When Simon Clark made the decision to become a Head Teacher, he knew he wanted to lead a school where he could bring his experience in senior leadership roles, and the influence of his wide ranging professional networks, to achieve much needed improvement. He relished the prospect of a challenge, and of making a difference to pupils at a school that needed change. In 2016, he was successful in his application to become Head Teacher of Grimoldby Primary School, a school which in December 2014 had been judged by Ofsted as requiring improvement, and shortly after, had been left without a permanent Head Teacher.
Simon tells us, “I was excited about becoming Head of Grimoldby Primary School, as I could see the great potential of the school; the pupils, and the staff. However, it was potential that could only be unleashed by making some considerable changes.” Simon’s first step was to look and listen, and, after joining the school in April 2016, he used the summer term for observation, monitoring, and talking with staff, parents and pupils to really get to the bottom of the school’s performance and potential at that time. He tells us, “the summer term was invaluable for recognising and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the school, and recognising the staff who needed support, and the staff who could offer support.”
Indeed, the school was in need of urgent improvement; “the school had become isolated, both geographically and from an education standpoint too. The Interim Headteacher had begun to raise expectations, but there was no clear vision for the school. There were also many practical issues; for example, there was no school development plan, there was a limited level of data tracking, and we were expecting our Section 5 visit in the Autumn term. Accountability was low, morale was low, and ultimately this meant that pupils were disengaged and not fulfilling their potential. I was in at the deep end, but this is where I fully intended to be!”
Fortunately for Simon, there was a great deal of enthusiasm and momentum for change within the school, as well as a wealth of untapped potential within the staff team.
“I was reassured because, whilst I could see the challenges, I could also see many of the solutions. We had some great teachers and some high quality potential leaders who were frustrated by the circumstances the school found itself in and, yet, enthusiastic about change and ready to make a difference. We needed a plan and we needed to build capacity in the first instance.”
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“Doing what was in the best interests of the pupils was in the forefront of my mind at all times, and ultimately drove all of my decisions.”
- Commit to developing a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your school – it is from this basis that strengths can be enhanced, and weaknesses can be improved, enabling quicker and more focussed improvement.
- Be outward facing – secure connections with other schools, and consider becoming part of a larger network of support; this will provide valuable opportunities for learning, development, support, collaboration and CPD.
- Recognise and develop the talent already within your school – consider which staff would thrive through development and taking on a greater amount of responsibility. Harness the talent and expertise of current staff wherever you can.
- Provide opportunities for CPD for all staff, and encourage them to engage with CPD regularly – this will engage staff in their professional development, and support them to improve their practice further.
- Encourage staff to visit other schools - this is especially important where staff have only ever worked in one school. Staff who have the opportunity to visit other schools will bring a fresh perspective, new ideas back with them.
- Consider collaborative and supportive book scrutiny and observations – this is a good way to avoid a ‘done to’ culture, and to encourage staff to support one another in achieving high standards without feeling defensive.
- Don’t be afraid to take on NQTs or trainee teachers – they can bring so much to the school in terms of energy and enthusiasm, you can have an influence on their training, and this can often lead to long-term recruitment of high quality teachers.
- Ensure that the culture of the school is based on strong values – Strong values which are communicated and shared within the school community, and referred to and drawn upon in all aspects of school life, will encourage a culture and environment which is positive for pupils and staff alike.