Make more money!

In the last few years it has been a constant struggle to ensure I have enough pupils on roll to match our PAN and therefore our staffing structure. I often get asked why I spend time marketing my school and the answer boils down to bums on seats! It sometimes feels like one of the most important roles I need to undertake is that of marketer and school promoter!

I have often battled with this concept and wondered whether it was right to spend time and potentially money on marketing but when you think that the majority of your income comes from pupils choosing your school to attend, it really is a no brainer in my eyes.

As leaders we cannot decide NOT to market and promote our schools and we need to see it as an essential part of our role.

In my previous school we ‘owed’ around £50 K to the local authority and had pupil numbers well below PAN with less than 80 on roll. Over three years we managed to increase this to over 150 pupils and obviously this improved both opportunities and standard of education for all and transformed our budget.

Year on year we face a similar problem with fluctuating birth rates and competition in our local area generally caused by OFSTED gradings and changes to housing. With around £3000 for every child, losing pupils has a massive impact.

So how can you attract more pupils? How DO you change perceptions and increase your number on roll? How do you market your school effectively?

I don’t have all the answers but I do have a few ideas which may help:

  • Work out what your unique selling point is as a school – what makes you different to other schools (note that I say different and not better, there is a fine line in promoting your school and being negative about others). Make sure your website reflects this.
  • Create some brochures so that you can give them to prospective parents and staff- the more professional the better. I got a student to create ours and then we had them printed cheaply- less than £300 for 250 leaflets.
  • Get a virtual tour done for your school- parents like to see inside a school but don’t always have the time to come to an open day-again you can do these yourself very cheaply and use free QR code makers for parents to download.
  • Get yourself in the local papers as often as you can! I find that writing my own article with photos and sending it to them works really well- I make it as easy as possible for them to put in a good news story. NEVER be too busy to answer the phone when it’s a local news story as they can do so much for your school if you get them on side.
  • Celebrate and advertise all the great things you do on social media- make sure you choose the right platform and ensure it is regularly updated- we use twitter, Instagram and facebook to make sure we appeal to different groups. It helps that we have different people who are responsible for each different platform.
  • Go over PAN in those classes where you feel you can- my staff are very clear that having a couple more children in their class is manageable given the funding that this brings. This may be controversial but given that we inevitably end up doing this anyway due to appeals I have found it is a really good strategy where you have the capacity. (obviously only in Key Stage 2)
  • Open your doors as often as you can- not something we could do during COVID but we found that increasing the number of opportunities for parents to attend events or open days really increased our numbers- word soon spreads if you are holding community and family events. We tend to work with local charities and have a member of staff who does this- our community leader -and we give her time to do this.
  • Spend time writing bids and grants- not only will you get free advertising if you are successful, you can add money to your budget to do things you would not otherwise be able to afford. This in turn attracts more pupils, but don’t make the mistake of asking someone to do it as an addition to their already busy life. You need to give dedicated time for this.

So … whilst making money doesn’t seem to be on any job descritpino for a headteacher it is becoming a key part of our role and one that I think we need to give time to , without feeling we are not doing what we should be doing.

We SHOULD be ensuring we have enough money to do the things we want to do for our children and securing extra pupils means we are one step closer to this.

When do you know?

When is the right time to apply for a headship?

I often get asked for advice about this and although there isn’t ONE answer, there are a few things that I think help you know if it is the right time-

  1. Have you started to question how things are being ‘done’?

This doesn’t have to mean necessarily disagreeing with how things are currently being done in your current school but more of a reflection or a realisation that there may be other ways of working. When you start thinking about different ways of approaching a situation or a problem then it often means you are starting to think more strategically.

  • Have you started thinking about how you would do things in your ‘own’ school?

In my experience as soon as I started thinking about leading my ‘own’ school it was the start of my journey towards headship. I think once you start thinking like this you are half way there!

  • Have you started being less ‘fulfilled’ in your current role or less ‘challenged’?

If like me you thrive on a challenge or an issue to overcome/ solve then when you start feeling less challenged in your day to day role then it may indicate that it is time to take that next step. This is often a good time to talk to your current head and ask for an opportunity to lead on an area of school improvement and perhaps take on part of the head’s role to gain experience

  • Have you done what you set out to do?

In many leadership roles in education there comes a point when you feel you have done what you set out to do. Not finished, as I don’t think we ever finish anything in education as there’s always something that can be improved, but you get to the point where you feel you have left a lasting legacy.

Many of my middle and SLT leaders over the years have struggled with finding right time to move on as there seems to be this sense of letting your current school down. My answer to this has always been to not only think about the legacy you leave but also to think about spreading good practice further. Rather than think of the negatives of leaving your current children, think of how many more children’s lives you could have a positive impact on. This is definitely the case in terms of your first headship- it’s an opportunity to use all the lessons you have learnt and to put them into practice and to change more children’s lives!

So, is it time?

If you answered yes to one of the above then it’s possibly time to start looking for your first headship! To be honest though, you are NEVER ready for your first headship and if you wait until you think you are, you will quite possibly wait forever! Whatever the training and development route you take, there is not a programme in the land which prepares you completely for headship and I would go as far as saying that the majority of the role you just have to learn on the job.

Let’s not forget as well that there are other roles within education and that not everyone even aspires to be a head. I have met many deputies and assistant heads who are very happy in that role and would not want to be a head if it was offered on a plate!

What I would say is that it is for me genuinely the best job in the world and even the horrors of COVID have not changed that view. We need more great leaders in education, so if you feel ready then my advice is – go for it!

The 3 R’s- refrain, refuse and resist!

The best thing I can do as a leader!

Lockdown has taught us so much and stretched our leadership skills to the limit at times but there is much we should cling on to regardless of whether COVID remains or not.

In some areas there have been so many positives but I worry that many will find themselves tempted to slowly go back to ‘the way things were’.

So my advice to myself is to refrain, refuse and resist!

REFRAIN:

  • Refrain from being led by the narrative of catch-up, make the decisions YOU know are right for YOUR community and pupils- our role isn’t about leading through catch-up, it’s about leading towards the future.
  • Refrain from thinking that academic attainment is the most important measure of how well a child is doing and ensure you continue the focus on well-being moving forward- this needs to be regardless of COVID. For some this has been a new focus- don’t let it disappear.
  • Refrain from making knee jerk decisions when under pressure – its easy to make decisions based on what we think others want us to do, but we know our communities better than anyone.

REFUSE:

  • Refuse to lose new learning and efficiencies in terms of technology- we have developed so much over this last year and we are now in a place where digital technologies should be used to enhance teaching and learning regardless of whether we are in school or at home.
  • Refuse to allow national narrative to influence your decisions at school level or be side tacked by initiatives or Government focus
  • Refuse to allow your COVID school story to be one of negativity or failure or lost learning- make your own story
  • Refuse to allow those fantastic relationships you have built with your staff and community to lessen as we move back to normality

RESIST:

  • Resist the temptation to fire fight and react to short term issues – we need to be starting to look longer term despite the short- term problems we are all currently facing
  • Resist the urge to bring back those reports that you got rid of or didn’t need during lockdown- do you really need them now or is it just habit?
  • Resist using the term’ due to COVID we couldn’t…….’ you make your own limitations

So, I hope I can hold onto this advice and I hope others do too- refuse to go back to how we always did things, we have made such great progress in many areas and we need to hold onto this despite pressure to return from some parties.

I have truly learned so much about myself, my community and the people I world with throughout the pandemic and I won’t have all that become ‘lost learning’!

NQT? I’m coping better than anyone!

Why NQTs might be coping with remote education better than anyone else.

I look at my daughter and how she has adapted to remote education with awe. She has, over the course of the last few weeks, transformed her teaching from traditional class based to a blend of live, recorded and class- based teaching and she has made it look seamless.

Every week it seems she is trialling new technology, new apps and new ways of engaging her children, new ways to assess their progress and knowledge and doing it with a smile on her face!

As someone who is keen to embrace new ways of working but has also struggled at times I have wondered why she seems more able to cope with all the change than myself with all my experience and I have realised it is down to three main reasons:

  1. She is not experienced and has not yet learned her ‘go to’ teaching style. She hasn’t yet ‘decided’ or become ‘stuck’ on a certain way of teaching as she is still in the exploration stage of her career. There is no right way to teach for her as she is still trialling new ideas- remote education is another strand of this.
  2. She has grown up in a world where technology has been a big part of her life and it is just accepted that it is the way we do things- the barrier of using technology does not exist in her generation as much as it does in mine!
  3. She has already had a bubble collapse and has learnt lessons from teaching at home. She has reflected on what worked and what didn’t work and has adapted her current teaching accordingly.

 I have seen many articles about how we need to support our NQTs during this pandemic and I totally agree- but some of the rhetoric around why they need support needs to change. Every one of my NQTs has shown me they are resilient, adaptable and I have been quite literally blown away by their whole approach to the pandemic and the challenges it has brought.

For me the key to supporting them is about wellbeing support- the loneliness of how we are teaching currently is the bit that NQTs are finding the hardest. So how can we support?

  • Regular check ins- these need to happen more often possibly than for other members of staff as they may not yet have developed the confidence to speak up- this takes time and being together, so nurture them.
  • Being part of the team- it can be hard for NQTs coming into established teams to feel part of the bigger picture or to feel that their place in the team is valued- relationships are built over time and leaders need to be mindful of this
  • Allow NQTs to contribute and ensure their ideas are valued- experience means nothing currently as none of us have taught in this way and my NQTs have had amazing ideas!

So for me NQTs need emotional and wellbeing support as much as anyone but they also need to be recognised for their expertise and willingness to adapt and perhaps lead the way for other staff. They may be new to teaching but they are often the experts in some aspects!

Guest Blog: Sumaiyah Shaikh NQT

Teaching through a pandemic as an NQT.

As the whole country battles through the pandemic, we have all realised how vulnerable our elders are. Although it is imperative that we keep them in mind, we still need to remind ourselves that our future will be determined by our children. Overlooking them could ruin a whole generation. We are always hearing stories of how hard parents are finding it to cope with children at home whilst working. However, we also need to be thinking about the children. Children normally ask difficult questions about our society and find some ‘normal’ practices hard to fathom. Imagine how hard it is to explain these most bizarre circumstances. How will we explain, guide, and inspire them to create a better future?

That’s one of many questions which I ponder on every night before eventually being woken up by my alarm. I don’t even remember sleeping! Every morning, whilst brewing my coffee, I think, will any child be away today? Will I get an email saying a person in my bubble has tested positive? Then I set up my computer, check if the camera is working, look through emails, make sure everyone has the correct zoom link. Just as everything is in place, the first child comes dancing through the door, ‘Hello Miss!’

As soon as that happens my day suddenly speeds up, no more time to ponder. The constant battles with technology, guiding children how to access work and then uploading it, telling them to mute/unmute.  All whilst also trying to provide the best for the children in school. Teaching over zoom is challenging enough, having to do that with children present in class has pushed me to boundaries I never knew existed.

It has been difficult. Some days I have had a wobble and felt like I’ve failed. However, I believe this has made me grow stronger. Every day is another chance to try again. I just pick myself up and think of the positive impact I am having on them. If I am down, who will cheer up the sad child who hasn’t been able to talk to her/his parents as they have been too busy trying to bring food to the table?

I have embraced the challenges and it has definitely been a valuable experience. It has taught me to adapt swiftly when technology fails and the computer decides to crash mid lesson. It has allowed me to ponder on what learning from home may be like in a pandemic from the children’s perspective. Like suddenly losing the normal school routine and the difficulty of not seeing teachers and peers. This has enabled me to use different ways of engaging the children at home/in school and keep the connection.

The positives- that blurry picture that gets sent from an enthusiastic child who is bubbling with excitement to show me, the sound of ‘Good morning Miss’ every day from the children who seem so far away. Teaching through the pandemic has been more than exhausting but the children and support from school has kept me going.

So I keep smiling and I embrace the challenge.

Guest BLOG: Edie Sykes NQT

No more white tops!

Since starting my teacher career in September 2020, I have had the craziest (due to being in the middle of a worldwide pandemic!) but best few months. To say it has been an experience would be an understatement!

Due to COVID, my experience teaching has been completely different to what I would have experienced in ‘normal’ times, with lots of added challenges .e.g. social distancing, PPE and no mixing of bubbles. However, I am proud that I have shown I am willing and able to adapt to these changes. It has been comforting too (although I wouldn’t wish pandemic teaching on anyone) to know that it hasn’t just been me feeling like this, and that everyone- even the most experienced members of school staff- is in the same boat…a boat which honestly sometimes feels like it is sinking, but I know we will all get through this together, and if anything it has brought the school community closer together.

After Christmas, my role switched from working in KS2 to KS1- now this really did make me feel nervous! Anyone who knows me knows I have always defined myself as a KS2 teacher, and the thought of working in KS1 was once something which honestly terrified me. I soon realised though that actually, I didn’t have any need to be nervous at all due to the amazing children and the strong support from staff. Turns out I love doing silly dancing and singing to maths counting songs more than I originally thought (although I have now learnt that I can no longer wear my best white tops or nice shiny shoes in KS1…thanks bright pink paint and muddy outdoor play!).

This time round though, there has been the added challenge of the UK lockdown…which means remote teaching and the dreaded Zoom. Teaching children in school, whilst simultaneously teaching children at home over Zoom, has definitely been a challenge- a challenge which has involved a lot of ‘miss I can’t hear you’ and desperate pleas for learners at home to stay on mute. However, it has also had its positives. Yes it has been disheartening to know that there are children at home who miss being in school and seeing their friends and teachers (and we also miss them), but I have also tried to look at this as an opportunity to properly connect with those few children who are still attending school as more of my time and attention can be given towards them…an opportunity which in normal times may not have been entirely possible.

So overall yes, this year has posed many challenges (thanks COVID…), but it has also had many positives and I really believe that these experiences, including the challenging ones, have helped me become a stronger NQT and person in general. And thanks to the continued support from school and its staff, I believe I will grow even stronger.

Guest Blog: Phoebe Ayling NQT

Anyone who has worked with me in the past term and a half will know I am my biggest critic. Teaching in a pandemic has been so much more difficult than I anticipated but the thing I have found most challenging is dealing with the voice of my own criticisms, the constant imposter syndrome and the feeling I am not doing as well as I should be, not in terms of my own personal success but the success of the children in my class. I constantly tell myself I am not doing enough to ensure these children make progress, blaming myself for the learning they are missing, when in fact I am doing the best I can. Home learning means I have little control over how well children are engaging at home and the progress they are making – I have had numerous pieces of work handed in which are either done by an adult or an undiscovered child genius! Despite this feeling of helplessness and failure, it is comforting to know that I am not the only one struggling, NQTs and veteran teachers alike are in the same boat, trialling lessons they have never done before using technology we would never use in a ‘normal’ year, all whilst battling anxieties around their own health and well-being.

Working in the Early Years during a pandemic is not easy. We are asking children as young as three to sit and stay focus on a computer screen for up to an hour, then completing tasks at home with either not enough help or too much! However, I am grateful to be able to have a small chunk of my class in school with me and be able to see the rest through a computer screen twice a day. With the children being so young, they have little understanding of the pandemic and that is one of the best things about being in Nursery and Reception. Every day I get the opportunity to see the world through their eyes and the experience if full of positivity, love and laughter. As cliché as it sounds, when the children come to school (or come on Zoom) their beaming smiles and brilliant personalities let you forget how scary and uncertain the outside world is. It’s easy to forget the impact the pandemic is having on the children themselves but when I am reminded, I could not be prouder of the amazing progress each child has made during these difficult times, and to be a facilitator of the progress is the best feeling. I am absolutely my biggest enemy, but at moments I see glimmers of the incredible progress these children have made and to know I have played a part in that washes away the self-critique and the voices of my inner saboteur. Although I am anxious about what the future brings, I am reminded of the good I am doing now. My children are happy in school and are making great progress, and those at home have shown incredible resilience and positivity in a time of uncertainty and change.

“I am doing my best and that is enough.”

Guest Blog- Cameron Richardson NQT

‘Expect the unexpected’ a saying that can undoubtedly explain the teaching profession. However, I don’t think that teaching through a pandemic was on anyone’s list of unexpected – definitely not mine anyway!

So what’s it like teaching during a pandemic?

It’s confusing. One day we are welcoming our children back to school and the next they are being sent home. One day our classrooms are full of children ready to play and learn and the next our computer screens are now our classrooms.

It’s exhausting. Yes, I said exhausting. Most people think teachers are having a rest at home or having an easy time in school with reduced numbers of children in classrooms – after this experience I can 100% assure you that this is not correct! Lockdown learning is exhausting. We are multi -tasking all day long trying to give children both in school and at home the best learning experience we can whilst also battling the problems technology throws at us (aka – ‘’Miss I can’t hear you’’ x 30).

It’s worrying. I think sometimes people outside of the teaching profession forget that we teachers are also human. We have families we go home to every night, families we want to keep safe and protect from this nasty virus yet we risk this daily. Then, on top of that, there is the worry of your bubble closing and the worry that those vulnerable children in your class that you know view school as their safe place now must stay home.

It’s lonely. A bubble closure means two weeks at home. Two weeks in isolation. Two weeks at home might sound like a dream to some people, but for me two weeks at home left me feeling completely disconnected from the job I love. After all, you don’t get into teaching for any other reason other than the joy you get when you are in the classroom.

So yes, teaching through a pandemic is hard and my teaching experience so far has been all of the above. It’s been confusing, it’s been exhausting, it’s been worrying and at times it has been lonely, but it has also been full of discovery and extremely valuable.

Regardless of my young age, me and technology have never been best friends and I have always shied away from attempting to use innovative technology – mainly because it was always more than likely going to be exactly that – an attempt rather than a success! However, the pandemic has forced me to embrace technology. I have used microsoft forms, padlet, jamboard and other exciting and engaging tools that have supported and improved my teaching and learning and they are tools that I will continue to use when this pandemic is finally over (if it’s ever over!).

Asking for advice or admitting I am struggling has not always been my strong point, however this pandemic has taught me that asking for support is not a weakness. I am lucky to have such an amazing support team that have made being an NQT through a pandemic possible. They are invaluable and have taught me the importance of support – both being unafraid to ask for support and being available to give support.

So as horrible as this pandemic has been, it has pushed me out of my comfort zone, improved my teaching and learning and provided me with an irreplaceable support team. If I can get through this then I can get through anything!

POSITIVE PEOPLE DON’T GET ANXIETY

I’m bolshy and gobby so I don’t get anxious. I’ve never had anxiety and I don’t understand what it feels like. Positive people don’t get anxiety.

None of the above is true but it’s the perception of many of me.

I know exactly when my anxiety started- it was 11 months after the sudden death of my dad. He was my idol, my hero and it rocked my world. However, I was so caught up in looking after my mum and my siblings as the eldest child I think I forgot to look after myself.

I remember it like it was yesterday- I was teaching year 5 and it had been a normal morning, I had prepared all the resources for the afternoon lessons and children came into the classroom after lunch- suddenly as I started the register, I couldn’t swallow or breathe and my heart was pounding. I had to abandon my class and it took me a while to get myself together. It was the most frightening thing that had ever happened to me and I had no idea at that time what it was or why it happened.

From that time I suffered from random panic attacks which always left me unable to swallow, racing heart and erratic breathing. The most frightening part was that they happened randomly for no apparent reason and I think it was the fact they came out of the blue that was the hardest to manage.

However- with time came understanding and a recognition of the things I needed to do when I felt one coming on, like box breathing and sipping water and I have spent the last 15 years just getting on with managing them and seeing them reduce.

COVID changed that! They came back with a vengeance and although at least now I could recognise them, I had to make changes to be able to manage them effectively.

This is what helps me:

Being CALM

C

Call it- if I am having a day where I feel anxious there are people I can talk to about it, this is important both at home and at work. Just knowing that someone else understands is a massive relief and I am lucky that we have built such an open culture in school where it is normal to talk about mental health.

A

Affirmations – my positive tweets in a morning are one way I deal with anxiety- they make me think of a positive every day. Some days are harder than others but it is such a good routine for me and my well-being, especially during these times.

L

Leave it- I used to get angry with myself when I had a panic attack, thinking that it was a sign of weakness and believing that others would think I wasn’t coping. I have realised over the years that it is just my body’s way of reacting to extreme stress and its almost a sign to me that I need to take time out. Nowadays I allow the feeling and move on- I leave it behind with no berating of myself for being weak.

M

Me time- having dedicated me time has helped me so much- as a headteacher with a young child this is not always easy to achieve and it often is no more than ten minutes! That ten minutes though is necessary for me to reflect and recharge my thoughts.

I know I am lucky- I have mild anxiety and I can manage it well. There are many who suffer from worse mental health illnesses but please don’t assume that people who have smiles on their faces or who bounce around a workplace don’t know how you feel. We probably do and we probably need you as much as you need us.

I’m not doing my job anymore!

It’s true! I am not doing my job at the moment.

It’s not because I am not doing a good job it is quite simply that my job has changed so much that it is almost unrecognisable. It is not the job I signed up to that is for sure!

Life has changed for many and for some unfortunately their jobs have disappeared completely. For most their role has changed to working from home and this brings about its own difficulties not least the lack of social contact. However, it is the role of those people in education which I think has changed more than the majority of others and it is this which seems to have been forgotten by some especially those in the media.

For my class teachers for example, they are now carrying out a style of teaching they have only recently started using and are expected by the public to be experts- can you imagine any other industry having the goal posts changed so dramatically and then being expected to be overnight masters?

Suddenly going from what you know to the unknown is extremely stressful and worrying for many however they have just stepped up and tried to do the best they can.

I cannot think of any other industry which expected such a dramatic change in working practices literally overnight and certainly none where the staff just got on with it with only 24 hours notice and little training.

My role as another example, has changed for the majority of my time from that of strategic leadership to managing the health & safety of my pupils and staff. Never before have I had to read as much guidance on a daily basis and never before have I felt as much accountability for things I have no control over. My role of ensuring the best outcomes for my pupils has shifted to that of ensuring families are safe, fed and able to even access education, spending hours daily trying to sort out food vouchers, laptops and stressed out parents.

However, by not doing my job I have also found lots of positive changes which may never have come about if not for lockdown. Even more focus on the wellbeing of staff and pupils cannot be a bad thing and the community spirit which has been fostered as we all pulled together is something that will never be lost.

It has also highlighted to me just how little our Government know about education or about the people who make it happen on a daily basis- this has to change.

I don’t want sympathy and neither do my staff- we just want a bit more understanding and the recognition that we are adapting as best we can and are constantly trying to deliver the highest standards of teaching and learning that we can- we do this because we care and we put our children first- THAT is something that hasn’t changed.