders need to invest time in communicating the vision and being clear about what is intended and expected. There is a third important element involved in making a vision a reality and that is consistency. Achieving consistency takes time. Constant attention must be paid to sustaining a focus on the shared vision and being relentless in your pursuit of it for the sake of the learning and experiences offered to the children. In this week’s issue we will highlight areas of the Who, What and How to a consistent approach. These may be helpful as part of your ongoing school self-evaluation processes.

Who, What and How
The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2007/08 stated that in 63% of primary schools overall effectiveness is good or better, 33% satisfactory and 4% inadequate. This week I have been finding out more about what school leaders do to move schools from satisfactory to good, and from good to outstanding. Unsurprisingly there is a common theme. These leaders all believe that change can happen and are committed to making change happen. They are able to distinguish between genuine barriers and problems; they find solutions and are not afraid to tackle resistance. Readers who wish to read about the areas that good schools leaders put their energy in to may find the following two documents interesting: the recently published DCSF document The Extra Mile: how schools succeed in raising aspirations in deprived communities (ref: DCSF-00447-2008) and NCSL’s Success and Sustainability: Developing the strategically-focused school.

A question to consider: on a scale of 1-10 (1 low, 10 high) how confident are you that the vision for the school is alive on a daily basis? If your score is telling you that there are areas to tackle, considering the Who, What and How may help you improve the consistency of the delivery of the vision.

Who understands the vision? This is important and the list is a long one. By ‘Who’ I refer to parents, governors, children, staff – and this means all staff who work in the school. It’s not enough to target your vision at governors and teaching and support staff in the hope that others will understand the aspirations for the school through other means. For a vision to work you need to be clear about the role that others have. Think about the last time you met with staff other than teaching and support staff, such as kitchen and midday supervisors. How can you be confident that all staff who provide and care for children at lunchtime understand their contribution towards the attainment and achievement of children, through the difference that good food and exercise can make to dispositions for learning? What conversations do you have with lunchtime and kitchen staff to ensure that attention to the health of children is consistently applied? Do you discuss with them the impact this is making so that they are clear about how their contribution is valued?

The key to the What in achieving consistency rests with school systems. When you encounter barriers or resistance to implementing a vision it can be because systems and processes have failed to do their job. Let’s consider how visitors and parents are received when they contact the school or wish to speak to a member of staff. If you say that you are a welcoming school are you sure that this policy is put into practice? The school community must understand the importance of implementing the agreed policies, and their responsibilities for making that happen. Unfortunately, when this does not happen, no matter how unintentionally, it can lead to disagreement and confrontation. New staff, pupils, governors and parents need to be well-informed about school policies as part of their induction into the school.

Gathering information through school self-evaluation will give you evidence to answer How do you know that the vision is being consistently applied? You will find out much through the formal school self-evaluation processes which are part and parcel of our everyday work. For example, analysis of performance data and pupil progress meetings provide regular opportunities to discuss the attainment, expectations, aspirations and progress of children. We know that performance management and staff appraisal should be linked to pupil progress and school priorities. Classroom observation and feedback to improve teaching and learning is expected. But, take time to look beyond formal processes. As you walk the school before and after the school day talking to staff, looking at the learning walls, having lunch with pupils, being out in the playground to meet and greet parents and pupils at the start of the school day you will be provided with many opportunities to see where the vision for the school is being applied and where there are gaps that need to be filled.

A couple of years ago, there was a much over-used expression: ‘everyone should be singing from the same song sheet’. As a saying it may have had its day but its meaning is as pertinent today as it ever was. To have everyone ‘singing’, school leaders must be the role models in the delivery of the vision. It isn’t complicated; it just needs you to stand by the vision, lead from the front, be constant in your approach and stay on the road to consistency.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2008

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education