The topic of the week is Liam Collins on Leading Schools: Roundtables and Visible Heads.
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Liam Collins is headteacher of Uplands Community College in East Sussex, UK.
Liam came to teaching comparatively late at the age of 29. He had early experience of flexible learning with students out at FE Colleges and then he moved to the Bexley Business Academy. A number of assistant and deputy head positions followed and Uplands is his first headship.
Uplands has the pressures of being near a number of selective schools and is based in Wadhurst, attracting students from a wide area, mostly travelling by bus. There is a small Sixth Form but the school buildings are in a poor state of repair. Fortunately, they won the Priority Schools bid and so some work will be done to repair some facilities.
It appears to be a beautiful area but students’ access to transport, jobs and cultural centres is severely restricted.
How could governments support headteachers better?
Liam thinks we could do with a period where headteachers were not ‘being shouted at’ constantly and be recognised for the hard work they and the students put in each year.
Liam believes he is looking at real-term cuts to his budget for next year due to increases in staff costs etc. and it is increasingly difficult to attract teachers, particularly those at the start of their career.
He sees Ofsted as needing to change – from its current role to a school-improvement one. Liam thinks most schools knows what it takes to improve, what they need is someone to talk to them and point them in the right direction. The data-trawling aspects of inspection could be done remotely and then only those schools who were seen not to be following the right path according to their school improvement plan would be inspected in person.
If a school did receive a ‘must improve’ rating, then the inspector who delivered that rating should work with the school for a year and write a report for the next inspection team explaining the progress over that year.
What about Progress 8 and the English Baccalaureate?
Originally, Liam and his colleagues on the Headteachers’ Roundtable were very positive about Progress 8. It recognised that cohorts are all different and schools would be judged on the specifics of their cohorts. However, it seems to have been changed so you now get more points for moving a student from a B to an A than for moving a student from an F to an E. This means you are penalised for having a low-attaining cohort. Also, the promised indicative targets have never arrived.
The English Baccalaureate or EBacc came from the UK high-performing Russell Group of Universities who identified the 2 or 3 A levels you should do amongst your A levels if you wanted to gain admission to top universities. This was then taken over as a guide to the GCSE subjects you should do to get into the best universities. Suddenly schools were being judged on Maths, English, History Geography and a Modern Foreign Language. The idea that History and Geography are ‘more academic’ than the other GCSEs previously eligible to count against schools’ targets seems strange to Liam. He believes that the EBacc subjects are in danger of creating a two-tier education system like the old CSE/GCE qualifications.
The EBacc is now compulsory. This means huge change and a narrowing in the curriculum, Liam believes, while at the same time Ofsted are insisting on a broad and balanced curriculum. Liam and several other Headteachers have pledged not to follow the EBacc. If this means his school never receives an Outstanding rating from Ofsted, then he is prepared to accept that for the sake of offering subjects to his learners that they want to do and succeed at. He feels his parents support him in this.
Originally, this was a group of 5 heads who came together mainly via Twitter to challenge the EBacc and Liam went along to a meeting of the group. Liam joined in and has been involved in creating what they call the National Baccalaureate which has just been launched to provide an alternative to the EBacc.
A manifesto was also released to a positive response and Liam says that, perhaps because they are not associated with any political party or Heads’ union there voice seems to be taken very seriously.
What’s your advice for new headteachers?
- Realise that being a new head is like being in a wind tunnel. You are asked for decisions on many different things you have never considered before.
- Be visible as much as possible around the site
- Model the behaviours you want from staff and students
- Smile and be positive
- Believe the staff want to be the best they can be and support them in doing that
- Keep teaching and be observed teaching
- Talk to staff
- Observe all staff teaching from a developmental point of view
- Recognise work completed and say thank you
- Turn your email off every day
- Say sorry when you get it wrong
- Be honest and open
- Collaborate internally and externally
- Get on Twitter
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