January’s priorities for new headteachers

Written by: Helen Frostick | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Continuing her series offering support and advice for new headteachers, National Leader of Education Helen Frostick considers what we should be prioritising at the beginning of the spring term

The spring term is a good time (new year resolutions, anyone?) to recommit to on-going and regular monitoring by the leadership team and subject leaders. There is no quiet term in the busy and dynamic school year.

School self-evaluation

As part of our school improvement cycle, self-evaluation focuses in the spring term should include updating the sections in the self-evaluation form (SEF) on behaviour and safety, and personal development and attitudes. The data section was completed in the autumn term.

With the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF), however, a tweak is necessary for us to ensure that the SEF is in line with the four new areas of inspection: quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management. It is crucial that subject leaders contribute to the process, as this will evidence strong leadership.

It is an opportunity to detail what is working well in the school. Confident self-evaluation will be succinct, with the positives highlighted. At the same time, if the areas for development are included, it will demonstrate that the school can properly analyse its circumstances and priorities (rather than just representing information about the current attainment and progress). The Key for school leaders has a useful SEF checklist and template which will help you to evaluate your school against the new Ofsted framework. Advice from The Key was also offered in a recent article in Headteacher Update – Ofsted: What curriculum evidence will they need? (2019).

In the spring term, the senior leadership team will work through this checklist here at St Mary Magdalen’s. This will become the priority for this term’s meetings.

It is worth bearing in mind that the data Ofsted has for year 6 will already be out-of-date. The pupils have moved on. There needs to be an account of how you are using the statistics and question level analysis to inform practice. It is also a good idea to include quotes from the pupils about their perception of a school improvement drive.

At St Mary Magdalen’s one recent example has been regarding the introduction of Times Tables Rock Stars. This month, I will be updating the SEF with quotes from the children about the impact this initiative has had on their knowledge, understanding and application of multiplication and division. For example:

  • Ardi: “I like it because I get to play games with other people.”
  • Kieran: “It helps me in tests because I use my multiplication and division facts I’ve practised in Times Tables Rock Stars.”
  • Evan: “It lets me know if I am correct and then adjusts the level.”

According to pupil voice, Times Tables Rock Stars does not appeal to the girls as much as the boys so we are mindful of that as we do have a gender issue in maths like many other schools.

School monitoring policy

Our monitoring policy helps to break the monitoring cycle into manageable chunks. For example, in the spring term at St Mary Magdalen’s, we monitor the pupils’ books in English, mathematics and science. This takes place after parents’ evenings in February, as the books will have already been thoroughly prepared for this and so we can cut-out unnecessary workload.

We also observe lessons in one of the subject areas prioritised in our school development plan and a governor comes in to carry out monitoring on one aspect of the school development plan.

In terms of the self-evaluation cycle the school development plan is reviewed and RAG-rated as to what has been achieved against the milestones (red: no action, amber: work has started, green: work completed).

We also have Assessment Week, as it is the midpoint of the year. The results of the assessments feed into our provision map reviews whereby we realign the support staff according to pupil need. They also inform parents’ meetings and target-setting.

Admissions

The spring term often brings admissions challenges. A useful tip is to gently point out to disappointed parents, who may criticise the school and the governors if they are not successful (particularly if they have siblings in the school), that they remain on the waiting list and may get in at some point in the near future if a place frees up and so they will most likely still become part of the school. Relationships need to remain positive.

Social media policy and parental engagement

I recommend that your school ensures on-going work for the sampling of pupil, parent and staff views via surveys and questionnaires. In terms of engaging with your parents and guardians, is there a decision that you would be happy to trust to them? Giving free rein to parents on such questions will help give the continued impression that you are a listening headteacher.

One area where parents and school might usefully collaborate is with social media. For example, our most recent question to parents was regarding the use of WhatsApp as a communication tool. Indeed, we have just finalised a social media policy, including use of Facebook, WhatsApp and our school’s Instagram feed.

The school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) uses WhatsApp for communication. Class WhatsApp groups are a very useful and efficient means of communication to the whole class – the aim of using WhatsApp is to send messages to the entire group, which are relevant to the school.

The messages in the class WhatsApp groups come from parents in their personal capacity or are sent on behalf of the PTA. The school neither sends nor monitors messages on WhatsApp.

However, the PTA has had to ensure that parental use of these networks is appropriate. A recent message to parents set out three key guidelines for those using WhatsApp groups:

  • The group is not a platform to air views and grievances regarding a teacher, child or parent in the class or school. Such issues need raising directly with the school.
  • The group is not a political platform for airing opinions on current affairs.
  • The group is not for private conversations with anyone else in the group.

Staffing issues

Most school leaders at some point or even regularly will have to deal with challenging personnel issues. It could be ill-health or performance-related. It is always best to seek expert advice from your teaching union, human resources and, in our case, the diocese.

Policies will help you to keep to a procedure, which will carry you forward until the issue is resolved. It is essential to keep detailed records and minutes of all correspondence and all meetings. The job is relentless and it is easy to forget the exact words or date and times that events took place.

It is difficult to deal with upsetting personnel issues – both emotionally and professionally – but the primary concern has to be the wellbeing and education of the pupils. Keeping this central at these challenging times helps us to be stronger and more resilient.

Further information & resources

  • This article is part of a series of mentoring articles aimed at new headteachers. The next article will publish in March. To read the previous articles, visit http://bit.ly/2W5AsUQ (September) and http://bit.ly/2sRFUQz (November).
  • Ofsted: What curriculum evidence will they need? Headteacher Update, November 2019: http://bit.ly/2E3xXdi


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