Policy: It Works, but Does it Help?

School Policies and Systemic Change

Systems change slowly, and embedded beliefs, policy and values are slower still to change. No one working in the education system will deny that post-pandemic the system is failing. Failing systems need leaders who are innovative, brave, confident and experienced leaders to drive change within their organisations and influence change nationally.

As educators and school leaders, we have a system of high-stakes accountability that hampers our ability to respond how we need to. A school’s “performance” is narrowed down to a single-word judgment. This recent (November 2023) article highlights the issue well. The school has achieved a “Good” grade, but because it was outstanding on the last pre-pandemic inspection, under a different Ofsted framework. The news report states the “school that was previously rated ‘outstanding’ has fallen to ‘good’ following a recent inspection”. Fallen! Imagine the impact on the staff (who are praised throughout the Ofsetd report) and the local community. The reason the grading has changed? “Some pupils are absent from school too often.”. The same week the Chief of Ofsted, Amanda Speilman, has been quoted lamenting national persistent absence levels.

“Schools are struggling to reverse this trend, Ms Spielman says, with secondary schools seeing more absences than normal on Mondays and Fridays.”

This grade potentially affects the wellbeing, confidence, career and even life of everyone working there. It has also created a collective disempowerment to do what helps. To do what is right for the school and for the pupils and resort to what works, or has worked in the past. Policy becomes our bible rather than innovation.

Ofsted grading good, outstanding news report The Dixons McMillan Academy.
High Stakes Accountability is Disempowering Schools

What Works May Not Help

As with any complex organisation schools rely on rules, policies and procedures. This ensures everyone can address issues following an agreed process. This reduces the risk of things going wrong. Tried and tested policies work in keeping schools running. They don’t always help when facing complex societal pressures. So what do I mean by things Work but don’t help?

I was listening to this episode of the 10% Happier Podcast with Father Gregory Boyle who works with Gang members in the USA. He talks about ” My discovery over… almost 40 years working with gang members is not everything that works helps… But everything that helps works.” I have embedded the video to play in the right place.

This is a brilliant podcast that actually talks about a lot of things that would help in schools but doesn’t mention schools at all. Worth a listen on your next commute.

Do Schools Do What Helps or What Works?

To put this in terms of attendance what worked in the past, in terms of policy is a hard line, use the Local Authority’s power of fines, threats, strongly worded letters, and 100% attendance awards. That is both no longer working or helping. For those whom the policies do work to get into school, it may well not be helping. Increasing anxiety and a proven mental health crisis are affecting our young people.

We are also facing a huge recruitment and retention crisis in schools. As school leaders, we know we must support and value our greatest asset, our teams. HR policies are not designed for this.

I am not alone in feeling like this, Efua Poku-Amanfo, a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), states in a Guardian article “The status quo isn’t working… we need a new approach to helping schools improve. We propose a new system which empowers schools and teachers to innovate, utilising their experience and expertise.”

Courageous Leadership To Save Our Education System

I have just started an MSc in Senior Education Leadership and one of the first tasks was Horizon Scanning. Looking at what is coming globally, nationally and locally. There are many challenges and to meet these we need courageous leaders with integrity, who are not afraid to rewrite policies and embrace brave decisions such as innovating fast and learning from failure, not being terrified of this leading to an inadequate grade.

Policies: It Works, but Does it Help? School Leadership in a broken system
School Policies: They Work but do they Help? School Leadership in a Broken System

School Policy: They Work but do they Help? School Leadership in a Broken System is a reflective post based on my current opinions and forms part of my MSc in Senior Education Leadership.

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