Leadership with creativity

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Creativity shouldn’t just be reserved for the classroom, it is an attitude and an approach that can permeate every aspect of school leadership, says Liam Donnison

For me creativity goes way beyond the creative arts and the classroom,” explained Paul Jackson, headteacher of Manorfield Primary School in Tower Hamlets. “We all have to be creative in lots of ways: in our curricula, in our leadership, in the use of our buildings – and in our general thinking.”

Mr Jackson joined the 700-pupil school – which serves the most deprived part of the third most deprived local authority in the country – as an interim head in January 2016 with a remit to halt the school’s sliding results. And his determination and vision has certainly had a positive impact, with Manorfield’s key stage 2 performance now significantly above the national average.

It is a success story at Manorfield but Mr Jackson admits that the school continues to face the sorts of challenges familiar to so many primary headteachers, including shrinking budgets, recruitment and retention issues and the pressure on achieving better and better results.

These pressures mean that leaders must find creative ways of achieving excellence: “I think it’s important for us as leaders to try and break the patterns of doing something just because we have always done it.”

Here are some of his suggestions:

Be creative with recruitment

“We have to be strong advocates for the profession and be creative about how we translate that advocacy into our approaches to recruitment. We’ve found that traditional advertising approaches haven’t been as effective as we’d like so we increasingly share our vacancies with our own personal and professional networks. I’ve had contacts from friends of friends about our vacancies.

“These are challenging times for teacher recruitment and if we don’t get more creative then we won’t get the right people in our classrooms. We’ve also stopped spending on agency staff. We’ve used the savings to over-employ on qualified teachers so if any there is any sickness absence it is covered by our own staff. It means that we can keep standards consistently high and sickness levels have dropped. We’ve also been able to use our agency staff savings to employ a qualified social worker and an extended school manager.”

Break out of tradition

“We don’t hold meetings or INSETs for the sake of it. We’ve also started holding off-site line management meetings because in-school meetings can be interrupted. We also bring in outside experts.

For example, we engaged an architect to design us a model classroom that would put teaching and learning at the centre. Pupils and teachers worked with him on ideas. The idea was that if that worked it would become a ‘lab’ where we tested things and if they worked we would roll it out elsewhere.

“Our children visited hotels and offices to get design ideas and then reported their ideas back to the architect. The result was the transformation of a previously cluttered classroom into a modern, light and airy space and we’re now applying the lessons that we learned to the conversion of two redundant offices into a new, inspiring key stage 1 library area. I think it was a good example of using outside expertise to challenge our thinking.”

Enshrine creativity in your school vision

“I was at an external school leaders event recently where were asked what we had done since September to impact on our school vision. In my group, several people looked a bit puzzled – they didn’t seem to know what their school vision was, or if they did, didn’t necessarily agree with it. But if it is done well your school vision can really affect your approach to creativity, as long as it is clearly articulated and specific.

“We set about spelling out our vision soon after I joined. We wanted to be a high-achieving school at the heart of the community where children learned effectively, were valued as individuals and where they could be successful in all that they do.

The key is that we articulated the ‘how’: that we would do this through a creative curriculum and an innovative approach to learning, and that we would enhance children’s learning by becoming experts in teaching a curriculum through outdoor learning and the creative arts. Too often schools aren’t clear on their visions, which means that we as leaders don’t know what it is we want to achieve and we end up managing the day-to-day and being operational.”

Structures and consistency enable creativity

“If we give people the structures along with consistent, clear leadership then this makes the operation of the school more efficient, and that gives us time to be more creative. I guess it comes back to the vision and making sure this drives the operational side of the school, and not the other way around. The best example of this is the school budget. If you just look at the budget first then you will feel very constricted in what you can do, but if you look at it vision-first then it is a very different, more creative, way of thinking. You start to think creatively about meeting that vision.”

  • Liam Donnison is managing director of Best Practice Network, a DfE-licensed provider of National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. Visit www.bestpracticenet.co.uk

Further information

Paul Jackson shared his perspectives as part of Best Practice Network’s programme of head-led school improvement webinars. Details on forthcoming webinars are at www.bestpracticenet.co.uk/head-led-webinars. Read more of Paul’s advice at http://innovatecreateeducate.com/about/who-are-we/examples-of-paul-jacksons-work/

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