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Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com

The habit of collaboration

I would ask which organisation was responsible for resolving a particular problem in education, only to be told: 'Don't worry, Minister - it's no longer the DfE. That is now a responsibility of the School-Led System. They will be delivering it.' Often, when you probed a little deeper, you discovered that the school-led system was nowhere near as well formed and ever present as some Ministers and senior civil servants liked to think.

David Laws, Minister for Schools

David Laws in government put down a marker from a Ministerial perspective about the absence in practice of a developed school system.

Secondary headteachers in East Sussex have been practising the school-led system for a while now. Through trial, error, resilience - and a deep commitment to the values of working together - they have established a pioneering and proven model which others might wish to learn from. The habit of collaboration is real.

The East Sussex system comprises 26 secondary schools, 26,000 students, and a workforce of 3,200 teachers and support staff.

Schools share a vision and set of goals, reviewed annually. They explicitly share a collective responsibility to improve outcomes for young people in East Sussex 'where all young people receive a high quality of education and are prepared for success in life whatever they choose to do.'

Each school/academy is autonomous, accountable to different governance, and occupies a particular geographical and social context. Equally, schools are mutually accountable and champion one another's successes. They compete, they share, they respect differences. Schools trust each other.

'Equity' and 'excellence' are underpinning watchwords. Headteachers have recognised that a shift in culture over time has been required. Attaining real step change has demanded that schools and staff challenge their own performance as well as the normalised levels of expectation amongst students, their families and their communities.

The schools come together through a Secondary Board accountable to secondary headteachers and East Sussex local authority. It comprises nominated headteachers, local authority officers and an independent chair: deliberately small in number, nimble and thoughtful in action, and expertly administered. Members operate with integrity and transparency, and without fear or favour.

It seeks to demonstrate the power and effective practice of a coherent school-led system, shaping trusted professional practices between schools, academies, regional and local authorities. Succession planning is considered critical.

The Board's impact is judged annually on the extent to which it helps schools advance these four key goals:
  1. All students benefit from what their local schools offer, realising their personal attributes to thrive as global citizens. All schools have committed to maximize attendance and minimize exclusions.

  2. Affirmative action to raise achievement - and close 'achievement gaps' where they exist - in the best interests of students and strong social cohesion in our communities.

  3. Classroom teaching and leadership at all levels are of the highest quality when benchmarked nationally.

  4. Consistency of rich curriculum provision, including virtual learning, systematically reducing any in-school variation of performance by subjects.
In practice

At the heart of operations, three headteachers are seconded one day a week to work alongside external education advisers, employed for a day and a half a week. They identify which schools need particular support and which schools are well positioned to offer that support, believing that the solutions lie largely within the network of 26 schools. Where needed, additional interventions are commissioned, on a timely basis, from outside the county.

The Board indicates in its regular reports that the following have had particular impact on its declared goals:
  • headteachers sharing openly and confidently a wide range of performance data, to scrutinise and debate

  • detailed knowledge of school performance and capacity across the county

  • collaboration with teaching and research schools and effective deployment of local and national leaders in education

  • the networking and practical focus of subject hubs and deputy heads' group

  • imaginative and well-led projects to successfully reduce exclusions and address disadvantage

  • locally agreed actions to manage admissions across schools and ensure that all schools remain viable

  • bespoke, high quality leadership coaching

  • effective brokering of school to school support, including pairing schools with clear agendas for rapid improvement

  • strong links, mutually influencing policy and practice, with the Hastings Opportunity Area.
In common with many schools nationally, the unparalleled events of recent months have seen a deep sharing of ideas, plans and resources. This is undoubtedly rooted in the active and trusting mutual support systems which characterise the East Sussex school-led model.

The habit of collaboration has been practised by this group of headteachers for a number of years now. The habit is integral to the sector's achievements.

With acknowledgements to Elizabeth Funge, Head of Education Improvement & Caroline Barlow, Chair East Sussex Headteachers. Roy Blatchford chairs the Secondary Board.

The habit of collaboration (October 2020)


Roy Blatchford's recent books are 'The Three Minute Leader' and 'The Forgotten Third', published by John Catt Education.

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


There is much promise in classrooms
It's the stuff of popular magazines. Interview a famous person about their childhood influences, their treasured moments and possessions, their faith, their biggest extravagance, who and what they find most irritating.
There is much promise in classrooms (September 2020)

The Pygmalion effect
In a recorded end-of-term message to her colleagues one headteacher spoke powerfully: 'Let not Covid-19 define the past academic year. So much else has been achieved in our school'.
The Pygmalion effect (August 2020)

Resetting the dial: focus on the gains
A quote from Lenin which was circulating in the early weeks of the lockdown - 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen' - seems as apposite now as it was in late March.
Resetting the dial: focus on the gains (July 2020)

School's in - but not as we know it
In Ray Bradbury's sci-fi story A Sound of Thunder, set in 2055, the character Eckels travels back in time. He is instructed firmly by the trip organisers Time Safari Inc. to stay on the levitated path and touch nothing. Inadvertently he steps off the path and crushes a butterfly. Returning to the present, the world has changed.
School's in - but not as we know it (June 2020)

Will dinner duty ever be the same again?
As an impecunious supply teacher in a 1970s London comprehensive I learned from my first Head of English that if I accompanied him on lunch duty, I could get a free meal. Previously in publishing, I had been told that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
I never looked back.
Will dinner duty ever be the same again? (May 2020)

Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE)
The UK's political leaders who have nervously addressed the nation from the Downing Street podium over the past weeks took degrees as follows: Johnson (classics), Raab (law), Patel (economics), Sharma (physics), Hancock (PPE - sic), Jenrick (history). Rishi Sunak (PPE) has been singularly confident.
Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) (19 April 2020)

Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC)
There was a time Before Coronavirus (BC), though it already seems months ago. Lenin got it right when he said: 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen'.
Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC) (April 2020)

The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101
I taught in a central London comprehensive in the 1980s at the height of the IRA's bombing campaigns. The distinguished headteacher told me years later after she had retired that during those years she received by phone daily bomb threats.
The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101 (March 2020)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons
The word 'robot' comes from a Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. It was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play. By the 1940s Isaac Asimov started popularizing robots and intelligent machines in his great science fiction short stories.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons (February 2020)

A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism
A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.
A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

PISA in purdah
With politicians on doorsteps and civil servants in purdah, this month's publication of PISA results has not been accompanied by the usual idle chatter around rising and falling standards.
OECD's PISA tests have been running since 2000. They measure the ability of 15 year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real life problem-solving in reading, maths and science.
PISA in purdah (December 2019)

It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it
According to new research from Yale University, when we hear someone speak we form near-instantaneous conclusions about their social class. It takes just seven random words they claim.
The Professional Speechwriters' Association suggests that content only accounts for 11 per cent of our impact when we talk. Passion, expertise, voice and presence are all twice as important in making a first impression.
It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it (November 2019)

Why independent schools enjoy being independent
The Labour Conference votes to abolish independent schools. Social media have come up with witty suggestions about what to do with the great estates of Stowe, Eton, Wellington and Winchester once they are requisitioned.
Anyone who has attended the annual Festival of Education at Wellington College will know what I mean.
So as minds turn to thinking the unthinkable, let's pause to reflect on why the independent sector rightly values its independence.
Why independent schools enjoy being independent (October 2019)

The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification
It is a remarkable statistic in the home of the English language, and in one of the world's top economies, that one third of 16 year-olds, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, fail to achieve what the Department for Education describes as a 'standard pass' (grade 4) in GCSE English and maths.
This was the starting point for the independent Commission on 'The Forgotten Third' which was established by the Association of School and College Leaders...
The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification (September 2019)
The Forgotten Third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry

Reading for the summer recess
Radical Candour Kim Scott, Machines Like Me Ian McEwan, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic Simon Armitage, Average Is Over Tyler Cowen, India Connected Ravi Agrawal and Why We Dream Alice Robb.
Reading for the summer recess (August 2019)

End of academic year reflection (July 2019)
This past year I have visited nearly 50 schools in the UK and overseas. Sometimes it has been as a reviewer (Blink), sometimes as a leadership coach, sometimes to work with students and teachers, sometimes to listen to headteachers' views on a range of educational matters.
End of academic year reflection (July 2019)

Eight Leadership Maxims
With acknowledgements to the headteachers and principals across the UK and overseas I have worked with this academic year.
Eight Leadership Maxims (June 2019)

It's the curriculum, stupid!
Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign slogan memorably read 'It's the economy, stupid'. His lead strategist James Carville hung a sign with these words in the Little Rock campaign headquarters: what was intended for an internal audience rapidly became the election signature tune.
In the contemporary schools landscape, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has hung up the sign: 'It's the curriculum, stupid'.
It's the curriculum, stupid! (May 2019)

Postcard from Shanghai
Away from its gridlocked, elevated highways the largest city in the world works. Shanghai: a modern, socialist, international metropolis.
Contrast frenetic New York, chaotic Mumbai, the bedlam of Cairo - Shanghai hums with purpose. Twenty-six million souls occupy countless high-rise towers cheek by jowl with the stylish housing and municipal legacies of the French, British and American Concessions. The Huang Pu river bends through the downtown like a proverbial dragon's tongue.
Postcard from Shanghai (April 2019)

The Forgotten Third
Each year in England over half a million 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A third of these students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics.
Why is it that a third of 16-year-olds, after twelve years of compulsory schooling, cannot read or write English at what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as 'standard pass' level?
Why is there not proper recognition of the progress these young people have made as they move on to further education and employment?
The Forgotten Third (March 2019)

The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK
I encounter many senior politicians, top civil servants in education departments, principals of schools and colleges across the globe who have spent what they describe as memorable and enjoyable years in British universities.
The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK (February 2019)

A Happy New Year from Ofsted
Roy Blatchford drafts HMCI's New Year Message

An important tipping point in this country has now been reached. In 2018, approaching 90% of state-funded schools were judged good or better at their most recent inspection. That should be recognised as a fair achievement for the nation.
A Happy New Year from Ofsted (January 2019)


Roy Blatchford CBE

Roy Blatchford is founder of www.blinks.education - working with schools, academy trusts, colleges and universities in the UK and internationally. He has spent the past three years implementing education system reform in the Middle East.

He recently chaired ASCL's Commission 'The Forgotten Third', and currently chairs the East Sussex Secondary Board and the children's communication charity I CAN.

Roy was Founding CEO (2006 - 2016) of the National Education Trust and of www.netacademies.net. Previously he served as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools (HMI) in England, with national responsibilities for school improvement and for the inspection of outstanding schools. He has extensive experience of writing inspection frameworks, nationally and internationally, and has reviewed over 1000 schools and colleges in Europe, USA, Middle East and India.

For 30 years Roy has been an international trainer and conference speaker on English and literacy, school improvement, leadership and curriculum development. He has been an adviser to various UK governments, including Deputy Chair of the DfE Teachers Standards Review (2011) and of the Headteachers Standards Review (2014). He is the author/editor of over 150 books.

Roy began his teaching career in London, moving to be Principal of schools in Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes. He is Visiting Fellow at Reading University, was a visiting university professor in the USA, and is co-founder of the Mumbai-based education foundation Adhyayan. He sits on the advisory board of the Education Policy Institute and is a founding trustee of www.qlearningnepal.com

Roy was appointed CBE for services to education in the 2016 New Year Honours.

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