Principal’s Round-up – 3rd May 2019

We were lucky to be able to host a MAT wide presentation by Karl Sampson (Assistant Regional Director for Ofsted) on Wednesday. One of the advantages of being part of a larger organisation is the possibility to be part of events such as this, and I am looking forward to the next big event that will be a joint professional development day across the MAT on 6th January.

In his presentation, Karl gave some clear messages about the thinking behind the proposed new framework for September, and it was heartening to hear that the work that we have already started on curriculum design, the nature of knowledge, pedagogy and personal development will be considered. Already this year, middle leaders have been sharpening their view on the curriculum. It is important to not let new jargon divert us. The ‘intent’ of the curriculum named in the new framework is simply our bread and butter – why we teach what we do. This is certainly worthy of focus, but it is not a ‘bolt on’. The same applies to ‘implementation’, or the ‘how’ of the curriculum. We cannot expect uniformity across subjects, for example there will be no whole school pro-forma to capture the ideas of the framework. We can expect, however, whole school thinking. There will be plenty of dialogue and subject-specialist networking (hopefully across this MAT and wider), to make sure we have reflected on the ‘why?’ and the ‘how?’ of the curriculum. Consistency seems to drive the school improvement agenda these days, but it is not always appropriate. In fact, consistency is not always well understood. I have always been clear, it is consistency of understanding and standards that matter, not paperwork. We must avoid distorting the curriculum to achieve fake consistency. Why should a curriculum map in history look the same as the one in mathematics? Mathematical knowledge is hierarchically structured and much of history is cumulative. Uniformity is tempting, but we should resist it. It is far more important to build a shared understanding that knowledge is at the heart of the curriculum. By exploring the conceptual rules that exist in each subject, students should experience the curriculum as a range of disciplines rather than static bodies of content, topics and stand-alone lessons.

We also must focus on ourselves. I have been dismayed at the sheer volume of written articles describing teacher burn-out, dissatisfaction and stress that are published at the moment. It nearly matches the ones written about the impact our society and social media addiction is having on young people’s mental health. We have tried to address workload as best we can during this time of financial crisis, and Barbara’s well-being forum is designed to go one step further. It is rather ironic that joining the group requires another meeting, but she tells me there are always biscuits and coffee on offer if you’d like to help shape the best ways to support staff well-being.

I was asked by SSAT to consider the impact of the Humanutopia project last week. In reflecting on the programme, I can see how the impact is growing but that we still have a way to grow the principles underpinning the philosophy. We know that amongst our student body that there is a persistent legacy of social division and disaffection. Even the Humanutopia Heroes have bad days! That is why the ‘me on a good day’ wall of tiles completed by students is going to be so important. However, the impact of working with Humanutopia is tangible. Visitors say how welcoming our student body is, engagement in learning continues to improve, and students are largely kind and helpful again. The Humanutopia programme has a refreshing theoretical framework, built on constructivism rather than behaviourism. This is why it is more impactful than our previous attempts to resolve social inequality. Students examine themselves, and are not told how they should be or what they should be doing. They can now work these things out for themselves. The idea that it’s ‘okay to be different’ is now prevailing. Students smile more, make eye contact with strangers and their confidence has improved. The programme has encouraged self-reflection, self-awareness and self-direction. Fundamentally, it is about knowing yourself and knowing how to improve. The strength of Humanutopia has been peer-to-peer development. This is set up to be mutually developmental and not a top down social support process that leads to perceptions of envy and elitism. Student leadership is now coming from groups other than the traditional. We have children with additional needs leading others, and it has engaged disadvantaged students more than before. Students make better choices. Importantly, they are now making the change not out of fear of reprisal or from compliance and a willingness to please, but because they see a future for themselves.

Finally, thank you to everyone who contributed to the consultation forum on plans for changing the school day. The feedback from staff, parents and students was overwhelmingly in support of the changes and no alterations have been made to the proposal. This means that from September the school day will finish at 3pm. We will have two equal sized breaks at 1100 and at 1330 of 30 minutes in length. Food will be served in the Refectory and Ndeeba at both of these times. All lessons will remain the same length, and whilst the start of the day will still be at 0840, the first lesson will now begin at 0900. Late buses will leave at 1630 on Tuesday and Thursdays.

Thank you for all of your hard work since we returned from the Easter break, and I hope you all enjoy the long weekend.