The people I learn the most from are the ones who have taken a risk, stepped out and dared to be different.
Sometimes this method of thinking, to be different and to act differently can leave you quite isolated, alone in success and failures, so from this issue, the idea for a Courageous Leadership conference was conceptualised.
Courageous Leadership is a platform to bring like-minded thinkers together. These are the people who are doing amazing things but without the network to share ideas and discuss methods to achieve. As individuals, we often look internally, without embracing and recognising the worth of the achievements and amazing conceptions around the globe. However, British education is developing. We have been given a fantastic opportunity to see who is out there, to see what we should and should not be sharing and begin to widen our perspectives. We need to discover who is conducting the best practices and who the best leaders are. Through having these conversations we will be able to model the best thinking for our children to progress in the future.
We are looking to hold an academic conference here in London, inviting courageous leaders from across the globe, we talk and we come together but we do not hold each other to account. The questions we should be asking are how did the money spent on this project impact learning? Have you shared this with other people? What were their perceptions? We need to start having these conversations and bring people together by invitation who want to take risks, to know what is going on, to be open and to share.
I believe it is so important to set this example to our children. As the future leaders they need to be able to think and act differently, to be bold and to take risks as otherwise history repeats itself and we won’t grow and we will not learn.
Conferences and collaboration are a big part of Northwold School life. Each year we host headteachers from Denmark and the Netherlands, conducting talks on school leadership, building leadership teams and collaboration strategies.
I have recently been asked to attend several conferences to present on our Ofsted journey to Outstanding. I like to stress to an audience that there really is no magic involved and no formula that will guarantee success. The last thing I would want is for people to leave the talks feeling inadequate! I tend to cover the ten most important things to be aware of in getting ready for an inspection and if anyone takes away one or two new things from my presentations then to me that is a success and a worthwhile experience. The talks are a great networking event and it is always interesting and enlightening when attendees share their thoughts with us as well.
Another exciting development has meant that we will be hosting the London School’s Gold Club presentations this year. Talks at the conference will be varied but focus on sharing good practice, staff well being and leadership team development.
Keeping safe programme:
Our children’s safety always comes first. This is a priority. What is concerning, is that this safety is increasingly breached. We hear new developments every day involving kids from every class and culture of our school. Children are using Facebook at an inappropriate age, parents are unaware of how to keep their children safe online and the issue of cyber bullying, throughout every school in the country, is a huge and growing problem. In addition to this Hackneys teenage pregnancy rates are amongst the highest and it is concerning to us that despite this, many parents continue to opt their child out of Sex Education lessons.
Although I may have dropped what seems like an unmanageable list of problems, we are excited to take steps to develop a safeguarding package for the children and parents of our school. The aim of this is to keep our children protected to the best of our ability. Children are making themselves vulnerable without knowing that they are doing so and this is something that needs to change.
We started to approach these problems last year, working with the aid and advice of some amazing people including The Christopher Wheaton project and an incredibly insightful woman, Ann Marie, a trained social worker and administrator of safe guarding courses.
Social media is developing at a rate faster than our knowledge and as parents we are constantly playing catch-up with the latest trend. Our work with the Digital Sisters, Charlotte and Emma, last year was such an insightful aid to keeping safe online for both the children and parents of our school. What was interesting, particularly for me, as a parent myself, was that there was not one of us who did not learn something new.
In regard of Sex Education lessons, there is a worry amongst parents that what will be taught will be very explicit. In reality, most of our lessons are simply about keeping children safe, developing good relationships and exploring the meanings of confidentiality and privacy. Although this is an overwhelming time for many parents and there is a lot of apprehension about what will be said, the truth is that the playground is the place in which children talk and these conversations can never be monitored. Sex Education classes are a safe way of being informed and knowledge is power.
Conversations with Petchey Academy have brought to light a key problem in the development of our children. This is the notion that, when reaching secondary school, there is a tendency for the more able children to ‘cruise’ and not to push themselves. We realised, remembering from our own experiences, that when children get to a certain age they tend to fit in with their friends. In this way, it is so much easier to go to the lowest denominator rather than showing that they were particularly good at something. This brought to our attention that we need to change how we prepare our children for secondary school, approaching the topic of ‘fitting in’ and feeling successful not just socially but in all aspects of education.
Keep aware and informed!
At Northwold we try to think about learning in a global way.
In September I went to China as part of the British Council scheme to partner British schools with Chinese schools. This was a great opportunity to extend our global relationships and I intended to go out there with an open mind. I was excited to see what will capture my imagination.
On my way to China I visited Thai Pai where I was invited to work with one of the international schools there. They were looking to discuss leadership and our curriculum. This is a really nice connection to have and if it works well then the opportunity to work with more international schools may arise. Each of our classes has their own link with a school in a different country, being named after those countries. It is so important for the children to have these global perspectives as it is so easy to look internally. At the moment we have partnerships with some of our teachers who have gone to Dubai and Ethiopia and we will endeavour to keep these strong.
Our global partners are expanding and I enjoy the links that we have created. We have a group of Dutch and Danish Head Teachers who come over every year to discuss leadership and also a link with a street school in Zimbabwe, it is really nice to have this as it is so humbling. Our good link with a school in Singapore presented a fantastic opportunity for us last summer. The school hosted our teachers to enable them to learn about Singapore maths. A teacher from each Year group gave up part of their summer to really understand Singapore maths, so the maths we teach here at our school is an amalgamation of the national curriculum and Singapore teaching methods. I must say this has made a big difference, especially to our more able students.
We have discussed with our children how exciting it is that at least 25% of them will be working in a different country one day. We try to spark their curiosity about the world, encouraging them to learn another language, try different foods and be open to change. Having all these different people in the building and as connections provides a brilliant model of what life could look like for them.
Being a Trust is such a refreshing way to work. Our partnerships are good and are broadening our perspective of what is happening in England and also further afield. As a Multi Academy Trust, we want to remain quite small, working as collaborative partners sharing what we do whilst learning about what our partners do and growing together. It is very much about people wanting to join us, rather than us imposing ourselves on anyone.
We are in the process of putting in bids to start two new schools. The first of which is a special school for children at risk of permanent exclusion and those who this has already happened to because their families have had a really tough start. This could be for a range of reasons that mean perhaps parenting skills have been a challenge. The focus is not to blame anyone for what has happened, but just to appreciate that not everyone has the same start and this is something that we are going to try and put right.
A few years ago I did a leadership programme and was partnered with Wandsworth prison. Following conversations with some of the lifers there, it became apparent that they had all been permanently excluded from primary school at a young age and they felt like they had remained permanently excluded from society.
The alternative provision is about making these children academically resilient. Many children are behind in their learning not because they have learning difficulties but because of behaviour issues which have prevented them in lessons where they may get sent out or excluded and miss vital progression stages. One emphasis will be on bringing learning up to expectation through giving the children the best opportunities. Additionally, we will support them with learning behaviours, play behaviours and social skills and support parents to develop skills, including language, housing help and general life skills to enable them to be proactive and take ownership of what they want.
One of my favourite phrases is that ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child.’ I think this means having a multi-agency approach in a child’s upbringing, which I believe is especially important with early intervention. Working with children when they are very young is a lot easier than when a child has grown up and less easily influenced, so we promote parents and children working and growing together.
Our key aim is for children to feel emotionally fit to go back into school, ideally by Year 5 and to stay there in mainstream school and to go on and be successful.
The other exciting project is starting up an All Through School from age 3-18. It has been a growing concern that secondary schools and even Universities are finding that their students arrive unprepared and without the skills to be successful at that level. A 3-18 school will take away the problem of children having those ‘gap’ years where they ‘cruise’ and have new starts. We are hoping to open in October 2017.
So from next February onwards there is potential for massive change in the work pace for the Amaya Trust. It is a really exciting time for us and we should hear back before December whether our plans will progress. We are looking forward to this exciting next stage.
I would like to take a moment to celebrate sports at Northwold and to share with you the exciting developments continuing throughout our programme.
Sport at Northwold is unique. Our lessons are taught in Spanish which means the children are learning without even thinking. We have found that the younger children, especially nursery and reception age have developed a fluency that enables them to interchange their languages happily, picking up skills whilst being completely unaware that they are in the process of learning.
As many of you will know our progressive learning style was picked up on by Arsenal Football Club and they have partially embraced it themselves. Our efforts were recognised with the FA award for Outstanding Achievement last July and we now have plans to start our own football club in Spanish this year- watch this space! As part of the award Arsenal will be joining us, organising and completely funding sports day next summer, we are looking forward to what is undoubtedly going to be an event not to be missed.
Last year our sports day was held at Springfield Park, for all those who attended you will know it was an unforgettable event. We were lucky enough to have Olympians attend to support the children and as ever it was great to see the Northwold community spirit: pupils and teachers feeling pride for their assigned colours and everyone joining in. It was a fantastic day and the winning team enjoyed a prize trip to Frinton beach to celebrate their achievements.
At Northwold we are quite unique and focus on inclusivity and participation throughout the school. For example we involve the whole school in sports day from nursery through to year 6, there is nothing more natural than seeing everyone taking part with their teams with the support of their parents and siblings. Our staff are very active; some teachers took part in the colour run as a team this year and they regularly participate in running clubs, gym and yoga together.
I would also like to celebrate the success of our ‘Get up and Dance’ event with Boy Blue. All of the children and staff came in their team colours to take part and the result was very effective and lots of fun. If you have not had the chance to view the dedicated film of the event, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMm5jKMmkuA
We have managed to create a really good balance between competitive and cooperative sports at Northwold. It is not just a lesson a week for our children, but an everyday experience.