Leading Succession Planning to Develop leaders of Vulnerable Learners

Succession planning and talent management seem to me to be two of the key drivers for sustainable school improvement. In a federation this takes on a new meaning compared to when I was head of one school. What I mean by this is that the need to create teams of outstanding leaders for a wide range of future posts is critical to our long term success and we are fishing in a talent pool 10 times the size of a single school so we ought to be good at this.

Succession Planning is not just about succession. It is also about creating a new  type of leader who has skills and a bank of knowledge that is different and more holistic than I had when I became Head of Cirencester Deer Park school in 1997! There are two new areas of quality in which I believe that future school leaders will need to demonstrate their awareness and that I use to underpin the succession planning work I lead in the Cabot Learning Federation

a) Understand the Core of the Learning Journey-The education continuum from reception to year 13 and beyond is vital for us in the Cabot Learning Federation. We are already blurring the boundaries and the workforce in our Primary Academies contains colleagues with secondary background and we are about to do the same in reverse in secondary. The Principals in the CLF share leadership meetings that are cross phase and if we are going to ensure that our schools become and stay outstanding, then the Principals have to understand the whole journey of the child. We can support this through secondments and staff exchanges that move between the phases and our leadership training needs to set problems and challenges to solve that are only solveable by working from early years to post 16.

b) Leaders who can Impact on the learning of children who have fallen behind-The second area of development that future leaders have to become expert in is the challenge of ensuring that the most vulnerable students catch up by 16. Again, a federation where we educate such children from the age of 4 to 19 gives us a big advantage and in effect takes away many of the excuses that can be pinned on poor or weak transition. The relentless focus on student progress as opposed to raw outcomes makes the need for leaders to understand how we can motivate, engage, enthuse and support our weakest learners more essential than ever. The UNISEF mantra that we should judge our school communities on how well we support our weakest members applies perfectly to this. World class schools in the UK will do this and will show others how best to follow and adopt the DNA of the strategy for their own uses. In the CLF, a team of middle leaders who I was training in one of our succession planning programmes came up with the following list of strategies that they and others needed to ensure took place in their teams every day;

–Lesson Planning should start with addressing the learning needs of vulnerable students and then grow into a whole class lesson plan and not the other way around where we think about our key groups as an after thought
–Teaching needs to be at least good every lesson of every day
–Annotated Seating Plans should show any visitor to our classrooms that we understand the learning progres of every child in the group and where there is no progress we know what we are going to do about it
–Teaching continues when group work is taking place-the teacher does not facilitate learning but carries on teaching the students who have not got to grips with what they have been asked to do
–Marking and Assessment is key and the feedback that the most vulnerable get has to be the best it can be. We should mark their work first before we get tired and jaded by the size of the pile of books in front of us
–Differentiation is critical-don’t give them work that they cannot do but dont make it so easy they see they are being treated as less able as well as vulnerable
–Set the bar even higher-we must be aiming for 4 and 5 levels of progress not 3
–Progress check more regularly and reward smaller levels of improvement
–Display their work more frequently in “best work” folders
-Put photographs of students who have been extraordinary learners on our walls to celebrate success of all types of children
–Middle leaders from across the Academy should “adopt” a KS3 class to become their progress champion so that we dont forget that in the intervention city we live in with KS4 children we remember that Year 7-9 students also need to make progress
School leadership is more challenging than ever before but it is also more exciting than it has ever been in the last 15 years. The gap between rich and poor in UK society appears to be growing wider and the economic challenges our children will face will help to stagnate communities alongside the educational poverty that will exist if another siginficant proportion of our young people leave school with no passion for learning or future development. This is the challenge of the leader who sits down to write an application for headship, departmental leadership of their first teaching post this weekend!!

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