Wow…it’s already June and almost the end of another half term break. Just half a term left until summer holidays and I will have been at BCET for 18 months. It feels like much longer! Before starting this blog, I made a list of all the things that have happened since my last post in January. It’s a long list. Through necessity, I have spent the majority of the last 5 months being based at one of our schools and have supported the other school one day a week on site and the rest of the time, from a distance. Elton Primary is doing just fine. The improvements that have happened since January 2017 are incredible and so are the team there. We’ve transformed the curriculum, assessment, many of the teachers have been new to us and everyone has pulled together to create a more driven, focussed and inclusive ethos. The school has had two successful OFSTED section 8 visits and we are cautiously optimistic about this summer’s data. Here comes the sun……..
Most of my time physically has been spent leading at Radcliffe Primary since January. It’s a very different school to Elton on the whole, serving a statistically more socially deprived context. Prior to last October, I didn’t visit Radcliffe as often as I visited Elton. Elton was (and is) in special measures with a new leadership team and on paper, in greater need of my support. I was there nearly every day and at least 3 times per week. I know the school really well! Radcliffe had a more experienced head and had been on its improvement journey for longer than I had been in post.
Beyond the stats, improvement reports and conversations during the previous 9 months with the then head, I didn’t know Radcliffe as well as I knew Elton. Nor had I needed to. As a CEO or as anyone in an executive capacity, it isn’t possible to know every finer detail of every school in the family and nor should we: we need to trust others to lead. However, necessity has meant that I needed to get to know the school in much more detail, very quickly and the benefit of my role was that I was able to step in quickly to support when it was needed.
I am aware of several MATS nationally where this has happened and it’s one of the arguments for having a CEO who comes from an educational/headship background. We are all working in an extremely pressured and fast-paced environment, the challenges of leadership are huge, there is a national shortage of heads and the resignation period for a head is three or four months! So its not surprising that schools sometimes find themselves suddenly without a leader and in need of a contingency.
My time leading there has been brilliant. Challenging and emotional sometimes, but brilliant and it has been such a valuable experience getting to know the school more thoroughly which I know will benefit our MAT once we start to grow.
Here are just a few of the things that have happened at Radcliffe since January:
-we’ve opened and began to develop a Nurture Unit. Some children in the unit stay there for all of their time in school. Others are re-integrated for certain lessons, this being our overall ultimate aim for them all. Many of our children have huge SEMH needs which simply can’t be met elsewhere because of lack of funding and massive strains on other services. If we don’t do something about this, many of them simply aren’t ready to learn.
-we have refined our approach to supporting positive behaviour which has included the introduction of an SLT ‘on call’ system in order to better support our children and our teachers. We now have a ‘Bat ‘phone’ and a ‘Robin ‘phone’…..and here’s the icon from the SLT WhatsApp group….
-we’ve introduced a mastery approach to the maths curriculum led by two members of staff who are taking part in a three year maths TRG (teacher research group) programme. This has included inviting teachers from several other local schools to come and observe the mastery approach being taught at Radcliffe.
-we’ve introduced George, our therapy dog to school……here’s a link to his stardom in Schools Week!
–we’ve opened a school book shop which is run by our Learning Ambassadors. Thanks to the DFE consultant who gave us the idea! All books donated or bought from charity shops; all sold in school for £1 and swapped free of charge if returned. There is already a very strong culture of reading in the school, so this is just a little bit extra.
-we’ve sent one of the Assistant Heads at Radcliffe to spend her half term in Malawi teaching Computing to young people who don’t even have electricity most of the time. When I say ‘sent’, she did actually want to go! When we return to school next week, she’ll still be there and her Year 6 class will be excitedly awaiting her Skype calls! I agreed to support her request to go on this visit because it’s her passion; it’s brought another global perspective to school for our children and I know she’ll come back invigorated (after a little bit of sleep!) and this will have huge benefits for her and for our organisation. The school also fund-raised to support her trip, meaning the children got to learn about others in the world who have less than they do.
At both schools:
-we’ve galvanised and further developed the assessment of foundation subjects through several staff meetings and by giving subject leaders the opportunity to gather evidence about their individual subject which is then informing action plans and next steps
-the leadership teams from both schools visited ResearchEd in Birmingham which has led to a tangible difference in our approach to assessment……and…..
-we’ve thrown away our marking policy! At both schools! Yes you read that correctly, we’ve joined that revolution and we don’t formally mark books any more in our schools. We do give effective, reflective feedback to children and we do TEACH our children by finding out what gaps they have (by testing, talking and observing) and how to move them on, but we don’t waste our time by writing ‘VF’ or highlighting in pink and green. We are building on this next half term with the introduction of reflective learning journals for children. Win win…..supporting staff well-being and improving feedback and therefore learning for children.
-both schools are involved in leading and participating in peer reviews through a project led by the Education Development Trust and our local teaching schools.
Both of our schools have worked very hard in preparing children for end of phase assessments. We’re not embarrassed to say that yes, we have boosted and we did have an Easter revision school for Year 6 children at Radcliffe, which they loved, probably mainly because we gave them pizza and an inflatable to play on!
An Ofsted inspector said to me recently, ‘Ofsted inspections are not all about data, but we’re also not not about data.’ Spot on I’d say. We’re not daft, we know it counts and it counts more for us than for some other schools this year, because Section 5 is on it’s way at both schools within the next 9 months. Obviously, we want our children to succeed and be ready for high school, we want it for them but it’s important for the whole school community too.
In both our schools, we are about to launch our long-awaited new catering provision which is, quite frankly, a revelation. Having sampled the menus, I can honestly say that I didn’t know school food could be this amazingly tasty whilst also being this healthy. It trumps anything I have ever tasted in primary or secondary in 23 years of working in schools. Our kitchen team are going to be working in-house for us with the support of Caterlink. The health benefits to the children (and staff) will be huge and as research suggests that healthier food and body=healthier minds, I am hoping the knock effects in concentration and learning gains will also be evident.
So as I come to the end of my half term break, I am feeling rejuvenated, and positive about our future. Here are some quotes about Radcliffe Primary School from some of the parents in the most recent survey:
‘I have 2 kids there, one in year 5 and one in reception, it’s a fantastic school. They love school.’
‘It’s amazing. Pulled mine out of ???? school into Radcliffe…best decision I’ve ever made.’
‘took my daughter out of ?????? school for here and she is so much happier! Such good staff.’
‘It’s an excellent school.’
‘my son goes to this school and he loves it…100% rate this school.’
‘it’s brilliant. Provision is excellent.’
‘moved my daughter…..to Radcliffe Primary….she has come on leaps and bounds…she had little confidence and very few friends….she has now made a lovely bunch of friends and her confidence has soared.’
‘our daughter is in Reception. It isn’t the closest to where we live but it was our first choice….great school and staff.’
‘fantastic school, teachers are extremely approachable and they were excellent with my son who has autism…..their breakfast and after school clubs are wonderful.’
‘I have found it to be a brilliant school and I travel about an hour each morning just to get there.’
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.