I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about the importance of having a vision for your school, high expectations, an anonymous note and feeling discontented.
A decade’s work bears fruit. Unless you are creating a school from scratch, when you become a head teacher you inherit a school and its culture. When I began at Huntington in September 2007 we created Vision 2018, a description of the school we wanted Huntington School to develop into during the intervening decade. That decade is nearly up and a week last Friday evening I was in the café at the University of York Sports Village waiting for my son to finish playing football, generally minding my own business. A woman came up, apologised for interrupting me, put a piece of paper in my hand and left. What she had written made my evening, my weekend, my year:
What I particularly like is how she identifies that the “tone” of the school is great. Getting the balance right between a relentless focus on students’ outcomes whilst maintaining a culture based on love takes some doing. As I am fond of saying, it’s about creating the culture for truly great teaching.
I think the world is for the discontented and I am perpetually discontented. What follows takes nothing away from the priceless hand-written note above; however, this is based on a conversation that actually happened:
Subject Leader: How hard is John Smith working?
Teacher: Oh, not bad for a set 4.
What does that reveal about expectations? I have never met a school leader who has not claimed to have the highest expectations of students. But do we really? What does it mean to have the highest expectations? With Vision 2018 soon to be out of date, we have been shaping our new vision which will take us to 2022. It is anchored in the notion of high expectations:
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have the highest expectations of students and ourselves, where every student, no matter his or her starting point, is expected to work as hard as he or she can, and behave as well as he or she can, without qualification.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have truly great, evidence-based teaching & learning, where we have collaborated as a whole staff on finding out what works and we evaluate our practice regularly against what we know works in our context.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have the very best training programme for our staff, where every single colleague has a high quality development programme mapped out for them the moment they begin working at our school.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school we have the unqualified support of our parents, where parents have the highest aspirations for their children, where they work with us, not against us, in educating their children.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have a challenging, inclusive curriculum, one which is built upon the foundations of reading, writing and arithmetic, and is shaped according to what our students need to know, understand and do in order to thrive for the rest of their lives.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have students making exceptional progress in their studies way beyond what even they themselves think they are capable of making, where we can be as sure as we ever can be that every student sets off into the world with a set of examination results of which they can be proud.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have a highly functioning Pastoral system, one where our pastoral and academic systems operate seamlessly together as one to ensure that every child at Huntington has a champion.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we cherish wellbeing, where every single one of us is wholly committed to our work, but has time to enjoy life beyond Huntington School, with family and friends, so that the school/home balance is in true harmony and we embody a celebratory, sustainable approach to life.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have a core set of values that we live by, where our core values – Respect, Honesty and Kindness – direct our every interaction to the point where they are woven through us like the words in a stick of rock.
In 2022 Huntington will be a school where we have the highest reputation, one we genuinely deserve, where our excellence is manifest, where our Research School is leading national developments in teaching & learning, and the best teachers and support staff want to come and work here – and students from all around want to come and learn here – because they know they will thrive.
We have some work to do over the next five years if we are to realise our new vision whilst ensuring the “tone” of Huntington remains great.