Jane Golightly discusses the issues school senior leadership teams might want to consider as they begin the new calendar year, to prepare for the future and ensure a successful 2009

I have decided that this year I will not be making any new year’s resolutions. This is unusual for me and, judging by media reports, I am in the minority. Too often I have set out with the best of intentions only to fall by the wayside in a matter of days. However, a quick scan of the magazines and newspapers in the local newsagent’s shows a recurring theme of encouragement to ‘get in shape’. This set me to thinking about the professional ‘shape’ that schools need to be in as we start 2009 – and the three resolutions that could help to ensure our fitness for the future: to know what is on the horizon, to get more involved in national consultations and to ensure that research has a greater role in day-to-day practice.

1. Always know what is on the horizon
How confident are you that your school is a genuine learning community, ready for the change and development on the horizon? A culture of learning together and from each other is increasingly important for schools as they deal with change and development. The TES (2 January 2009) devoted two pages to the changes ahead in 2009 and beyond. The article, Enjoy 2009: There’s a bumpy ride ahead, gave brief information on a school improvement strategy for primary schools; the publication of the final report by Sir Jim Rose on the review of the primary curriculum; changes to the inspection framework; and piloting of school report cards.

All schools have a responsibility for ensuring that the staff team is well informed about what is to come, as well as dealing with the ‘here and now’. Professional learning organisations provide regular and planned opportunities for staff and governors to engage in professional reading, debate and discussion time. These sessions, which are often more successful when led by members of the school community beyond the leadership team, will ensure that your school is well briefed and prepared for any changes to ways of working. Importantly, staff will understand the rationale behind any change.

Between timetabled sessions, other communication methods can sustain the learning community theme. A well-maintained and up-to-date notice board in the staffroom or a short item at the end of the weekly or daily diary communication can signpost colleagues towards headlines, relevant articles, websites, research papers and details of recently published documents.

Top of my list of documents for schools to know about and to consider is 21st Century Schools: a World-Class Education for Every Child (see below). This important document, which includes plans for a school report card, lays out the planned content of the intended White Paper on 21st century schools which is scheduled to be published in spring 2009.

2. Don’t be a bystander
When did staff last have their say by taking part in a consultation? My second resolution to be fit for the future is to be more involved in national policy development. An essential element of being a thriving learning community is to take the next step and get busy making your school’s voice heard.
I am sure that you promote a culture where people feel they have something to offer and that their views are worthy of consideration. Perhaps your leadership team’s discussions have already established the opportunities available for staff, individually and collectively, to play their part in future policy. If this has slipped or is not yet common practice you may wish to introduce it as an essential contributor to ensuring that staff are professionally up-to-date and well-read. This can have a significant impact on the knowledge and understanding colleagues bring to their roles and their day to day practice.

Here are two current consultations that I am confident will generate interest:

a) 21st Century Schools: a World-Class Education for Every Child [www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications reference DCSF-01044-2008] – This document makes clear that ‘plans are ambitious and potentially have wide-ranging implications for the whole school system’ (para 5.1). Schools are invited to respond online or to attend a consultation event. Check out the consultation website.

b) National Standards for School Leadership – This is a formal consultation by DCSF and NCSL. Find information on the NCSL website or read the teachernet news story.

3. Take account of research in your work
Resolution number three is to know about and take account of research that may impact on national future policy. The outcomes of research can have an important part to play in how a school sees itself as a learning community with influence on the development of policy and practice in and beyond the school. One such very recent report is Evaluation of the Making Good Progress Pilot Interim Report, the independent review carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Assessment for learning, single level tests, progression tuition…the language of this pilot and evaluation is already increasingly common in our daily work. How well prepared is your school for the implications of the Making Good Progress pilot?

Being fit for the future will require us to start off the year in a strong frame of mind, resolved to be schools that plan for the future by being well informed and well prepared. In this way we can ensure that school improvement planning is ready for whatever the future holds.

What are your resolutions for 2009?

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2009

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