Ethical, inclusive and unapologetically ambitious for students’ success

Louise Jackson, Executive Principal, Inspiration Trust 

The resolve of school leaders has certainly been tested over the last few months. I am constantly in awe of the challenges that educational leaders tackle, and my recent experience is that the sense of collegiality within the profession is currently stronger and more supportive than it ever has been. In the new landscape of increased health and safety measures and stringent risk assessments, school leaders are balancing these priorities against the drive to continue to deliver the high quality learning and pastoral support that our students need.

So what can we learn from reflecting on this unprecedented period as leaders? The focus on ethical leadership is crucial; having the determination to pursue what we each think is right for our Trusts, our schools, our students and families in an uncertain landscape. In a recent meeting of Principals and Trust leaders, our CEO, Dame Rachel de Souza, posed some key questions around ethos and the culture we strive to shape for the the organisation we lead:

  • What makes our leadership approach unique?
  • How has our culture and ethos changed as an organisation in 2020?
  • How many of us take at least 3 hours per week to read and reflect as leaders?

It is refreshing to stop and take time to think through the answers to these questions and how we would formulate an informed response. In my role, I’ve been lucky to have been offered personalised leadership coaching, and through this have benefited in pinpointing my own leadership priorities and taking time to reflect on how these chime with my colleagues and the organisation I work within.

On a practical level, leaders have had to develop their expertise around the use of Google Classroom and other online platforms to support robust remote learning strategies for students. This expertise has also supported our work in developing online CPD and high quality materials for our staff – almost extinct are the days of the face to face training room, and online virtual breakouts are now where the real thinking happens.

Leadership that is inclusive for all students is key to ensure no one is left behind in these uncertain times. Inclusivity is a theme that permeates all aspects of our Trust’s staff training programme, and we believe that leadership development is the key to real, sustainable change in our schools. We offer a suite of NPQ courses in partnership with Ambition Institute, and we are delivery partners for the ECF programme. Our record speaks for itself in terms of the number of senior leadership posts filled from within; our Aspiring to Headship programme has seen three of the cohort’s participants  move into headship positions this year alone.

Our staff collaborate and share their experiences through structured subject communities and network groups, and the feedback is clear – through meaningful conversations about career development and line managers who intuitively know how best to support their staff, our leaders move from strength to strength:

“The Trust has been so supportive with CPD opportunities, career conversations and encouragement. With the Trust I have had the opportunity to contribute my ideas freely to my school and Trust leaders, to visit and learn from other schools and even to present at our English conference. I have felt supported and backed since the moment I joined in 2018.”

Leadership changes lives – as trite as it sounds, it’s true. In my 12 years as a senior leader and more recently as a school governor, I have worked in schools with some of the most challenging circumstances and levels of deprivation nationally, and it’s the determination of strong, resilient and relentless leaders that influences the pathways those young people take in their futures. Recently, our Trust has grasped the opportunity to participate in a ground-breaking and innovative new leadership programme involving a consortium of high performing UK schools (Star Institute, Dixons Academies Trust and Outwood Grange Academies Trust), and the Leverage Leadership Institute in the United States. Following the principles of Leverage Leadership, the Exemplary Leadership Programme will guide leaders in how to establish a strong school culture (routines and behaviour management), effective teaching, founded on direct instruction, and aspirational outcomes for pupils through a knowledge-rich curriculum. Training will follow a series of ‘see it, name it, do it’ cycles so that participants both explore the theory and are supported in its implementation in the context of their own school improvement priorities. For me, this model of high quality collaboration is a sign of the commitment school leaders have to share expertise, and develop the conversation around improvement in a transparent, transformational way.

As we look to the future, we must keep ethical leadership at the forefront of our approach; only we know what is right for our students and our communities. Reaching for the highest standards for our young people is their entitlement, and we must remain unapologetically ambitious as we tackle this goal together.