Over the past few months, I’ve been asked a number of times how the Ofsted inspection process looks from a leadership perspective. I imagine it might be a bit like being expected to drive a train that you have just jumped on while it is already moving. The train is full of passengers and staff, some seated, some standing, and needs to be set on a course firmly enough to get to your required – but continually altering – destination, and gently enough to not adversely jolt the passengers.
Educational leadership shares common factors with business leadership but it also has its own special flavour. WC Fields said “never work with animals or children” on the basis that both are too unpredictable and, if you add into this the plethora of legislative requirements and external influences affecting schools, it makes for an interesting cocktail.
Jewish schools face this and more with an even bigger number of factors to consider. We have, in the main, an exceptional record of spiritual, moral and cultural education as this is incorporated into ethos of a Jewish school.
The Jewish studies curriculum brings so much to enhance the secular curriculum and it provides a wealth of educational opportunities, making our students very used to discussion, debates and, as they get older, analytical thinking. I have found working in a Jewish school brings a breadth to the educational package on offer and the benefits gained far outweigh any additional challenges.
There is no more precious cargo than other people’s children and, as educators, we feel that responsibility every day. Similarly, there is no single way to turn a school around.
We must make decisions for pupils whose needs are diverse. Some strategic decisions can be made over time. Other decisions have to be immediate and, to continue the metaphor, like any driver, you have seconds to make a decision that will impact all aboard. Driving a school forward involves analysing what needs to be done immediately and what can be best served by collaborative decision-making, which will bring all the stakeholders on board.
Educational leadership is a quirky combination of seeing the pride of a child who has just learnt something for the first time or comes to show you a special piece of work, juxtaposed with being shut in an office for meetings to discuss the direction of a train whose engine handles differently on different days of the week.
Moving a school forward involves knowing that both of these aspects of a headteacher’s day are really important. Being a visible presence around the school is as important as strategic decision-making and both must go hand in hand. It also requires flexibility of approach owing to the unpredictability of life in a school.
Our recent Ofsted report was a great testament to how everyone worked together in such a dynamic situation – but once Ofsted has come and gone, our train is still hurtling forward at full speed and we cannot sit back.
I now find myself as the headteacher of the children of some of my earliest pupils, bringing an additional warmth. I draw on the benefit of years of experience, excellent contacts and the confidence to know when to consult with others as well as the continual sense of responsibility.
At the beginning of my teaching career, we travelled on the blue British Rail trains; now we are entering the era of HS2. The trains are expected to go so much faster now, taking so many other factors into account.
It’s a real privilege to be in the driving seat.