Review by Fiona Atherton

Headteacher, Ladypool Primary School

22 Jun 2024, 5:00

Blog

The Conversation – with Fiona Atherton

This academic year has absolutely flown by! In this, my final entry for this column this year, I am aware that we are in a period of change. Change on a personal level for me as I transition from my current role, but also on a wider systemic level.

Opening minds

Whatever the result of this general election, we are on the edge of an educational precipice. This thread by Steve Bladon really hit the nail on the head for me.

Even as a primary head my team and I are seeing increasing levels of mental health-related concerns. Many young children are struggling and the increasingly punitive measures coming into place in September around attendance will not help them or their families.

Linked with the highest waiting lists for decades for CAMHS and the NHS and school budgets as tight as they are, many schools are unable to subsidise additional support for our young people.

I’m not sure of the solution here, but I do know that compassion and understanding will be needed more than ever as we end this academic year and start the new one.

Opening worlds

I am also feeling somewhat reflective about ‘Curriculum’ (big C). At the end of every year we spend a lot of time reviewing our curriculum provision for the children in order to change or refine what we feel hasn’t worked well for us.

It’s a really good use of our time. That discussion is so powerful, and it’s while reflecting on this that I came across this episode of the Mind the Gap podcast, hosted by Tom Sherrington and Emma Turner.

It’s a joy to listen to, and it really made me consider that, as well as the discussion that you have within your school, it’s as well to listen to some experts. 

Listening to Christine Counsell talk about the Opening Worlds curriculum is honestly so worthwhile. It reinforces what it is that we are trying to do and reignites a passion that can wane as end-of-year tiredness kicks in.

At Ladypool Primary School, we are lucky enough to be working with the materials being discussed here and it’s really put a fire in my belly about what we are doing and the difference it makes. It is not that often that we get to really indulge ourselves and just listen and enjoy in-depth curriculum conversation. I highly recommend it!

Opening possibilities

My final reflection of this academic year is on a really interesting blog by Shaun Allison from Durrington Research School on growing great leaders.

Here, Allison likens great leadership to great teaching and makes the case for being explicit and intentional about it. For a number of years now, the focus has been (quite rightly) on what good teaching is, and how great teachers are made.

However, there has not been enough support for leaders – and especially new ones. The raft of NPQ qualifications, while good quality, are quite often based in research and don’t always provide new leaders with those explicit, practical details that they need to deal with the situations that come up.

Over the past few years, we have lost so many experienced leaders and mentors due to the overwhelming nature of the role and the availability of less stressful opportunities elsewhere. As a result, some leadership teams lack a lot of experience and they don’t always have enough support.

The sort of thinking that went into the Leadership Playbook from Forest Gate Community School and the Leadership: Principles in Practice document mentioned in the blog can be hugely useful to other leaders who are building new leadership teams.

Developing the next generation of leaders is one of the most important parts of our role of enabling the education system –whatever state it is in – to be sustainably successful.

If the next government is serious about bringing us back from the precipice, they might be better to leave the curriculum review to us and focus on helping us with this.

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