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Blog – A little bit about me

My name is Jeremy Griffiths and I have been a head teacher since 1996 in three different primary schools in North East Wales. I have also worked for the local authority as an adviser and have always had a real interest in leadership and management styles and techniques. I studied for a Master’s degree in business administration and became a chartered manager with the CMI, with whom I am now a Fellow.

In 2017 I was honoured and privileged to be selected as an Associate of the National Academy for Education Leadership. The twelve Associates across Wales were selected from a variety of different educational backgrounds and regions to represent practicing head teachers in Wales. The journey so far has been extremely interesting, challenging but above all exciting.

The first task was to get to understand what the Academy stood for, including its vision and values and of course the success criteria for us as Associates. Alongside this work, we as a group were getting to know each other, our strengths and weaknesses and learning to work together as a unified team. To be honest, this work was quite time-consuming, but well worth the effort to ensure a consistent understanding of purpose for us all. This vision has been co-constructed by many people, but in my opinion the real driver has been Kirsty Williams, AM Education Minister. She, as always, has shown a real passion to enable us to become system leaders, to drive up the standard of education leadership across the system in Wales.

The National Academy is one part of the reform agenda in Wales. The opportunities to make changes to our education system have never been so great, for this generation of the teaching profession. The reform agenda is being truly guided by a research evidence base and constructed by talented groups of practitioners and expert advisers. This takes Wales in a completely different direction from England and academics from across the world are looking to see how Wales progresses. As the first Associates therefore, working with a design team, we have to ensure that an incredible programme of leadership development is available and ready for future cohorts of education leaders.

I personally have grown in knowledge and understanding because of the research and reading that I have undertaken. What matters is that we find what is best for our context in Wales. This has so far involved looking at some of the best systems across the world, both in terms of pupil outcomes, professional satisfaction and successful leadership development. Raising the status of the profession along with the well-being of all those who work within it is a key priority. A fully motivated and professionally developed workforce will rise to any future challenges, looking for ways to continuously improve.

Our National Mission is an ambitious strategy for Welsh education and I believe there has never been a more exciting time to be in education in this country. Reforms of the curriculum and reviews on inspection, initial teacher training and teacher pay and conditions will require excellent leadership for successful implementation. The National Academy has a significant role to play collaboratively with other agencies. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get our collective Academy voice heard in this National debate and to contribute to the effectiveness of the Welsh education system. Please follow our website – www.nael.cymru – to keep up with developments and join the debate.

 

Jeremy Griffiths is Headteacher of Ysgol Gwynedd, Flint and a NAEL associate

 

Blog – Learning from abroad

Experience is a master teacher, even when its not our own.― Gina Greenlee

I’ve been lucky enough to have taken part in three, week-long study visits during my career. I realise this is probably three more than many people, but taken over a career of thirty years it is not so much, and perhaps begs the question why this can’t be available to more teachers.

My trips have taken me to the USA, to Scotland, and most recently, to Canada as an associate of the National Academy for Educational Leadership (NAEL). Each occasion has been a fantastic learning experience, has exceeded my expectations, and has enriched my understanding far beyond what I have picked up from any reading I’ve done around international systems.

This blog will reflect on my ideas about how anyone lucky enough to be involved in such visits can get the most from them, and a few thoughts on my own experiences.

Let’s start with reading. Whilst I’ve just said I’ve learnt far more actually being on a visit than from articles and books, there’s no doubt that pre-reading and research is crucial. Study visits will usually start with some sort of overview from a system expert, but you really don’t need to be in a country to research things like the organisation of schools and curriculum, and your time whilst you’re there can be better spent on other things. Making sure you’ve done the research also means you can hit the ground running with lines of interest you could pursue.

Which leads to the importance of a clear focus. You will learn so much on visits like these, but you do need to have a clear idea what you’re looking for. Having said that, you’re bound to pick up unrelated things. I remember in Boston looking at the school curriculum and teaching and learning. Somehow along the way I found out they had stopped using the term ‘lockdown’ and gone over to the less emotive term ‘safe mode’ to describe that particular emergency procedure and we started to use that back at school on my return.

Recording your findings is important, given that you will no doubt not only be expected to feed back, but also to be very keen to do so, either in the form of a report or a presentation. Writing up a learning journal every day, keeping a record of bullet points, or just going over your notes with a highlighter every evening is really useful. Also it’s helpful to take as many photos as you can (having sought permission first, of course) of things that strike you as interesting such as displays or classrooms, and of people you meet, whether it’s formal group poses or even a selfie or two! It’s a good idea to keep all these (notes and photos) in a shared area so the whole team you’re with can access all the resources, and in the case of documents, edit them as well. It’s also good practice to share them with your hosts who will be interested in your perceptions and may also be able to correct any inaccuracies in your findings. Photos will all be time- and place-marked these days, so they also serve as a really good aide-memoire for you later on.

If you use social media this is a good way of sharing your literal and metaphorical journey. On two of the trips I set up dedicated hashtags. This is not only of interest to others, it’s also a good way of recording things for your own benefit, and for others in your group. Furthermore, if the people and places you visit are on Twitter or Instagram you can tag them in messages and share your thanks.

Advance planning is crucial. My recent NAEL visit was under the auspices of the British Council, our EAS Scotland visit I organised myself. In all cases, however, the visits were centred in one organisation, with one key individual in the host country. This is really important as local knowledge is crucial. Both in Scotland and in Ontario this was a University Faculty of Education. It’s also vital to have a ‘fixer’ to sort out logistics. This can be quite complicated, especially if the visit is overseas, and needs to be carefully thought through. In Canada we were really lucky to have Maija from British Council Wales. Nowadays there are a variety of apps you can use to help keep organised, and WhatsApp is a really effective way of keeping the team informed on a day to day basis.

Don’t expect one-way traffic! Although you have clearly travelled in order to learn from your hosts, they too will be eager to find out more about how things are done back home, so be ready to speak either off the cuff or indeed in a more formal setting. And make sure you get email contact details for further follow-up!

Finally, you do need to build in some time for the wellbeing of those involved. If you’re going far, you may have to cope with jet lag, so do bear that in mind. There will almost certainly be a need to keep in touch with colleagues back home, as the day job doesn’t go away, not to mention family and friends. Building half a day for R and R into a week away is probably about right. It’s also important to allow time and to find space to write up each day; as I mentioned earlier, you’ll hit the ground running as soon as you get back to school.

On every trip I have been struck by the generous welcomes we have received from fellow educators. It is a privilege and an honour to be able to participate. This also means there is a moral obligation to share the learning with others. Another common theme has been the camaraderie developed by being with colleagues. There is inevitably time for reflection and discussion on trains, in buses, and over breakfast, and this can be really motivational and interesting, and you’ll probably develop ideas which you’ll pursue together on your return which may even be unrelated to your visit.

I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to get involved in a study visit. Or why not consider organising one yourself? Grant funding may be available, and indeed visits to schools and other establishments may be free of charge or based on a reciprocal arrangement, so this can be really good value professional learning as well as being of the highest quality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Kendall is Head Teacher of Risca Community Comprehensive School and an Associate of the NAEL. He visited Washington and Boston with an EAS delegation, led a trip to Scotland supported by the EAS, and most recently (November 2018) went to Toronto with colleague NAEL associates.

Blog – There’s no place like home!

These are exciting times for education in Wales with so many new developments, and an opportunity to reconsider our priorities.  The new curriculum, the new professional standards, the new developments and expectations in terms of Initial Teacher Education and the principle of Schools as Learning Organisations are all exciting and agreed developments in Welsh education.  It is also good that we as practitioners have been included every step of the way in this development, and have had a central role in co-creating the future of education in Wales.

The National Academy for Educational Leadership is also central to this reform, with its mission of “Inspiring Leaders: Enriching Lives” and the aim of bringing clarity and coherence to educational leadership in Wales.

This year I’ve had the privilege of being one of the first twelve associates for the NAEL. One important element of the associates’ work is to respond to a Welsh Government commission, entitled:

How can leaders enable high-quality professional learning opportunities that improve well-being and achieve better outcomes for all?”

There are many aspects to this commission, but one is to research successful international education systems, including visiting one of those countries.

As part of this commission, I was fortunate enough to visit Finland recently, along with 4 other headteachers. This was a very valuable experience, in a country which has shone with its recent PISA performances. Having said this, there were some concerns that this performance could be declining, especially with the pupils at the peak of the ability range in their system.

There is a risk on a foreign visit to become too infatuated, and believe in the old proverb that the grass is always greener on the other side. But we must remember that every education system is the result of its society, its traditions and its own culture; independent, individual aspects from a successful foreign system cannot be transferred without considering the wider context.  Similarly, as we left our familiar surroundings for a short while, it was good to realise that we work in a worthy profession, in an enlightened country that is eager to further develop and reform in the interest of the children and young people of Wales.   It is also good to realise that not all the answers can be found abroad, that there are many positive aspects within our system, and that we should be shouting about this.

Therefore, I didn’t get all the answers during my visits to schools and educational institutions in Helsinki and Jyväskylä.  However, we were prompted, and a number of key questions arose for us as educational leaders in Wales to consider:

How can we regain respect and pride within the education profession in Wales in order for us to entice the most gifted students within our systems to want to become teachers?  We had a conversation with one headteacher who had received 250 applications for a general teaching post!

In attracting the best to the profession, how is it possible to ensure that they maintain their motivation and enthusiasm and enjoy a long and successful career within our education system?

How can we here in Wales ensure that the funding available within the education system reaches our schools effectively, so that headteachers don’t face the annual challenge of raising standards with dwindling financial resources?

How is it possible for us in Wales to ensure that the resources within the system are used to make a direct difference to the lives of individual children? The PISA results in Finland strongly suggest that they have managed to successfully close the gap between the weakest and strongest in their schools.  When we saw the support services available to schools in Finland, you could understand why.  We saw medium-sized schools with an educational psychologist, a school nurse and social worker serving them more or less full time.

How can Wales change the education culture to ensure that we are driven by professional responsibility rather than accountability? The trust within the education system in Finland was incredible –perhaps there was too much – with the inspectorate having been abolished in the 1990s. Lack of competition was evident between their institutions, and it was nice to see that they weren’t familiar with the perpetual British conversation about “successful schools” and “failing schools”.

I’ve already emphasised that I did not find the answers. However, there is some clear truth in their working principle of responsibility rather than accountability. Today, we have the opportunity to revisit this in Wales.  I instinctively feel that the system in Wales would improve if the accountability arrangements stopped scrutinising individual institutions, and worked constructively and collaboratively with catchment areas or wider areas instead.  This would lighten the tremendous pressure within the system, create a strong collaborative ethos and develop the key principle of co-ownership of our education system.

As I said, the answers to our concerns are not in Finland or any other individual system – but we cannot ignore some of the messages from a system with clearly strong outcomes. And by outcomes, of course I don’t mean the narrow measure of the examination performance of 16-year olds.  During my brief visit, I generally saw happy learners, with healthy attitudes and bodies, being respectful and succeeding in their education.  Somehow, there was less pressure on their whole system – less pressure on the teachers and educational leaders, and less pressure on the learners themselves.  In 2018, this is something we cannot ignore. And as a cyclist, the hundreds of bikes outside the school in Jyväskylä also demonstrated that it is possible to prepare the citizens of the future for a more sustainable way of life.  Similarly, I didn’t see any formal uniform, but I did observe respectful learners at ease when learning.  I’m not suggesting that getting rid of school uniforms is the answer either, just reflecting and considering priorities.

Thank you Finland – not for giving us the answers on a plate – but for reminding a headteacher from Wales of the privilege and responsibility of his job, also for reminding him how fortunate we are in Wales, but also for encouraging him to think afresh about answers to some of our challenges! Kiitos Suomi.

Gwyn Tudur, NAEL Associate and headteacher of Ysgol Tryfan

Blog – Lord Holmes Review

I was very pleased to represent the National Academy of Educational Leadership (NAEL) Board of Directors at a workshop session held as part of the UK Government’s ‘Disability Action Plan’ review. The workshop was held in Cardiff as part of the evidence gathering process, looking into reasons why the proportion of those individuals who apply for public appointments who declare a disability is so low and what can be done to improve the applications process for disabled people.

As my tenure as a board member is still in its infancy I was initially apprehensive about meeting other board members of public bodies. However, through my conversations with board members of arms-length companies similar to the NAEL, I was able to increase my understanding of the valuable roles our organsiations play in public life. Speaking with these individuals enabled me to put my own role on the NAEL board into a broader context.

The workshop, hosted by Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, involved current and former public appointees (both disabled and non-disabled), disabled people who have unsuccessfully applied for public appointments. Lord Holmes is Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer winning a total of nine gold medals, five silvers and one bronze in his career. He was also Director of Paralympic Integration, responsible for the organisation of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. He was appointed to conduct the review on behalf of the UK Government, with a view to encouraging more disabled people to apply for public appointments.

Lord Holmes put the review in context in a letter to public chairs sent in August 2018:

“Public Appointees play a unique and vital role in shaping and ensuring delivery of public services. However, government departments hold disability data on just 65% of public appointees, and just 5% of those who provided data report a disability.

I want to understand what is preventing disabled people from coming forward for these important and influential roles and why so few are appointed. We must confront the reality that while talent us everywhere, opportunity is not.”

During the workshop Lord Holmes posed four key questions, prompting an interesting discussion within the group. A number of points emerged during the discussion which are particularly relevant to the NAEL should it need to recruit new board members in the future:

  • Opportunities to contribute to public life provided by taking up a public appointment frequently go un-noticed by the public and the opportunities to become involved are not widely recognised. Strong views were expressed that the ‘best’ candidate is not always the right candidate and that opportunities for people from under-represented groups including disability should be increased
  • The current application process does not encourage applications from disabled candidates. Issues such as websites timing out before applications are completed and the formal and daunting nature of public appointment interfaces were identified as possible deterrents. Some considered the formal interview process to be an unnecessary obstacle, due to inappropriate venues and lengthy journey and waiting times.
  • In many cases, the only opportunity to declare a disability is at the early stage of the application process. No data is collected at further stages of the process.

It was evident from the discussions at our workshop that there are many serving members of boards who have a disability that have not been declared, skewing the data that is currently informing policy and decision making.

I was fortunate to speak with Lord Holmes during the session and was very impressed by his sincerity and his commitment to ensuring that disabled people are encouraged to apply for public appointments. Outreach by public bodies is essential for the general public to understand their work and to encourage more diversity in applications for board membership. I am confident that, with the steer of Lord Holmes, this review can make a difference not just to disabled people but to the futures of public boards across the country.

(Rosemary Jones OBE is the Vice Chair of the NAEL Board of Directors)

Update

The NAEL welcomes the emphasis placed on developing the capacity of educational leadership in the agreement between the new First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and in particular the crucial role of the NAEL in this important and exciting work.

Blog – The Leadership of Learning

Leadership is all about learning – the learning of our children and young people, of course, but also the professional learning of our staff and not least, ourselves.  The National Academy of Educational Leadership (NAEL) puts learning at the centre of all things leadership.  If we don’t continue to learn as leaders, and continue to lead the learning of others, we will eventually lose our reason for becoming leaders in the first place.  To lead is to learn and to learn is to lead.

There is so much to be excited and hopeful about education in Wales.  We are in the middle of the most remarkable set of educational reforms for a generation.  We have the highest set of expectations for the Welsh language in many generations.  Consequently, the vision for a new curriculum for our learners is an exceptionally bold one and the tension between that vision for tomorrow and the reality of today needs to be seen as a positive tension and as a positive energy.  Without that tension between vision and reality there would be no need for change, and leaders at all levels must hold on to that vision in order to create a new reality in our schools.

Leaders need systems they can rely on. We should not have to expend valuable energy on reinventing those systems each time a different challenge confronts us.  Every school community should understand what is expected of all the members of that community, whoever they are.  In turn, that gives stability and reassurance as well as fairness and ensures we all have a common understanding of what is expected from us as professionals and what we can expect in return.

But the vision of the future is so much more than one of systems.  By using those systems and practices as a springboard we can do so much more.  Our new professional standards, made in Wales, for Wales, demand the centrality of pedagogy, supported by professional learning, collaboration and the need to innovate.  Innovation keeps us alive as professionals, it keeps us fresh.  Innovation enables us to try something new with a view to evaluating and assessing its impact on learners.  Innovation is not something we should run from but something we should embrace.  We need our children to innovate, to see us innovate, to see that taking calculated risks is good , so long as we learn, and they need to see that whole process modelled and lived in our schools.  Learning from good practice is a wonderful thing but learning from mistakes, learning from trying something that doesn’t work as we would expect is, in my view, even more powerful.

None of this can be done without leadership.  As our new professional standards say – leadership helps pedagogy to grow.  We all know that the only alternative to growth is stagnation and a stagnating pedagogy will not deliver the learning our children need and deserve.  We must deliver on our vision for a new accountability system that encourages innovation and prevents that stagnation.  We must continue to focus on the needs of all our learners equally and not on those few who may be useful for threshold crossing.  As leaders we do need to act as champions for the disadvantaged and disaffected – ours is not a vision for some, it is a vision for all.

The NAEL is in its infancy and needs to make a difference to earn its place.  It needs to be a learning organisation and it must be innovative in its approach.  The NAEL has endorsed its first leadership development programme – the New and Acting Headteacher Programme designed and delivered by the four regional consortia in partnership with the 22 local authorities and two of universities.  I congratulate their partnership and look forward to meeting all of you who are about to embark on this programme in early November and trust that your experiences will support you in becoming the Headteacher you want to be.

We are all leaders, be that in a formal leadership role or not. The NAEL wants to hear from you if you have any ideas about leadership development of any kind in Wales – the more innovative, the better.  Leadership is all about learning and learning makes us better leaders.

(Huw Foster Evans – Chief Executive of NAEL)

Launch of the New and Acting Headteachers Programme

This week saw the launch of the new and acting headteachers programme, developed in partnership by the Regional Consortia, University of Wales Trinity St David, University of Bangor and the Local Authorities.

This is the first programme to meet the endorsement criteria set out by the academy. We will be working closely with the partnership to ensure that the provision continues to meet the high standards of the academy and the needs of educational leaders in Wales. We are confident that this new programme will offer inspiration and support for a new generation of Headteachers who play such a key role in leading the learning for our children and young people.

The NAEL looks forward to seeing an ever-expanding range of endorsed provision available to leaders at all levels across Wales. The next step in this journey is our current call for endorsement which extends the call to include provision for Experienced Headteachers.

Endorsement – Next Call

Following the original call for endorsement for provision for New and Acting Headteachers in the summer of 2018, the NAEL has reviewed the process and is now seeking to extend the call for endorsement to include provision for Experienced Headteachers.  This is in addition to our on-going call for provision for New and Acting Headteachers.

This endorsement round will close on 7th December and the outcome will be communicated to providers by 8th February 2019.

The application form, along with a guide to endorsement including the detailed criteria, are available at here

Please contact post@agaa.cymru with any further enquiries.

Stakeholder Group

The National Academy for Educational Leadership is seeking members for its Stakeholder Group to support, inform and challenge its work. The closing date for applications is 13 September.

The stakeholder group will:

  • Provide the Academy with the informed voice of the education system
  • Influence thinking at regional and national level
  • Support and challenge the work of the Academy – improving endorsement process, suggestions of research/commissioning
  • Ensure that leaders from across the education sector feel that it is ‘their’ Academy and that they are represented
  • Ensure the Academy listens carefully and collaborates closely with stakeholders

For more information click here

Blog – an associate’s view

John Kendall, May 2018

This really is a great time to be working in education in Wales. The task of creating a new curriculum following Professor Donaldson’s “Successful Futures” report is exciting, and made more so by the fact that it is practicing teachers themselves who are leading the work. These are the people who know best what needs to be done, and under the guidance of others from both within and beyond Wales, things are beginning to take shape. But we need to be patient. Some of us are old enough to remember the arrival in school of the National Curriculum folders in the late 80s. Then, the curriculum was presented to us as a finished product. This time we are co-constructing it. This brings many challenges, but opportunities too. I am certain we are going to arrive at something special for our young people, something that will be a model for others to look at. And something which is right for Wales.

It is important at this time of change that we are also turning our attention to educational leadership. The launch of the National Academy for Educational Leadership NAEL on May 16th was an important landmark, but this was not day one of the process! A huge amount of work had already gone in to getting things started. Anne Keane was given the responsibility of gathering views and opinions from teachers within Wales, and of looking at other models. A shadow board was established to support and advise. And towards the end of last year, applications were sought from headteachers to be the first cohort of leaders to go through a programme as associates. In the spirit of co-construction, the associates are not only undergoing the training, but are advising on its development and playing a major part in making sure the Academy provides the right opportunities for school leaders in Wales, and furnishes them with the necessary skills and experiences to lead our schools well into the C21.

What will this look like? Although much has been done, it is still early days. The twelve associates have already been working together with a delivery team, and it has been a really positive and refreshing experience for us. Taken from across the four consortia (there are two primary headteachers and one secondary from each), everyone brings a great deal of experience. Though we have different backgrounds, skills and knowledge, it is clear we share a vision for education in Wales which is firmly rooted in a spirit of collaboration and a passion for making our schools the best they can be. We recognise we are in a position of privilege and responsibility, we know we do not have all the answers, but we are all keen to work together, to do the necessary research, to listen to each other, and to others too.

We are lucky to be able to be working not just with each other, but to have the opportunity to engage with a number of people who have extensive knowledge in different areas of education. These include Graham Donaldson, Mick Waters and Lucy Crehan, author of “Cleverlands”, a fascinating book on successful educational systems across the world. Others will be involved as the programme develops.

We will be working on projects in “Communities of Practice”, and we’ll be sharing this work through blogs and reports. This is a great opportunity to develop themes that are important to school leaders across Wales, and to take some quality time to reflect and develop these themes, and share our findings

We will have the opportunity to learn from other educational systems, not to mirror their practice, but rather to see how we can adapt the best parts to our system here in Wales. This is very much part of the ethos which is already established in our new curriculum design work.

We will be looking at leadership outside education, in business, in industry, in sport. We recognise there is a need to look beyond our own comfort zones and experiences if we are to grow as leaders and to develop the best programme for the next cohort of associates to engage with.

We will also be part of a team of system leaders who will help facilitate future programmes in the Academy. In many ways this is the most exciting part of our role, as we seek to build sustainable educational leadership in Wales. Our children need our schools to be the best they can be; this will only be achieved by having the best teachers, working with the best leaders.

As advocates for the Academy, we as associates will be sharing our work as widely as possible through our established networks as well as specific events. Do talk to us about what we’ve been doing, challenge us, and support us. If you have views on how the Academy should develop, let us know. Finally, the next opportunity to apply to be an associate is not far off. Do consider getting involved!

(John Kendall is headteacher of Risca Community Comprehensive School in Caerphilly and one of the NAEL associates.)