Trying not to sweat the small stuff in leadership and knowing when a hill is worth taking a stand on as a leader.

From: Lynes, Rob (British Council) Sent: 21 November 2017 08:23 To: Robert Ford

Dear Rob, thank you. It was a pleasure to meet you and thank you for your excellent contribution to the discussion.  I would love to visit Wyedean at some point. Colleagues speak very highly of the fantastic work you do there. Best wishes, Rob

Rob Lynes | Regional Director UK, British Council,

Email regarding the British Council Policy Forum dialogue in London on Friday 17th November.

Dear Rob and all staff at Wyedean School,

…I wanted to send a short thank you note for your hospitality and time through your Challenge Partner Review. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and left feeling proud of Wyedean and the journey it is on. Wishing you and your team the very best for the future – I am keeping up to date on Twitter, Jamie Wordsworth, Deputy Headteacher, St James School, Exeter. Nov 2017

Like many school leaders in England today I am anxiously waiting to hear what the Chancellor has to say in the budget statement regarding any increase in school funding from the chronically underfunded situation schools have had to cope with now for too long. I know I will not ask already hard-pressed families in my school community to contribute to school funding to assist in buying the very basics, as I know a number of school leaders have been forced to do already. We completed the 2016-17 annual appraisal cycle a few weeks ago and I know of some of my school leaders not taking their well-deserved and thoroughly merited pay progression awards because of the current financial situation in the school. Linked to a national public service pay cap that has been kept at 1% and way below inflation for over 7 years now means real term incomes have kept falling. The additional high costs that schools have to meet are making already delicately balanced budgets for the year without a reserve to help when colleagues fall ill or a boiler breaks in winter tip these budgets dangerously closer to an abyss that too many schools are now facing. This is why there is huge momentum around a national campaign for fairer funding in schools and only last week headteachers marching to Downing St with a letter calling for fairer school funding supported by 1000s of schools.

Wyedean School has a strong projected financial trajectory over the next few years because of all the hard work and necessary difficult decisions undertaken in making cost efficiencies and savings as well as the strong promotion of the outstanding education. This has grown the school back to being oversubscribed with nearly 1100 students in two years from a low of close to 900. This is in an official falling roll area as well. Innovations in the curriculum such as Latin, Classics and Mandarin have come about because we have been very proactive in bidding for these specific funds from outside agencies and we believe strongly in broader and unique educational opportunities. However, every time a colleague tells me they have personally paid for their classroom posters or provided prizes for a competition or not claimed a travel expense or contributed personally to make an educational visit viable I wince at the damage being done fundamentally to this noble profession and vital sector of our society and economy. In no way is this sweating the small stuff and educational funding is definitely a hill many educators, governors, school leaders, students and parents are making a stand on now. Education is not attracting enough of the next generation of teachers needed to take the sector forward into the new ways of learning, new technologies and the skills challenge we are facing as a society over the coming decades. If they do make it, into teaching, they certainly are not staying long as the demands of the role and the often poor work-life balance in difficult educational and financial conditions becomes all too apparent. There is an interesting recent article in the Guardian worth a read about what we should do to convince teachers to stay in the profession:

By extension the high calibre skilled school leaders sorely needed are not emerging in nearly enough numbers to take on the very demanding role of taking educational learning communities forward with hope and making sure educational opportunities and standards are the very best we can offer our young people and keep so many communities hopeful for the future. This is definitely not the small stuff in educational and national leadership.

I spent the other weekend in Bristol with my old and dear friend from Prince William County Schools in northern Virginia, Brian Bassett. Brian is one of the most inspiring advocates of the International Baccalaureate in the Americas and an exceptional school leader and IB coordinator. As we walked across Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, with thankfully one of his students ensuring my three young daughters were not being too silly, we talked about the difficulties schools face financially in the UK and USA. We also spoke at length about the increasing difficulties in the relentless, often pointless educational initiatives that school leaders try to grapple with whilst balancing the very core of education with a focus on compelling learning, all very well intentioned, but still capricious and short term depending on the office holder. Even over fish and chips in my kitchen on Saturday evening, we still could not believe how something as inspirational and necessary for 21st century education & World Class curriculum like the IB has all but disappeared from UK state schools in the last ten years because of government short sightedness and short termism. We did break off as we got the fish and chips from Downend chippy as I pointed out where W G Grace once played his cricket – the English version of Babe Ruth helped make it clearer for Brian. His IB student, originally from El Salvador, coped admirably not only with her first battered haddock but was very polite about the bright green mushy peas. She did point out this was not something common in Latin American cuisine. My four-year-old singing John Denver’s “Take me home” as we drove back along the M4 to their hotel late on a Saturday night before their Sunday flight home made the frustrations with education disappear for now. Brian has been a champion of international learning for so long now and has been recognised by the British Council for the developed work around IB curriculum he and his colleagues have undertaken with a number of UK schools over many years. Educators like Brian that give us all hope in these times. I found his tweet @ibatgf, his school IB Twitter, for Thanksgiving, worth a read especially when we waste time sweating the small stuff:

“I am thankful for…the taxes I pay because means that I am employed; The clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat; A lawn that needs be mowed, windows that have to be washed, and gutters that need fixing means I have a home; All the complaining I hear about our government means I have freedom of speech; The huge pile of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby; The alarm that goes off early in the morning because it means that I’m alive”.

The hills I have decided to make a stand on as school leader are the ones I believe worth fighting on… This is simply ensuring that the students, staff and community know that every day at Wyedean School we are focussed on our core purpose of supporting our young people, delivering compelling learning, exciting education and that we are preparing our students for the future as global citizens. Even an uncertain one. After all, this a job far too important for a process driven technocrat who is more concerned with salary and status rather than the transformational power of education a good committed leader can wield effectively that can change societies for the better

If I look through the last few days alone to illustrate what has happened at Wyedean to develop our positive culture: Friday I skyped in the morning with staff and students of Heritage International School, Chisinau for international education week; the Christmas International Card competition delivered outstanding entries from students from across the school; The students and staff raised over a £1000 for Children in Need and Chepstow Foodbank; the year 10 students who help on a Thursday at the Forest of Dean Baby Bank have been commended and will appear on a BBC news story; we started our approved Erasmus + partnership with MFL and Spanish schools; MLF started working officially with Ecuadorean students this week; Year 7 students came 5th in the British Schools Orienteering Championships on Sunday; our Oxbridge applicants are going up to Cheltenham Ladies’ College to work with them on interview techniques as we work together as two schools; the PE dept played fixtures against various schools and took the teams to watch Newport County play in the evening; we held a safeguarding peer review with a local partner school, Dean Academy; one of our students, Pip Winter, finished just outside the top ten of 50 in the show jumping championship; Sixth Form Open Evening on the 30th Nov; The International Christmas Fair on the 4th Dec; Celebration Evening on the 6th Dec …and on it goes on top of the day to day incredible learning seen in every classroom as I walk around this wonderful school daily.

Leadership is not only about inspiring others but also finding ways through the problems and breaking down the barriers. I always think of the outstanding school leaders I have been privileged to work with and I remember what characterised their leadership style and approach and for all of them it was not that they sweated the small stuff. Ian Small, Rob Gibson, Lindsey Hewson, Eric Lyne, Pat Firth, Norman Lowden, Chris Montacute, Bill Bixby, Cherif Sadki, to name but a few. I read an article this week where a school leader said they had looked at their three-year financial projection and it was just dire. That is what we also experienced here in December 2015 and we used our leadership to shape the future for Wyedean. As Obama once said, “Our destiny is not written for us but by us”.

Last Friday I had the honour to sit in a room at the top of the British Council in their London HQ in Spring Gardens, overlooking the whole of Whitehall through an incredible picture window. I was the first speaker opening up a policy forum dialogue between academics, school leaders, policy makers and related organisations. All participants discussing ways on how we keep the importance of global education at the forefront of education in the UK and what that would and could look like over the next few decades. The paper I presented used my experiences as Wyedean principal and my experience as a school leader heavily involved nationally and internationally in global education for a number of years to advocate the importance of global learning providing a meaningful and relevant basis for education and to enhance engagement and compelling learning. I referenced two particular influences I had read in the last few months; the chief inspector of OfSTED’s speech at Wellington around a broad curriculum and an article from Professor Bill Lucas of the University of Winchester. Dr Lucas is responsible for developing creative thinking for PISA and he not only warned about educators being caught up in the “false dichotomy of knowledge v skills” but also suggested we needed to stop referring to future educational aspirations for curriculum and learning as “21st century learning” – something I reference a lot. He made the valid point that we are 18 years now into a new millennium and Professor Lucas suggests it means we still have not worked out what they are and what is needed. Perhaps we have not and that is one of the fundamental problems in education right now. My Finnish colleague in Helsinki is leading a policy dialogue with school leaders there brave enough to break some of the more binary thinking on curriculum and learning and I am hoping I never meet another narrow minded school leader who believes the education diet in the average state school is about literacy and numeracy predominantly and everything else is frippery from arts to music to sport to languages.

I finished a long day having a glass of red wine in a plush law firm speaking to an eminent member of an international education group about exactly what exceptional World Class education should be about, what it looks like and why social mobility should be at the heart of it in a global society. Food for thought on the late train back to Bristol and walking around post-Industrial Coalbrookdale with my children looking at the UNESCO site where the Darby’s changed the World in the C18th as I visited family on Saturday back in my home county of Shropshire. I concluded that the best leaders know to avoid sweating the small stuff and which hills to stand on. My friend Brian will be with his family in the Appalachian Hills in West Virginia celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday. I know he will be putting aside the trials, tribulations and very real problems we have to find decent solutions to in our roles and responsibilities as educational leaders no matter what our context and at the same time our effectiveness is about how we see the problems and what we do working with others to solve them. This is how we intrinsically develop the ability as leaders to avoid sweating  the small stuff and see the right hills to make a stand on.


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