I am off to fresh woods and pastures new.
I am in my eighteenth and final year as a secondary school headteacher. In September, for the first time in over three decades, I will not be a member of school staff.
So, many people get to my position and attempt to articulate what they have learnt about leading schools. Why should I be any different? This is the third in a series of brief posts over the last few weeks of the school year, in which I explain a number of things I have learnt about headship.
I have learnt that school leaders have to know their stuff in order to have meaningful conversations about the work of developing the curriculum and improving teaching & learning.
Knowing about the curriculum is particularly important!
Teachers need to be sure that you know what you are talking about if you are going to help them improve their classroom practice. And how can you support colleagues to improve if you do not understand what they are teaching?
I have spent the last five years broadening and deepening my knowledge of all things curriculum. Working with people like Tom Sherrington and Mary Myatt, I have been making up for lost time and become a bit of a curriculum obsessive.
Working with Mary Myatt, our latest project is called “Huh”. It comprises a new book, a series of interviews with subject leaders which will appear on Mary Myatt & Co video channel in the autumn and, next year, curriculum development training materials.
The thing is, schools need to have purchase on the curriculum: why they teach the subjects beyond preparation for examinations, what they are intending to achieve with the curriculum, how well it is planned and enacted in classrooms and how they know whether it’s doing what it’s supposed to.
Fundamental to this understanding are the conversations between subject leaders and their line managers. However, there is sometimes a mismatch between the subject specialisms of senior leaders and those they line manage. If I don’t know the terrain and the importance of a particular subject, how can I talk intelligently with the colleagues who are specialists? For instance, I attained a CSE grade 1 in German in 1980 whilst Cherry, our utterly expert subject leader of languages, has a degree in German and Russian from Cambridge. I line manage languages…
Our book sets out to offer some tentative answers to these questions, with the aim of upskilling senior leaders about the school curriculum. Each of the national curriculum subjects is discussed with a practising subject leader and provides an insight into what they view as the importance of the subject, how they go about ensuring that knowledge, understanding and skills are developed over time, how they talk about the quality of the schemes in their departments and what they would welcome from senior leaders by way of support.
But why Huh?! Well, “Huh?” may be my first response when I walk into a Year 8 German class but, in fact, we chose “Huh” as the title of our book as he is the Egyptian god of endlessness. As Claire Hill so eloquently comments in the book, “Curriculum development is an ongoing process; it’s not going to be finished, ever.” And Mary and I believe that “Huh” captures a healthy and expansive way of considering curriculum conversations.
With finance, buildings, and human resources issues to deal with it is easy to lose sight of the main job of headteachers – to know how to develop the curriculum and help improve teaching & learning. Some who have left the classroom completely find it hard to maintain a good level of knowledge and expertise unless they work hard to keep abreast of curricular and pedagogic thinking.
Looking back, I wish I had focused upon the school curriculum when I first became a headteacher 18 years ago, for what is a school, if it is not what our children learn?