W/b 13 March 2023

Monday 13 March 2023

Some moments when I’ve felt myself possibly offering something of value to the world have been while teaching.  Nowadays my role is to help create the right environment for others to teach and learn, but today alongside teaching my Year 8 I also got to offer a revision session to Year 11 on An Inspector Calls

Being a great teacher is more comparable to needing to keep exercising in order to stay fit than it is to once learning how to ride a bike well and having that standard forever – you have to keep practising to maintain a high standard.  I teach less now and so am undoubtedly not as good a teacher as I once was, but I do take my classroom practice seriously, hopefully do a half-decent job, and the Year 11 pupils appear to appreciate having a different voice approach An Inspector Calls with them.

Later, there is a final probation meeting with a colleague in a support role who has done pretty much everything we could wish for in her first year in post: talented, professional, hardworking, committed, possessing integrity, a learner, honest.  The only real development area I can offer is to keep getting to know the school and our community, keep attending school events, which is an important development area, but one that can only truly arrive with time and experience.  Such colleagues are worth far more than their weight in gold.

My meeting with our Head of Prep, Melanie, covers a range of items including a few that Heads wouldn’t have had to discuss ‘back when I were a lad’:

  • Airtags – apparently there is a small but increasing numbers of pupils being tagged, sometimes secretly, so that their every movement can be tracked.  Goodness!  Do we need a policy on this?  Yes, sadly we do.  Melanie says she will ask other prep schools about this, and also organisations such as ISBA and IAPS for their templates as a starting point.
  • Parents use of WhatsApp, both helpfully and some less appropriate use on occasion
  • Social media awareness, and workshops for pupils and parents.

Tuesday 14 March 2023

March is the key recruitment month in independent schools.  At present, there are not enough teachers coming into the profession and too many leaving it, but today I observe three Geography teachers for one post, and all three are really good.  Jane, our superb HoD Geography, is very pleased.

There are a series of meetings with colleagues, including one with Clare, our Head of Sixth Form, feeding back on a UCAS conference she recently attended about universities and higher education.  It is a fast-changing, fluid landscape, now more so than ever.  Aside from the changes coming to applications and references, some of the many points that Clare shares with me are:

  • UCAS itself wishes to be the place to go for all post 18 options, not just universities, and to be “a discovery brand from Year 6 upwards”.  Goodness!
  • By 2030 they believe there will be a million applicants each year.
  • 1 in 3 students say they would pick a different course if they could go back.
  • Applications for education and nursing are falling.
  • Contextual offers are based on deprivation index and socio-economic background
  • The average student debt is currently £42,000.  There are now food banks just for students.

The working day ends with a Finance and General Purposes sub-committee meeting at which increased costs to schools, staff salaries, and next year’s fees are all discussed.  We see how our costs are in comparison with all competitor schools – RMS offers incredibly good value, but our costs are rapidly increasing in the current economic climate.

Wednesday 15 March 2023

After a morning Whole School Leadership Team meeting on our transition to Google (which is now getting into the knotty stage of things), I have a catch-up with our new Chair of Governors.  Simon has been on the board since soon after I arrived, and he has been excellent in our Lease negotiations in particular.  He is from a legal rather than educational professional background, and wants to get to know our school community well, which is wonderful.  I need to keep Simon fully informed about the most significant issues and the biggest threats as there can be no secrets between a Head, Bursar/DFO, and Chair of Governors.  At this stage I expect that there will be a lot for him to process, but one of Simon’s strengths is he is a calm, measured, ‘even-keel’ kind of person.  Which is both very good for RMS and greatly appreciated by me.

A true highlight of the day, week, and term is the RMS “Find Your Future” Careers Fair that takes place this afternoon and evening.  We pack 60 exhibitors into our Platinum Jubilee Hall and there are well over 1000 students attending from RMS and many local schools.  The exhibitors represent all industries and there are universities from the UK and overseas so every young person attending is given plenty of opportunity to consider their intended direction at the moment.  Liz, the Head of Careers at RMS, must be delighted because her sustained hard work in making this happen has created a very special and helpful day for very many students.  I go home feeling like all the best days leave a Head: so very, very proud of my wonderful colleagues and our brilliant students. 

Thursday 16 March 2023

A tricky first morning meeting ends with tissues out.  We are at that stage of term, sadly.  I was informed many years ago by an experienced colleague in SLT at my then school that 2-3 weeks before the end of term they go through a box of tissues in their office as exhausted colleagues come in to share what they are grappling with.  My job is to listen, to sympathise, sometimes but not always to offer bigger picture perspective.  They are meetings you sometimes have to play by ear.

The rest of the day whizzes by: the Senior/Sixth SLT have a meeting which isn’t linked closely enough to our SDP but should be; I teach a Year 8 lesson; I get out and about school; I cover another Year 11 lesson, for a different group; there is a call with a reputation management specialist about a sensitive matter; I speak to a governor while travelling to a local prep school where I am a governor; I attend the local prep school’s Board meeting which is a long one, lasting over three hours.  Staff salaries, increased costs, and the setting of fees are matters of import debated by this Board too.  Presumably they are matters being debated by every Board at every school in the country at present.

Friday 17 March 2023

The day starts pleasantly with a walk of the campus with Billy, our inimitable Head of the Grounds team.  Billy cares deeply about RMS, our pupils, his team, and every tree on the 300-acre site.  Billy has lived and breathed the school for over thirty years, has raised two children here, seen births, marriages, death, it all.  Nobody knows the site better.  While he plays up to being a tight-fisted, grouchy Scot on occasion, he’s fooling nobody: Billy loves the life he has given to the school, our pupils, his colleagues.  Time strolling the grounds with Billy is always informative and a great pleasure. 

We bump into a few female colleagues at the end of our walk, and have a brief chat together.  Billy plays up to expressing outdated views on gender.  He receives worse back than he gives, and everybody understands that he means nothing more than to tease in a way that deliberately opens himself up for criticism too.  It’s an interesting one though isn’t it?  This was light-hearted chat in which wit was exchanged in both directions and the man was ultimately self-deprecating though he initially pretended to be otherwise. It’s the kind of exchange I love reading/seeing in a Shakespearean Comedy.  And yet, sometimes less than professional views are shared between colleagues in a way that leads to problems, even if unwittingly.  There absolutely needs to be room for humour in the workplace; but that humour can’t be offensive.  Context is everything.  Context is everything.  Fortunately Billy, Jackie and Olivia are all wise enough to know the game that we’re playing here.  I walk back to the office simultaneously shaking my head and smiling.

As with Thursday, the rest of the day whizzes by: I speak with Ali Henderson at Springboard, and we make plans; meet with Lucy our Director of Sport, and hear what she’s grappling with; meet Nicola the Head of Languages, in an initial conversation about where Languages at RMS might head; meet with Sophia, our exceptional Academic Deputy, about a few matters; then it’s assembly, followed by a sensitive and confidential chat with a colleague about a current issue; then parents of an ASC pupil; then a parent sharing mixed experiences; and finally a chat with the Director of Marketing and Admissions.  All important stuff, but sometimes you wish you’d seen colleagues and pupils more.  As terms near their end, and issues come to conclusions, it sometimes happens less.  Let’s see what the final fortnight of term brings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s