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I hadn’t intended to take my first steps into headship at a school needing significant change and improvement – I thought I had chosen carefully!  In truth, no one quite understood how much work needed to be done – at first glance the fresh, modern new building and the positive feeling led me to believe that this was a school in prime position to grow and flourish. The truth was that a catalogue of issues had blighted it’s first two years leading to huge gaps in the school’s development, things that I had always taken for granted – books, resources, consistent approaches, policies … the list went on! The school was currently part of a small Trust which had recognised that it didn’t have the capacity to make the changes needed and had started the process of transferring to a new, larger Trust.

Before taking the role I had asked those who I trusted “Am I ready for this?” and the answer was more or less unanimous “You’re never truly ready – you will learn fast! But, you can do this!” at the time I didn’t really know what this meant, but I do now!  Nothing can prepare you for the job because it is all encompassing but you learn and adapt and it is a job that can be done!

“Things weren’t good enough, children were suffering – we couldn’t sit back and wait!”

I took up my role in September 2018 and having listened to advice given to me and taking on board research and opinions that I had read, planned not to do too much during the first term. Just watch and listen. Not to rock the boat. I soon realised that this wasn’t going to be possible.  I quickly learned that there were very few policies in place, fewer whole school approaches and no long term plan or vision.  The more that I dug, the more issues I found; teaching was inconsistent, teaching resources were non existent and safeguarding was inadequate.  Things weren’t good enough, children were suffering – we couldn’t sit back and wait!

At my first governors meeting I stood and declared that this was not a ‘good’ school – at the time I said that we were RI – I was met with shocked faces!  Knowing what I know now, the governors had only ever been told ‘what they needed to hear’, they had been led to believe that the school was good and that things were going well – it wasn’t their fault. At that meeting I highlighted the key areas for improvement, our priorities, and a one year plan to address them.  Work started and some progress was made but not at the pace required.

In October, the incoming Trust carried out a two day ‘due diligence inspection’ with a HMI lead inspector – they highlighted all of the same issues that I had but their concern was that because so many areas needed improvement, we might be classified as inadequate if OFSTED visited! A challenge that I wasn’t really expecting had just turned into a massive job!

“There can be blood on the floor in here but out there, you must be a united front!”

From the review, a list of priorities was drawn up by the lead inspector and number one was to pull together the leadership team. It had become apparent during the review that we were not all singing off the same hymn sheet and that mixed messages were being given to staff across the school – progress couldn’t happen until this was sorted. We were told in no uncertain terms that if we couldn’t lead together, as a team, we would never be able to turn the school’s fortunes around – the actual phrase used was “There can be blood on the floor in here but out there, you must be a united front!”  In the coming week I was supported by the new Trust to hold ‘clear the air talks’ and since then, we have never looked back!

Action had to happen at pace but not so fast that we might make decisions that we would regret in the future.  In the run up to Christmas a large pot of money was identified that would enable us to by valuable resources and schemes to enable whole school approaches to be implemented – a lot of money was carefully spent and January became our ‘clean slate’.

From January onward, the progress was notable – whole school approaches to phonics, maths and writing were in place, a new reading scheme was purchased enabling every child to have a reading book and resources such as 3d shapes, scales and coins enabled practical maths to happen across the school.

Morale was up and momentum was growing just as OFSTED decided to visit us in February.  We were rated RI  – internally, we knew that this represented progress since the review in October but we didn’t celebrate. RI is not where we wanted to be – we had to drive on!  The focus was on embedding the approaches and consistencies that we had introduced. We coupled this with a more rigorous approach to monitoring and assessment – tweaking plans where necessary.

A follow up review from the Trust in July confirmed that huge progress had been made since OFSTED’s visit and certainly since last October but that a lot still remained to do!  We knew this and our priorities for 2019/20 exactly matched the priorities which came out of the review; this was the mark of how far we had come in less than a year – when we were asked a question , we could answer it, if we were asked for a document, we could put our hands on it and we proved that we know our school, the children and what we needed to do next!

The school has certainly come a long way!

“I have found myself getting annoyed that things weren’t happening as they were so clearly planned (in my head)!”

Personally, I have made many mistakes this year. I have to improve my communication (with staff and parents) – too often it has been last minute or without clarity. I have then found myself getting annoyed that things weren’t happening as they were so clearly planned (in my head)!  There have also been times when my priorities haven’t always been clear – distracted by the urgent and taking my eye off the important.  Recently, I wonder if I have done everything I could to ensure that every child has made the best progress that they possibly could – how many children have been left behind?  This can not happen!

Despite this, I am proud of what has been achieved. We have driven school improvement without losing the culture and feeling that we all hold so dearly – the work of every member of staff to get behind the changes has been incredible.  We have clear structures in place for September offering more capacity at all levels, we have a whole school calendar in place setting out dates for performance management, monitoring and assessment and there is a CPD plan drawn up for ALL staff.  Parents are behind the school and like what we are doing.  Our results have improved at a pace that none of us thought was possible.

Put simply, the school looks better, feels better and is performing better – it is undoubtedly in the best position it has ever been in!

Leading a school is a privilege. Nothing beats seeing genuine smiles from the children loving the school. My school!  It can also be desperately lonely.  I am so lucky to have my colleagues around me – we have been through some rocky times this year but I feel that they always have my back.  I hope they know that I always have theirs too!

I am genuinely proud of what we have achieved and nowhere I have worked has ever made me happier!