Monday 17 April 2023
Our Trinity Inset Day starts with Whole School start-of-term updates. Everybody comes together – all support colleagues, all Ruspini teachers, Cadogan, Senior and Sixth Form staff, grabbing a croissant and finding a seat in our recently refurbished and beautiful, large performance room that we call The Space.
Our DFO, Emma, covers financial details, including a greatly deserved salary increase for all staff, and makes us aware of the significant challenges facing the sector in the immediate years to come. We will rise to them. Emma and I do a double act in this whole-school session, switching back and forth between us, and Emma’s second section provides more details on practical matters such as our transition to Google, and also on the imminent move to School Post in our use of comms.
My section of the update contains important recognition and thanks for work undertaken over the ‘holidays’, and then takes everybody back to our Mission and Vision building process undertaken at RMS in recent years. It wasn’t rushed, it involved all members of our community. It belongs to everyone. And now we need to be clear about how we all take it forwards.
In some respects, I want to apologise to colleagues for returning to this topic, but not really. Until I hear all colleagues talking about, referring to, planning around, and constantly enacting our Mission, Vision, and Five-Year Plan, then we will all keep hearing about it from me. And given we only launched it in January 2023, we’re not there yet. These things take time. I’ve been advised that I should communicate it, and communicate it more, and when I think I’ve communicated it until I’m blue in the face, communicate it some more. In time, all of us will come to appreciate that this is the only game in town and embrace what this plan offers us.
We wanted to simplify our Mission and our Vision to a couple of sentences, a pair of clear, simple messages so everybody connected with RMS knows our why, i.e. our purpose, and knows where we want to be heading. Our Mission is what we stand for, why RMS exists, and that is to ensure that “Every pupil thrives and is prepared to shape their future.” I dwell longest on the importance of us all living that Mission. For the main theme of my talk, I ask us to dwell on the first three key words of that Mission, a simple idea that makes RMS work best: Every Pupil Thrives.
It’s the starting point of our Mission statement so it merits us thinking about a bit more. And when I was taking drafts of our Mission/Vision ideas around focus groups of parents, pupils, staff, alumnae, “Every pupil thrives” was the phrase that repeatedly landed most strongly as capturing what RMS does at its best. So, I ask colleagues to consider, “What does it mean exactly, for all of us, that our Mission is ‘Every pupil thrives?’” I’ll share a ‘script’ of some of the words that I presented to colleagues because this theme is central to our working life at RMS…
“Forgive me for stating the obvious, but of course “Every pupil thrives” means us knowing all our pupils, which requires us to hear the voices of all our pupils so we can best respond to the very particular needs of all the pupils.
If as a form teacher, I don’t know which pupils in my form live for team sports, or perhaps more importantly, the pupils who live in fear of having to do sport, or the girl who isn’t currently attending any lunchtime clubs, and hasn’t all year, or the pupil currently frozen out by the group who were her friends, or the pupil that’s figuratively dying of embarrassment every lunchtime on her own, or the pupil who is undiagnosed ASC and what that means for her, if I don’t know these kind of crucially important details about each of the twenty or so pupils in my form, then I am not best positioned to ensure that they will thrive at RMS.
Or if, as a subject teacher, I don’t fully know the learning support contexts of all my pupils, or don’t respond to each pupils’ SEN context in all my planning and teaching, then those pupils won’t thrive at RMS. Or, if I convince myself some of my sets don’t need marking regularly, then those pupils aren’t going to thrive here. So our RMS Mission statement of “Every pupil thrives” asks an awful lot of care and dedication and hard work of every one of us working here. And of course we get this right so very often. But the thing about “Every pupil thrives” is that it’s the hard-to-reach voices that I need to keep working at.
It is both wonderful and hugely important to know and support the pupils who love our subject, who thrive in our co-curricular areas, who are the geeky book kids in English, or top set scientists and mathematicians, the ones who have solid friends and radiate positivity in our forms. But if those pupils are the ones we’re giving a disproportionate amount of our time and attention to, then not every pupil will thrive. Are we all giving all our pupils the time they deserve? Because that’s what we say our Mission is here.
Please understand that I truly know we get it right an awful lot. Don’t mistake what I’m saying here for me not knowing and fully appreciating that. We know from every pupil survey that we get high percentages of pupils who feel hugely known and valued at RMS. Very many of them, and that’s a credit to everybody. “I feel welcome and I can be myself at RMS” was one of my favourite lines from some recent feedback with a group of pupils. I loved hearing that line, expressed as it was by that particular pupil. It made my heart swell with pride for you all.
But while we don’t always share the specifics with you because we don’t want to upset you, the school leaders here know that in every pupil survey, in every 6th Form exit survey, and in the recent ISI survey, there are also pupils who write less positive phrases. Not as many, a small minority, but they are there. We’ve had sentences such as, “My tutor gives time and attention to the same girls in my form, and I’m not one of them”, and “My teacher doesn’t think enough about my learning needs.” The pupils will tell us this, because for some of them it is their lived, daily experience.
What are we doing about those whose voices aren’t heard? What are we doing to listen to them, to support them? Not the students who love your subject, not the pupils in the A teams, not the popular girls, but the ones who struggle, the ones who don’t enjoy large parts of school life. If our Mission is “Every pupil thrives” we do need to ask ourselves, “How much are we looking out for the less happy pupils and the quietest voices?” and, “In what ways are we setting clear expectations with other students about their behaviour towards pupils who are having a tough time?”
I don’t care if it’s less than 10% or 5% of pupils who are having this kind of awful experience at any given time, it’s our jobs, mine and yours, to ensure that we are looking out for them, that we are making the time to spot them and listen to them, and then following up and helping them get to a better place. “Every pupil thrives” is our stated, published Mission. It’s why RMS exists. Genuinely please do forgive me because that last section was quite a monologue, but I would also hope that it gives you some security to know your headteacher cares enough to draw attention not only our strengths, which this area overwhelmingly is, but to it simultaneously being our collective area for further improvement, especially given it’s an area that impacts some of our pupils.”
I had spent the final days of the holidays preparing for the coming term, and returning to this Inset talk (which covered other areas too) was part of that prep. Some of these thoughts had experienced a long gestation period. I was confident it was the right topic and time to do this, but nonetheless worried how it would be received. Most teachers are highly dedicated professionals, and term time places demands on every single teacher and support colleague in a school, so being at least implicitly critical of some behaviours, and also of some behaviours not being challenged and supported by line managers, was potentially going to cause upset. But what was hugely pleasing was that the number of colleagues who took the time to thank me or praise the Inset talk, and particularly the “Every pupil thrives” section of that talk, was far greater than usual. I shared my concerns with one colleague who thanked me that I worried it might have been poorly received by a small minority. “If the cap fits” was their reply. Though harsher than I would have phrased it, my (junior, younger) colleague made the point that if you don’t know your pupils and/or are not working to support each of their particular needs, then it is right that you are appropriately challenged about it and are asked if there is any support needed for you to ensure that all your pupils thrive.
Given that other areas addressed during Inset with colleagues covered topics including the post-pandemic mental health crisis for children and teens, our responsibility to train and develop teachers, and the purpose of the independent sector in society, I wanted to end with something a little more uplifting or inspiring. I went back to our Vision statement, that “RMS is renowned as an exceptional learning environment and as a school that thinks differently”. I believe that this Vision statement can and should be hugely empowering for us. To be renowned as a school that prepared to think differently for what is best for young women is a mandate that we can happily accept. And I shared with colleagues that I am determined that RMS fully embraces the opportunity that this Vision statement offers us. It is a command that allows or even demands us to be bold and audacious in our thinking and actions. What might being prepared to think differently about being an exceptional learning environment for our pupils and young women mean? What could that mean for our curriculum, for our co-curricular offer, for our support for pupils’ well-being and pastoral care?
I didn’t want to set hares running by giving for instances, but I did strive to assure colleagues that I have a wide-open mind about this, and that I am determined that RMS grasps the opportunity this Vision statement offers us. Being part of the fast-changing, post-Covid world involves reimagining what our world might be. It is creative thinking that will inherit the new normal. A talent for following the ways of yesterday won’t be sufficient to improve the world of today.
All schools need to be centred around a hope for our children’s future. Our Vision statement allows RMS to be centred around a really special hope for the futures of our pupils. I invited colleagues to come and talk with me and others about this, and I look forward to hearing the creative ways that they rise to our Five-Year-Plan and school development plan. I also can’t wait to read their departmental development plans for the coming year to see how these tie in with the School’s mission, vision, and overall strategy.
Tuesday 18 April 2023
After a day of Inset, RMS pupils and students return to school. Always a joy. As I leave the house in the morning there is a splendid April sun and the fresh dew of early morning. I stroll through the garden deliberately, just to let nature add its wet shine to my shoes and see the sparkle that it places there. I once watched a student strolling across The Garth early in the morning, unaware that I was stood outside Hind House, and she stopped under a large tree, stood on tiptoes, and licked a wet leaf. Brilliant! We should never stop responding like a child to the natural world.
The pattern of my day is touching base with the four Heads of School and Emma as DFO, just to check in with them, to hear if all is well (or not), and to listen to what they are grappling with at present.
Vicky in Ruspini House, our nursery and pre-school, tells me about classroom structures, staffing, and CPD. Melanie in Cadogan House, our prep school, informs me about a colleague on compassionate leave, and a couple of resignations that we were expecting and have now arrived. Rachel in Senior School updates me about a colleague with a long-term health context, and a student who is struggling at present, and also requests feedback from me ahead of an upcoming appraisal she has with a great colleague. Clare in Hind House, our Sixth Form, gives me dates and instructions for all of her upcoming events over the coming term and the summer (which is very on-brand for Clare), and also shows me her exit survey questions for Year 13, and the colour scheme that the students have selected for the extension of our Sixth Form that is taking place this summer.
There is a catch-up meeting with the landlords, hopefully some good news about work on our roofs, and a degree of progress on The Great Hall. A call with a local headteacher about an issue they have, and a series of updates from HR. We have nine applications in so far for the important post of Operations Manager. A steady start to term – we’ll take that!
Wednesday 19 April 2023
Another day that is fairly straightforward – it’s really noticeable how different the end of terms are to how they start, simply because tiredness impacts term time like nothing else. The Whole School Leadership Team meeting updates us about progress regarding social media plans, School Post comms (going out first to Ruspini parents), and staff wellbeing. I see two colleagues about a matter that a parent raised with me over Easter (ahead of getting back to the parent tomorrow). I catch up with the marketing team about the ad campaign they wish to run this summer (which links back to the “Shape your future” words from our Mission statement, and the “RMS thinks differently” phrase from our Vision statement – all good), and I hear from Emma, our Head of Marketing and Admissions, about a wide range of plans as she continues to make the transition from gathering info and getting to know RMS to making plans and getting things done for RMS.
Perhaps the most interesting meeting of my day is with Catriona, a brilliant teacher in Cadogan House who has recently been appointed to the post of Academic Deputy from September 2023. The meeting isn’t especially interesting in respect of what’s said, largely because I talk far too much in it, but it is interesting to me in that when not wittering on I am witnessing a colleague at the very start of making a formal transition from being a dedicated class teacher and member of the PLT in Cadogan House, to becoming a Senior Leader there. An internal promotion of this nature brings its particular challenges, and that will be interesting to observe and support over the next year or two. But even more challenging than that, Catriona has been appointed one of two new Deputy Heads at an important point in the evolution of Cadogan House.
Melanie Horn took up post as our new Head of Cadogan House in January 2022. Angela retires as a sole Deputy Head after two decades of dedicated service to the school. In September 2023, Melanie will then lead a new team of two Deputy Heads, Catriona and Jill, (a highly experienced external appointment), alongside a superb Head of Inclusion, Jo, who herself only took up post in September 2022. This team, working together and with the broader PLT, will need to win over and lead colleagues, parents and pupils. My job is to support them of course, and to challenge as required, to steer them within the bounds of the RMS ethos and strategy, but also to empower them to lead things on a day-to-day level. As Vicky, Rachel, and Clare have grown into their roles as Heads of School, this Cadogan team can receive more of my thoughts and time (though often from a distance, mostly wishing to let them get on with it). And so the meeting with Catriona was interesting insofar as it was another early marker of what is going to be a truly exciting time of development for Cadogan House at RMS.
Thursday 20 April 2023
I have a 45-minute meeting with a pair of lawyers for advice about a matter. I have learnt a great deal from educational lawyers over the last decade, asking questions of me about ways we can think differently as school leaders, giving clarity about legal frameworks that we must adhere to and the risks of any situation, and providing reassurance about areas where we can be very confident and emphatically firm about what our role is and is not. It is really helpful; Krissy is a great counsel over the trickier matters of school leadership.
I meet with our medical team about a matter. They are genuinely reflective, and acknowledge things could have been handled differently. I am always happy if a colleague feels they can come into my office and say words to the effect of “I tried X because I wanted to achieve Y, but it didn’t work out and now it’s a bit of a mess”. This particular conversation isn’t like that basic template of reflection, but the principle of honest reflective practice is certainly present throughout it, and I truly am always pleased to hear this. As long as we’re always learning, we’re allowed to make mistakes. We all make them; I make some every day.
For example, in a foolish, silly-old-man way, I find myself getting annoyed by Clare (who, as I have said before, is wonderful). Clare is being an advocate for a colleague, and is trying to be helpful, as always. However, I would like the colleague to speak with me directly, rather than Clare doing so on behalf of them, and subsequently there is misunderstanding. No biggie. One of the many great things about working with Clare is I feel I can walk over to her office, hear her views, share mine, better understand one another’s perspective, and then both move on with no silly ego or hangover from the original issue. All is well. I will hear from the colleague tomorrow, before we head into the weekend.
Friday 21 April 2023
A day that begins by walking the ground with Head Groundsman, Billy Lees, is always a good one. Billy cares. Today he shares his frustrations with how contractors are treating our grounds, and of course he is right. I ask him to share his views with Emma, the DFO and Billy’s line manager, and over the coming couple of weeks the three of us will work to try to move matters on.
I meet with a great teacher about how we make things work best for her and keep her motivated, learning, and developing over the coming years. These kinds of conversation are always a delight – a great colleague who I know gives absolutely everything to the pupils, who needs a little help from us just now, and who wants to keep growing and being challenged professionally. You can bring those conversations to my door every day.
We longlist for the Operations Manager role; it ended up being a good-sized field and we bring seven candidates in, from a range of backgrounds. I then observe two prospective DT teachers teach a lesson, as that department needs to grow. One is great, the other we don’t believe is appointable from the classroom practice we see, and so that becomes a straightforward wash-up meeting. Later this evening, Amy agrees to join us. She has worked with our HoD, Dan, before, and so that all promises really well for that team next year.
There is a Friday afternoon assembly that is a little bit like a Taskmaster episode as Clare, Rachel and I try to find a novel way of introducing this term’s RMS Value of Perseverance. After assembly, one surprise meeting for me today is with a parent who works overseas but is passing and would like to see me. Fortunately, I am available. He has sent three incredible daughters to RMS, and he wishes to see me today to thank the school for all it has done before his youngest leaves us this summer to go to university. Again, these are the meetings that make my job a delight, and having known all three of his daughters, and the youngest particularly so, I can truly tell mum and dad how truly fortunate we have been to have their girls contribute so much to our school for over a decade now.
Throughout the day (and this week), I catch up with colleagues to check all is well ahead of the SATIPS Prep Schools Art Exhibition that RMS is hosting for the second year running tomorrow. Many colleagues, particularly in our Prep, support teams, and Art departments have worked very hard to ensure that tomorrow and the coming week is successful and enjoyable for all of the prep schools participating, and for all of the teachers and pupils visiting. Melanie assures me everything is in place, and I should merely turn up and enjoy the official Opening tomorrow morning – sounds good. There will be over 500 visitors on-site and enjoying RMS at its best. The Spring sun is set to shine, and I am looking forward to it very much!