Leadership: The vision thing...

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:
Image: MA Education

Almost every school has a vision statement but the trick is making sure that those words become a platform for action. Primary head Paul Jackson shares his approach with Liam Donnison

Do a quick internet search for “school vision” and you’ll quickly find a mass of examples, all of them sharing a very similar language, says London headteacher Paul Jackson.

No-one can doubt the sincerity behind these vision statements. Every school wants to be a good school, providing high-quality teaching to their children, instilling in them a love of learning and helping them strive and achieve.

“These are all nice visions but do they really tell us about the school?” asks Mr Jackson, headteacher of Manorfield Primary in Tower Hamlets. “I think every school should be a good school. But what is going to be special about it? What really stands out?”

Putting the words together to make a vision statement is one challenge. Far harder is making sure that the vision is more than just finely honed words and actually helps to create the momentum for real change and improvement in a school.

For Mr Jackson, “the vision thing” is a central part of creating the conditions for a successful school.

Prior to joining Manorfield in 2016 – a large inner London primary that serves a challenging and diverse area – Mr Jackson was head at Gallions Primary in Newham. During his seven-and-a-half years at the school Level 4 English and maths performance shot up to above the national average and the school was recognised as the seventh most improved in the country – and the most improved in London.

Vision was at the heart of the school’s success, says Mr Jackson. And it’s an approach that he is emulating at Manorfield.

He explained: “My most significant act as leader of this and my previous school was to set out with real clarity what our vision is and how we translate that into action for the children.”

So what is his approach to turning visionary words into action?

Make your vision specific

Mr Jackson says too many school visions offer warm words but very often contain statements that can be vague, too obvious or don’t articulate what is special about that school. Most importantly, they can fail to articulate what it is the school will do to fulfil its visionary statements.

Create a vision statement containing specific ambitions for your children and describe what the school will do to make sure that happens, he says.

“Creating a creative curriculum has been very important at both Gallions and Manorfield,” he explained. “For example at Manorfield we want children to follow their dreams and achieve academic excellence, and we say that we’ll do this by becoming experts in teaching a curriculum through wider learning and the creative arts.”

Use your vision to drive your strategy

Mr Jackson continued: “At both schools we’ve used the vision statement to support our recruitment. We’ve employed people who believe in the vision. Too often teachers are recruited to schools when they are unclear of the vision. No-one really benefits if there is a mismatch.

“When I took over Manorfield we had lots of temporary staff so there had to be a big move on recruitment. We had 20 new teachers starting that September. We rejected a lot of teachers on the way but we got there and we have a fantastic team. It was the strength of our vision that brought the right people in.”

Vision first, budget second

“Make sure that vision is driving your budget and not the other way around. If you go on the vision-first approach it will compel you to find creative ways to make that vision happen by achieving efficiency savings, fundraising or striking up partnerships.

“If you’re led by the numbers you will always hit the ceiling. At Gallions the curriculum was driven by the creative arts and every pupil played a stringed instrument. But as we expanded from a one form to a three form entry school our budget to fund these initiatives was coming under strain. Our approach was to set up a specialist music provision on our site which was way beyond our budget but we brought in sponsors and partners to make that happen.”

Vision becomes reality in clear steps

“The first step at Manorfield was to start looking at the curriculum. How did our commitment to using the creative arts translate into creative learning? Then we looked at whether we had the staff with the capacity to accommodate this new approach. It was curriculum first, then staff and then allocating the budget to resource that vision. We saw developments in pupil engagement almost straight away. Children became more engaged in their lessons. Teachers began to feel even more passionate about their work. The vision provided us with a common cause.”

  • Liam Donnison is managing director of Best Practice Network, a national provider of professional development, training and school improvement.

Further information

Paul Jackson shared his perspectives as part of Best Practice Network’s series of head-led school improvement webinars. Registration for the 29 June webinar, focusing on starting a new school and maintaining high standards, is open at http://bit.ly/2oOFw0T. For details on the complete webinar programme, email schoolimprovement@bestpracticenet.co.uk

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