Jane Golightly continues to offer suggestions about areas in which you could initiate school improvement in your school

The A-Z of school life is about making your school a great place for children to learn. No botox or surgery required, just a common sense, methodical approach based on the questions, ‘why do we do it this way? Is there another, better way we could do things? What’s stopping us from trying?’ Just as we need to look after ourselves, schools need ongoing maintenance. It’s your job as leader to know which parts could do with improving and doing something about it. That’s why the A-Z is important. It’s about holding the mirror up to your school and taking an honest appraisal of the situation. In previous e-bulletins we have looked at A-E. In this edition we focus on F, G and H. Remember, the idea is that I give you some suggestions for each letter and then you and your teams think of some other possibilities and focus on those that mean the most for your school.

F = Future, funding, features, feedback
Is your school fit for the future? Are you sure what the future is? If I had a pound for every time I hear someone say, ‘we are educating children for a world we cannot predict’, I would be a rich woman. Let’s take information technology. No matter how talented you are with information technology, for most of us it’s hard to keep up with the speed of developments in this area. But this is the world that the children you are educating are growing up in. They will have several jobs during their careers; home working will be a norm; they will be expected to be resourceful, willing to adapt and prepared to make changes at short notice. If you understand your responsibility as ensuring that children are ready and supported for the next stage you need to make sure your school is fit for the future. That means placing an emphasis on skill acquisition and especially the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. You should be looking outwards and beyond the school to give children the opportunities they need to practise their skills.

G = Getting to grips, gaps, good to greatWhat did you get to grips with today? Perhaps it would be more accurate to ask, ‘what did you intend to get to grips with today but somehow the day has gone and the job hasn’t been done?’

Stop and consider what prevented you. Is it because the policy and practice in your school actively works against you completing a job? Is your day taken up with interruptions, demands on your time that have just emerged or possibly you are the first point of call to sort out everything and anything, from a flood in the boys’ toilets to a member of staff complaining that someone has used all the red paint and failed to let anyone know that more should be ordered? Does all that sound trivial to you? It isn’t if it is working against you dealing with what has to be done, and you could find yourself in a vulnerable position when leadership of learning and the quality of decision making is evaluated.

So, let’s take a sensible approach to getting to grips with things. This means having systems and routines which give you space and time. For example, ensure that the behaviour policy has stages and you as leader should be the final stage. Stop the business manager and office staff from having free access to you when you are in your office. Have a sign which signals to everyone that you are not to be disturbed. One headteacher I used to visit had a little stuffed cat she put outside the door when there were to be no interruptions. Adults and children alike respected it. Why not try a something similar?

H = Health, happy, history, hot spots
The importance of a child’s health is something we have always known. But, I am becoming increasingly absorbed with the impact of the health of a child on how well he or she achieves. On 4 May the free newspaper Metro carried a small article tucked at the bottom of page 16. Called ‘TV diet’ the article reported that toddlers who watch too much television go on to struggle at school and be overweight. Worrying information? I think so. If you are making a link between health and achievement, what are you doing about it so that you give children the chances they need? It will mean working with families – not to instruct and dictate but to encourage, involve, model and praise so that they work in partnership with you for the benefit of their child. You may also wish to consider your school’s contribution to children’s health from the earliest years. Some schools will have a children’s centre, but not all. If not, how are you linking to one? The role of the children’s centre is to deliver services that meet the needs of the area. If health in the area is an issue then you can work together to provide programmes such as cookery classes and fitness events involving children and parents. Be an outreach resource for the children’s centre. Make the connection between health and achievement and you will be well on the way to making sure that your school meets the needs of every child.

But you could be reading this and thinking that tackling the issues means having the highest quality staff who have the skills to address them. And you would be absolutely right. It may mean looking at the professional development of staff in some detail. Access the Ofsted report, ‘Good professional development in school: How does leadership contribute?’ reference number 080254 and published in March 2010.You can request a copy from [email protected] or download from www.ofsted.gov.uk I am sure you will find this very helpful, especially for learning more about what is best practice in professional development and the difference this makes.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

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