Investing in the near future – why do it?

February in our school year is almost certainly the busiest time in my personal schedule. Not only are there multiple opportunities to attend meetings after school, I have the Principal’s day job, Head of Exam centres (x2), SB headteacher responsibilities, teacher, colleague, care worker and so forth all competing with the time available, not forgetting of course the personal responsibilities outside of school, which include , mourner, husband, parent, grandparent and the final all-encompassing role of crisis management leader.

My headline of – ‘Investing in the near future – why do it? is born from the hearing of children and adults over the years that ‘the only reason why society is doing something is as a consequential reaction to criticism’. I have recently presented at 2 national meetings (training new headteachers and holding Universities to account) and the agendas do seem easily overtaken by the ‘Whack-a-Mole’ approach to solution management – I check Google dictionary for elaboration – “used with reference to a situation in which attempts to solve a problem are piecemeal or superficial, resulting only in temporary or minor improvement”.

As a school leader, I am running and planning this week, next week, next month, next term and next year, and the change in horizons brings markedly different challenges. Monday 2 March sees the country surface decisions about secondary school placements. By Monday 9 March, I’ll have my staffing plans for September 2020 up for approval, and that’s no mean feat, given the size of our faculty (200+ teacher/educators) and the complexity of subject choices that pupils aged 11, 14, 16 etc. are now able to make within the CC educational offer. We have new/improved academic courses to introduce at all levels, including the arrival of Virtual Reality as a learning tool; priorities for staff continuing professional development are being set for quite some time into later 2021.

In a parallel universe, my leadership team are monitoring the day-to-day control systems that our school needs to stay fit and healthy. Is the predicted Chiltern Hills’ snowfall going to stop the school’s bus services running? Are our communications about Covid-19 reaching our pupils, staff, parents and wider community effectively? Have we broader ‘stuff’ in place in case the pandemic puts the ‘Thames Valley’ into quarantine? Are the Maths GCSE results coming down the tube next Thursday going to make it, reach the pupils & staff in a respectful manner and separately, has the time been set aside to analyse and handle the inevitable mini-crises that arise if individuals don’t achieve as they/we might have expected?

And so the other additional universes play out. Our engagement with the ‘Green Agenda’ continues; new water filters and bottle fillers have been installed on all 3 sites, and plastic bottles of ‘bought water’ now disappear from the sales shelves. The ‘food miles’ of our catering offer continue to reduce, whilst the quality of the ‘catering offer’ continues to improve. ‘Rapid’ staff development has seen our cooks and housekeepers dramatically improve the look and feel of school all through the year. Corona virus not withstanding, we have nurses, cleaners, staff of all descriptions securing our work place in ways previously unheard of. And yes, all week and on all sites I have been able to ‘disinfect my hands’ at will.

Any householder will know that if you want a builder on-site to make something happen you have to have a plan and obtain quotes and all sorts. As Claires Court has North of 1400 adults and children running around it on a daily basis, wearing out everything from Assembly halls, bath & cloak rooms, desks, etc.through to valves, windows, yards and zips, refurbishment and refreshing of our school is an incredibly important process. We’ve new carpets on the staircase to the first floor at Senior Boys – I overheard this week from pupils staring at the change – “The school must have given up on its plans for a new campus then!” I’ll come back to that ‘small voice’ later on; please accept dear reader that come Easter, Summer and Autumn, the builders are always with us, so the question is ‘What have we in mind for 2020 then’?

Here’s just a taster on one project for this summer – The total refurbishment of our Sixth Form.

This will provide fantastic group and individual study areas, and new technology, as well as social hubs including a cafe. Work will be completed for September 2020, creating a great Sixth Form where all therein can continue to thrive. Our current students have contributed their views and suggestions, having a significant input about contemporary requirements for studies. Our design will reflect these in a fresh, sharp, clean way. The pre-university and workplace style environment will enhance students’ learning experience and prepare them well for life after Sixth Form. We look forward to inviting you into our new Sixth Form later this summer, of course.

Shorter term, and thanks to the immense vision and generosity of our PTA Foundation trustees, we have a new non-turf cricket pitch being installed at our Taplow playing fields in April. With so many different age groups requiring differing lengths of cricket wicket, our grass square simply can’t cope in a spring and summer where we need to be able to play the game, even in a light drizzle! Their further generosity also brings in a teaching set of Virtual Reality googles so our teachers can commence the in-house training needed so their use can be expanded into the classroom from September. For adults as well as children, ensuring we have time to ‘play’ with learning ideas and practice the skills needed forms a vital part of our work-life balance school needs to keep in mind.

That ‘small voice’ heard on the staircase has very clearly bought into the vision that we do need still to ‘refresh’ the school by moving on to a new campus. We have completed our pre-appeal draft report ‘Statement of Common Ground’ and that has been shared with the local authority last month. I quote from the February 2020 planning guidance: “For an appeal where the appellant wishes to proceed by a hearing or an
inquiry the appellant must provide a draft statement of common ground (as
required by the Hearing and the Inquiry Procedure Rules) when making their
appeal. A “draft statement of common ground” means a written statement
containing factual information about the proposal which is the subject of the
appeal that the appellant reasonably considers will not be disputed by the
local planning authority.
” You can find the full guide here. Our appeal will be formally lodged with the Planning Inspectorate within the next few weeks, signalling the commencement of further intensive work between both parties. We are appealing on the new school campus and the adjacent playing fields, and securing that planning decision in our favour opens up the major opportunity for the school to complete its relocation onto one site. The obvious value of the other 2 school sites for new houses is evident to all, and the major grounds for the refusal of our plans for housing was largely due to the ‘loss of a school’.

As we emerge from one of the darker ‘seasons’ the world has endured, I have plenty of optimism that wider society has heeded the lesson to work more collaboratively together. Whether it will maintain that approach only time will tell, but we won’t manage ‘climate change’ nor ‘pandemic’ without working much more in unison, let alone develop effective new relationships within Europe and the 4 home countries. Our young people have every reason to ‘channel their Greta Thunberg’ and demand that we don’t let them down. It is indeed their future that we hold in our hands, and hearing their voice and making sure we create a worthwhile legacy for them will in turn educate them to do the same for their future generations to come.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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2 Responses to Investing in the near future – why do it?

  1. Ben Brown says:

    James, focusing on the wider world and the minutiae is the challenge for the school leader. As we have discussed previously I believe the focus on early years pay dividends later many times over. As a trust at DRET we have managed to become the national trust leader i primary in 3 years but understanding that secondary will take 5 years is key to us being successful, there is no quick fix.
    Your school is a leading light and the conversations we have had are key to driving my vision for education in this country, state or independent, to a stronger position. You will get to your new place soon and it will be for the better, we (as a community) will support it all the way.
    Great read as always, thank you for your insight.
    Regards Ben

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