What matters now

ELC Uniting Voices Blog Series

Gary Wilkie, Chief Executive- Learning in Harmony Trust

This is new and unchartered territory for us all. The pandemic, the lockdown and the circumstances that are driving both a greater sense of anxiety, and in contrast connection.

I’ve never written anything for “the Profession” before but there has also never been a time in my life when I have felt it more important to be surrounded by colleagues who share my values and want to work together.

I really welcome the launch of the Education Leadership Collective as a place for me to share my thoughts in this very challenging time.

Restless Minds

Ask a parent what their wishes are for the future of their child and the vast majority of responses will revolve around health and happiness for their sons and daughters. They want their children to grow up to be their legacy for the world, to live a happier, more successful and fulfilled life than their own. The majority of parents care about this so deeply that they will personally sacrifice anything necessary to give the greatest start in life possible offspring.

I think that I have spent just as much time, if not more, of the lockdown period thinking about the parents of our pupils than the pupils themselves. We have the privilege of having pupils lent to us for 40 weeks of the year, and during that time we hope we have the chance to make a difference to the pupils future. In reality, though, we all know that the greatest influence upon any child is their own family, not the school one. I’m trying hard to put myself back in the position of having school aged pupils around and wondering how I would have coped.

What parents don’t do is sit back and wait to be told what to do. They don’t run their life according to a framework. They will seek advice, from their own parents or friends, but each family is different, and their priorities evolve responsively. They know of course that human beings are forever making judgements about each other, but that’s ok, because we are all learning, and there is no perfect way to bring up a child. They also know that society has conventions, and rules and that ultimately there are sanctions that could be taken against them should they being doing more harm than good to their child.

Going back to the Why

In his recent blog for the Head Teacher Round Table Dan Morrow identified that we have pulled the corners of the carpet back on society and uncovered what was there. I would suggest that we have to take our share of responsibility for the mess that we have found because too often we have viewed an Ofsted visit in the way that we view our relatives coming to visit, making everything look superficially clean, yet knowing that we have gathered together a range of clutter, put it in a bag and thrown it under the stairs out of sight.

As school leaders we are in loco parentis for the same children, yet too often we aren’t responding to the needs of the children, or indeed focusing on their long-term safety and happiness. I am wondering whether now is the time for us to be considering what is needed from schools if we really want to act ‘in the place of a parent’. Perhaps we need to think differently to ensure that our pupils grow up to be happy and healthy. It should also go without saying that we don’t need to go too far up the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy before there is a clear requirement for our pupils to have basic skills and knowledge. There are however a wealth of skill, experiences and opportunities our pupils require that we know aren’t being consistently delivered.

Translating Why into How

Just like the best parent we instinctively know what’s right and are able to learn from others how to improve. Many school leaders currently spend their time with one eye on the current Ofsted framework, and one eye on the school down the road. Even the bravest or most maverick amongst us will occasionally fall into this trap. We have nobody else to blame for this but ourselves, we have allowed ourselves to travel on a runaway accountability train, refusing to pull the emergency stop handle. Indeed when we do have the opportunity to change our own course, as we did when levels were introduced, the majority of school leaders just perpetuated the old system and reinvented levels.

If you are now thinking differently about what your communities need and questioning why you haven’t set your own agenda as a school you shouldn’t be feeling guilt – your predecessors, mentors and colleagues have almost all been doing the same. Now is the time for us to provide for each other the strength to ‘do the right thing’. Of course it will be challenging, and we will have different ways of accomplishing our goals, but we must start learning from each other by having a presumption for partnership; sharing our ‘work in progress’ for others to sense check, support and develop.

We can do it – it just needs us all to do what we have always wanted to do. It needs us all to be who we have always wanted to be. To ourselves, to each other and to the children and communities we serve

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