Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Leading by example

Leading teams

Assistant Head Julia Upton attended annual conference with nine of her colleagues. She gives a delegate's view of the highlights and key messages.

As the theme of this year's annual conference was 'Leading Teams', I felt especially privileged to attend the conference along with eight of my colleagues on the King Edward VI School leadership team. Headteacher, deputies, assistant heads and business manager: we were there in force, a real example of distributed leadership.

How often does your leadership team experience time out from the helter-skelter that is the day-to-day running of a school? How often can you discuss the big issues, have heated debates and reflect on current practice without the pressure of the next meeting, a waiting parent or just the desire to go home and sleep?

How often do we compare ourselves to leaders in business in terms of pressure and responsibility, yet do not experience those opportunities to reflect and interact with each other that they get in abundance? 

John Dunford, in his annual speech, talked of the need for wider extended leadership - I felt like I was part of a team putting the theory into practice.

The conference has helped to shape the way that we work as a team and re-energised us to face the many challenges ahead. Each colleague has pledged to work on three key messages that we took from the conference.

For the assistant head in charge of training it was: one in one out, work-life balance, and embracing new technologies - for example, how to harness the power of the Ipod, mobiles, social web space. For the head: stop controlling (we'll watch that one with interest), rethink classroom expectations and keep developing wider leadership across the school.

The three messages may have been different for each of us, yet through sharing the experience of the conference together, they all interlink.

Inspired by Sue Campbell's speech as chair of UK Sport, who seems undaunted by the immense task of the creation of a world-class sporting performance system, I shall be throwing my energies into the challenges of 14-19 reform.

Yet at the same time I shall keep in mind one of the features of successful teams from Ben Page of Ipsos MORI (the only person I have ever heard who can make statistics hilarious).

He said: "Leaders in any environment don't have to be the same but they have to have one common denominator: Energy. Energy. Organisations do not tick over through structures - it's through relationships."

The attendance of our entire team at the conference epitomised this statement. We have all been motivated by our individual experiences at the conference and the value of these is massively increased by the strengthening of relationships and shared experience. Malcolm Trobe described distributed leadership as:

  • involvement of many

  • collective responsibility

  • shared problem solving

  • collective action

  • all senior team as leaders

I couldn't agree more. We're already looking forward to Brighton next year and intend to broaden our team even further, bringing two of our aspiring leaders who will be responsible for a feature of the school development plan - succession planning in action. See you there, with some of your colleagues!

Julia Upton is Assistant Head at King Edward VI School, Suffolk.

Conference highlights

Delegates to annual conference had their pick of more than 20 seminar sessions over two days, in addition to the seven keynote speakers. Here are some of the highlights.

Harder GCSEs

Dr Robert Coe from Durham University, in his seminar 'Are Some GCSEs Harder than Others?' said that research has shown that the unequivocal answer is yes, if 'harder' means that the same grade in different subjects corresponds to different levels of general academic ability. However, this is old news, he said (advice the half dozen journalists in the seminar wisely ignored) - research on O levels back in 1974 showed the same outcome. He shared a chart based on his own research which ranks GCSE exams according to level of difficulty. The four hardest subjects were Latin, German, Spanish and French. It showed that a grade of F in Spanish, IT or history is almost the same as a D in textiles, PE or drama.

Taking control of BSF

"New schools should reflect changes in society world-wide," was the key message from Marcus Orlovsky in a seminar on Building Schools for the Future (BSF). As director of Bryanston Square, which is involved in BSF programmes, Marcus works with school stakeholders on deciding what they want from new or re-modelled schools. He introduced his 'Socrates tree' model which is a means of analysing stakeholders' views about a new school. School leaders have to work out the vision and plan the milestones necessary to achieve it, he said. He ended with his own philosophy on the aims of BSF - "activities drive spaces" and "be specific about what you want, thereby creating the platform for a sustainable future".

Positive discipline

John Townsley, head of an inner city Leeds school, shared the progress the school has made on behaviour and achievement through the process of positive discipline. It uses a range of initiatives including postcards and phone calls to praise students. An hour is set aside each week for students who have done well to meet the leadership team. The focus is on the 70-80 per cent of students in the middle, not the most able or the 'recalcitrant minority'. Expectations for all are clearly communicated, including support for teaching staff. Support staff are used to feed back information from around the school. Most impressively, his school improvement plan fits on one side of A4.

Work-life balance

A work-life balance (WLB) seminar with Deborah Duncan, head in Wakefield, produced concrete, practical suggestions on how to improve WLB for leaders and staff. For leaders: say no to requests for non-statutory information; do not feel guilty about going home early and having holidays; build a performance management target around WLB; delegate effectively; handle each piece of paper only once. For staff: have a work-life balance policy; conduct an annual stress audit; take out a school gym membership; designate a support team member to do tasks for staff such as dry cleaning and paying car tax; create a crèche and a quiet room; have regular discussions with staff about WLB, link WLB to performance management targets.

The Excellence Agenda

In a session on the LSC's The Excellence Agenda, ASCL colleges consultant Christine Tyler led a workshop with delegates on the implications for providers. The consensus was that the government will be looking for value for money, an improved skills base, narrowing of the class gap and localised responsibility for training. Employers will want applicants who can do the job, good quality in-service training, not to have to pay, attention to more general skills (ie timekeeping, communication) and training that will motivate staff. Learners will want good quality courses, progression, providers that can meet their personal learning needs and access to learning as required. The result? An ambitious agenda for post-16 providers.

'Horribly' misquoted

Finally, Alan Johnson unintentionally made headlines for supposedly admitting that the new diplomas were likely to go "horribly wrong". What he actually said, during the question and answer session, was to acknowledge that the diplomas would take a huge amount of co-operation, buy-in and resourcing and that there was a risk of it going wrong if the government took its eye off the ball. But, he said, the DfES was determined not to let that happen.

For copies of keynote and seminar presentations, go to www.asclconferences.org.uk

Diary date

Looking ahead to 2008
The 2008 ASCL annual conference is 7-9 March in Brighton with the theme 'Leading Professionals'. We promise it will be an excellent professional development event for the whole leadership team. See the conference website for details in the coming months.

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