This week, the A-Z of school life continues to examine some of the vital parts of your role as school leader, including inclusion and knowing your school

It’s been an interesting few weeks – stranded staff from the volcanic ash, key stage 2 tests boycott and, of course, a new secretary of state for education. All three have an element of the unknown and can cause uncertainty. Will we or won’t we be stranded if we go abroad? What, if any, will be the implications for our school if we participate in the SATs boycott? And the new secretary of state? Plans for new ways of working have been laid out. Now we wait for the next stages and what these will mean in practice.

Dealing with the unknown isn’t easy. It’s unsettling and the ripples are felt across the whole school. This is why it’s essential that your school is as secure as possible and has the capacity to deal with the unexpected and the unknown. The A-Z of improving school life supports you in thinking about what more needs to be done to improve your school so that it is in a better state of readiness to deal with the unknown. In this edition we reach the half-way point. We continue with the theme of highlighting a suggested area for your consideration, so you can examine with governors and staff what this means for your school.

I = Inclusion, issues, individuals, influence
Every school likes to think they are an inclusive school. But practice isn’t always perfect and many children, particularly vulnerable and minority groups, will say that the offer seems different to the one other children are getting. Schools that are successful at inclusion share similar characteristics. Here are some of these to think about: they successfully reflect the community they serve; they don’t put up barriers; they listen to parents, pupils and the community; the curriculum is accessible to everyone and they are continually looking at ways of improving.

J = Jigsaws and jumping to conclusions
Imagine a jigsaw with your school on the front of the box. The picture is made up of your priorities. So on my box would be:

  • aspirations for children and families
  • progress for every child, every day
  • quality first teaching every day
  • middle leaders that can make a difference
  • supporting parents to be genuinely involved in their child’s learning
  • partnerships with other schools, services and agencies.

Think of school improvement as a jigsaw. It’s made up of a number of priorities. Each is there for a reason. Your job is to know the reason and do something about it. And the only way to know and achieve the priorities is to have everyone involved. So, why not make a jigsaw for your school and put it up on display around the building?

K = Knowledge, kindness, knitting things together
Headteachers need detailed knowledge of what’s going on in their school. You gather that knowledge from a range of sources. Here are some of the areas where it is particularly important you have broad and deep knowledge:

  • the progress children are making
  • where and why children aren’t making the progress they should
  • the quality of teaching at every key stage
  • where the gaps are in learning and provision
  • how successful the children are as learners
  • what the data says
  • what your school is good at and what it is less good at
  • what parents and children think of the school
  • the curriculum offer at each key stage.

To get that broad and deep knowledge you have to be out and about. Be visible to staff, parents and children. Get involved, be interested in everything and everyone, praise adults and children for what they are doing well, insist on consistency, be relentless in your pursuit of excellence and have high expectations of everyone, including yourself.

L = Leadership, learning, lasting
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could wave a magic wand over leaders and with a bit of magic dust, everyone was a great leader? Unfortunately there is no fairy godmother waiting in the wings. To be a successful leader you need to put in the work. What qualities do I notice in great leaders? They have: determination, energy, persistence, the ability to constantly learn and relearn, an eye for detail, tenacity, interest in people, commitment to professional development of the team, the ability to plan, reflect and evaluate and the nous to take calculated risks.

All of the best leaders have a vision which is so much part of them and what they do that everyone can see what they stand for. People want to be part of what the leader is aiming to do. If you want to be one of the best leaders you must understand that there will be times when it’s all hands to the deck and you all do whatever it takes. And above all, successful leaders make and carry out difficult decisions. Prevarication is unknown to them and because they are looking ahead and anticipating what could happen they manage to deal with the most challenging of issues smoothly and with dignity.

If you are spurred to take any action as a result of the A-Z there are three things you are going to have to consider:

  1. What will be your approach?
  2. Who or what are you dependent on to many any changes?
  3. What are the risks if you don’t make changes?

Define these and you will be well on your way to being successful in bringing about further improvement in your school. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Be creative in your thinking and when you have decided what to do – tell everyone. That way you are more likely to do something about it.

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