Updated: Sep 11, 2020
What do you imagine when someone mentions independent schools in the UK? Is it Eton? Or Harrow? Perhaps you picture some centuries-old grammar school with expansive grounds flanked by imposing buildings of classical architectural significance? Hogwarts?
These are private schools. And not the independent schools I work with, in the UK.
I choose to work, specifically, with non-association independent schools. These are independent schools, outside of mainstream state education, that are inspected by Ofsted. Specialist schools catering to the needs of students who, for whatever reason, are unable to access mainstream education. Schools set up with a singular vision and mission: to give everyone the education they deserve regardless of their background or personal circumstances.
This is why I choose to work specifically with non-association independent schools in the UK. Because their vision and mission align with mine.
As a school improvement consultant, my job is to help non-association independent schools improve their provision. I want to see these schools succeed because they provide an important and invaluable source of care, support and learning to some very vulnerable young people. I want to see their students thrive, in the face of untold challenges. So I choose to work with schools whose leaders are genuinely interested in improving their school. Leaders who want to make sure that what's on offer for their pupils is the best they can provide at any given time. I care about children. And I care about their education. And when a school’s values align with mine, the results are phenomenal.
Getting to Know You
It’s an unfortunate reality, and a sign of the pressure school leaders and teachers are under, that sometimes schools only seek the support of a school improvement partner because they have failed an Ofsted inspection. In these circumstances, all they want to do is come up from under it. In short, they want to get back to a good grade. And that's it.
This is not to say they don’t care about the students under their provision. But their motivation seems more of a reactionary aesthetic one rather than a diagnostic one driven by the need for systemic change to ensure ongoing long-term success.
So, getting to know a school and its leadership team is extremely important. After all, you’ll only move forwards if you’re both paddling in the same direction.
These days it’s much easier to do. If lockdown life has taught us anything, it’s that we’re far more connected than we realise. And, where previously hours of travel were required for an in-person meeting on-site, now an online video conference call is just as effective and an infinitely more efficient way of having initial consultation meetings. As a result, it’s quicker and easier to establish whether we’re the perfect fit for each other, without feeling we’ve wasted too much of our time.
It’s important to realise that a consultation meeting, like an interview, is a two-way thing. Both parties are assessing each other’s suitability. So, reducing the amount of time invested in the process means neither party feels obliged to proceed even if they’re unsure it’s the best fit.
What this means is, now I get the opportunity to really talk to school leaders and find out who they are. Of course, if there’s a need for a second meeting, a video conference call makes it just as easy to find out more and even meet the wider leadership team.
For example, I spoke to the headteacher of a school looking for support. She had found me on LinkedIn. We had a conversation. And then she suggested it would be a good idea if I spoke to the whole senior leadership team. I was then able to speak to them as a group and get a sense of who they are. In this case, it turns out that they’re a really great group of people who want to do the best they can for their pupils and not just get a good inspection grade.
Getting to Know Me
I take great pride in what I do. I love doing things well and I’m driven by the need to always do my best. And not just in my role as a school improvement partner. But for myself as a person too.
I like to evaluate what I have done. Then identify where I can improve and what I can do better next time.
This is why I do the things I do.
I never planned to work in school improvement. I was a teacher. Then, one day, I fell into quality improvement. And soon after that, I fell into consulting. And I fell hard. Because both allowed me to be myself at work. I found a way of helping others by just being me. Doing what drives me.
So my desire for continual personal and professional self-improvement underpins my approach and methodology for school improvement.
It’s often said that the best teachers are the ones who never stop learning. In other words: practise what you preach.
I would not be an effective school improvement consultant for independent schools in the UK if I didn’t believe in and develop my own personal and professional improvement strategies.
How I Help Independent Schools in the UK
The work I do to support independent schools in the UK involves building systems. The systems are put in place so leaders can monitor everything they do, and see how well they're doing it. Ultimately, this helps them to identify opportunities to do things better in the future.
Working very closely with school leaders is key to our collective success. Because whatever system you put in place in a school is only worth something if people actually follow through on it.
Even the most brilliant system I can devise will be worthless if it's not their system. Simply put, it won't get done.
So I like to collaborate closely with school leaders and make sure that whatever it is we put down on paper, whatever is in that system, makes sense for them. It must make sense within their context. And it must be something that they think can be done.
For systems to work a collective effort is required. As a result, it’s important that the people who are chosen to do things as part of any system are able to do them because they can, because they have the time, because they have the resources, and because they are willing to do it.
That’s why a system cannot simply be about improving a school’s Ofsted grade. Having said that, I do make sure that the systems we build together incorporate Ofsted’s evaluation criteria and a strategy for meeting the Independent School Standards. This ensures that schools are always inspection ready and raring to showcase their provision when inspectors turn up.
Any workable system also needs to include the school's mission.
Non-association independent schools in the UK exist because, at some point, someone was unhappy about the current education system and took it upon themselves to start their own school. One built around their own educational vision.
In order for an independent school to start, someone has to go to the DfE and apply to register a school. This is not a simple exercise. Certainly not one to be undertaken without having a really good reason for doing so. Individuals who set up independent schools in the UK are passionate, motivated, and driven. They’ve identified a problem in the current educational landscape and want to offer an alternative solution. They want to do something better. They want to serve a group of pupils better than they are currently being served. And this is very important to take into account when building these systems.
The end result should be school leaders, fulfilling their school mission, delivering a consistently better quality of education for the pupils that they serve, and also being inspection ready all the time.
This is why I work specifically with independent schools in the UK.
We strongly believe that we can make a real and positive difference to the lives and aspirations of the young people we serve, where others have failed before.
If you're an independent school leader we should talk. You can book a free initial consultation with us by click here.