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Skyward reach of a young gun

Article | Published in TES Newspaper on 17 August, 2007 | By: Ben Slade

Ben Slade has big plans and is determined not to allow red tape to hold his school back. The TES continues its series in which senior staff discuss riorities and concerns for the year ahead

Despite the so-called leadership crisis facing secondaries, I have always wanted to be a head. It is one of the most privileged jobs in modern society, enabling the post-holder to have a direct, positive impact on the lives of each and every student. Increasingly, the role also encompasses the wider care of the local community, a significant but worthwhile challenge.

Having been a vice-principal in a large community comprehensive in Medway, Kent, for three years, I am about to become principal of a small 11-16 community college in Cambridgeshire. I am approaching the challenge with both excitement and trepidation. I have a propensity towards a collegiate leadership style, but the buck will now stop with me undoubtedly the most worrying thought for any new head.

Getting the balance right

Big challenges lie ahead. We must achieve a healthy balance between raising standards and developing the whole child, and ensure that the standards and Every Child Matters agendas support each other to develop potential. We also need to get the right balance between academic and vocational routes, preparing students for life and work not easy when even the Department for Children, Schools and Families acknowledges that vocational education is still seen as second best.

We have ambitious plans to move towards being an extended school and to embed our new specialist college status in the performing arts. We want to develop a bespoke "by us, for us" programme of continuing professional development, including a consistent approach to developing middle-leaders. We will have to tackle the complexity of Building Schools for the Future as we expand from a small group 4 school to an eight- or nine-form-entry school by 2012.

It is also essential that we work towards becoming an "outstanding" school by the next Ofsted inspection and look at the implications of the Education and Inspections Act (2006), such as the duty on schools to provide full-time education for excluded pupils from the sixth day of exclusion as well as the new stop, search and confiscation powers.

Battle with bureaucracy

It will be difficult to focus solely on these vital tasks. In the past 10 years, heads have had greater independence in managing their schools, yet they have had a system of frameworks and regulation that has increased their workload and bureaucracy.

I think excessive red tape and too many initiatives rushed through at speed are squeezing out heads' innovation and flair. I have seen several good heads lose their spark as they slowly become disillusioned with the profession. It is sad that these once energetic leaders become the greatest cynics. We cannot afford to let this happen.

One frustration for school leaders is that we often have to read about the latest policy changes in the newspapers. What has happened to the channels of communication between central and local government, schools and colleges? Don't we deserve to be consulted in some way before major changes are put in place? I applaud the work of the National Council for School Leadership and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. But I believe the Government relies too heavily on these organisations and think-tanks to give them feedback on their ideas hardly an independent viewpoint as far as most teachers are concerned.

Ofsted's new inspection framework makes a lot of sense but I am sure colleagues would agree that inspections should now be a moderation of the school's self-evaluation form and related judgments. I am not sure we are quite there yet with "satisfactory" no longer meaning satisfactory and the latest moves for Ofsted to report on behaviour. Unless there is decent follow up support, I can't see this being welcomed with open arms by heads. I am sure school leaders would welcome a forum in which they can talk directly to ministers and Ofsted about a range of issues, including the implications of new policy.

Not the only new boy

That said, I am encouraged by the early days of Ed Balls' tenure as Children, Schools and Families Secretary. He seems to want to engage with schools, teachers and leaders and his enthusiasm seems genuine. I have heard stories about him spending time quite anonymously in schools. If so, that can only be a good thing.

The recent comment by John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, that "school leadership is a very rewarding job but government micro-management and increasing job vulnerability are discouraging good candidates from taking on these roles" will strike a chord with many heads and deputies. But I for one have not been discouraged from becoming a headteacher. In fact, I am hugely encouraged by the welcome, support and guidance I have received as a new head from Cambridgeshire local authority and several colleagues in its schools and I haven't even started the job yet. I am really looking forward to my new role."

Next week: The primary head

CURRICULUM VITAE

Name: Ben Slade

Age: 31

Job: Principal

School: Manor community college, Cambridge, an 11-16 school with performing arts specialist status

Previous job: Vice-principal at The Hundred of Hoo school in Rochester, Kent, a community comprehensive with 1,750 pupils (previously head of faculty)

Number of years teaching: 9 Education: the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (1994-1998).

FIVE PRIORITIES FOR MY SCHOOL'S FUTURE

1. Achieve the right balance between the standards and whole-child (Every Child Matters) agenda arising from the Children Act.

2. Address intra-school variance by improving assessment for learning across the school, ensuring that data is used more effectively and the introduction of rigorous quality-assurance procedures.

3. Try to achieve a good balance between the traditional academic and new vocational routes.

4. Translating the "outstanding" criteria from Ofsted into an action plan to move the school from its current position of "good with aspects of satisfactory" towards "outstanding".

5. Embracing the school's role as the focal point of the community, using and embedding the school's new specialist status in performing arts with a view to becoming an extended-service school.


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