Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Our Charter for Excellence - just the beginning...

Term 1 is all but complete.  The final vestiges of another "lovely" Harvest festival are being swept away by a (no doubt wonderful) Hallowe'en disco, and we all look forward tomorrow to the final attendance figures for the term, before we bid each other a fond but brief farewell for our October break.  My jobs list for the break (don't tell the wife) now extends to a second page, but I am actually looking back on a first term with not a little pride and satisfaction, and one of those autumnal glows (which may mean we have left the fire on).  That jobs list fills me not with trepidation, and it will not linger in the corner all week - I'm actually looking forward to it.  Most if it, anyway.

So what have we achieved?  How far have we got?  What have we actually done? In order to reflect on the term in its entirety, let's go right back to day one: the combined staff of the school & children's centre met and discussed what we felt truly constituted excellence.  How would we know it was present?  What characteristics / traits / symptoms are there in an organisation if excellence is present and widespread? Our first attempt was as follows:

We believe that, in order to demonstrate excellence in all we do, the following values, characteristics and attributes should be present.

Pride in all we do


Positive relationships

Shared goals

Care, and a sense of belonging

Willingness to grow

Time for reflection

Environments that encourage, nurture and support



Celebrating differences

This was our basis, our starting point.  We never thought for a second we would get it right first time, and we have not; already there are changes I want to make.  However, it's not a bad start by any stretch of the imagination, is it.  Is it?  Well, the proof of the pudding and all that....

Using the Charter for Excellence, what kind of term 1 have we actually had?


It gets a bit of a bad press does pride.  All that 7 deadly sins stuff has really done nothing for its long term image.  However, when it comes to school work, in particular to our English and Maths books, pride is not misplaced, and certainly not fatal.  Far from it.  The pride our children take in their books is in fact extremely well placed, and does our children and our school an enormous service.  As one visitor told us (more of this later) "Your books are an absolute credit to you".  Thank you.  We know.

They are a credit because we put an enormous amount of importance and prominence on them.  Children take enormous pride in presenting their books at my desk, and rightly so.  Do they always get the sticker they crave?  No.  If it's not good enough, if it doesn't conform to our own ridiculously high standards, I tell them.  Do they get sad?  Disillusioned?  No.  They go off and work harder, then come back for more.  That is true pride - what can be wrong with that? 


Loads of examples of this.  However, the one I am going to select will probably surprise a few people.  There are several examples of how well our team pulls together to achieve great things - our lunchtime gang (see below) are a good example of this.

However, sometimes team work does not look particularly matey or chummy, and sometimes it involves challenge, but it can still be highly effective.  Take, for example, our performance management discussions this term - not friendly, not easy, but a classic example of a team working together, challenging itself on different levels.  A further example is SLT last week: was it friendly?  Was it easy going? No - we had some right ding-dongs, and some people (present company excepted) getting their proverbial hair off.  Are we offended?  No, we had a high quality discussion about how to make our school even better.  People represented their views and their ideas with passion and dedication, and it was immensely gratifying to be part of that team - uncomfortable, but still gratifying.  (Even more so when the initial data this week shows us that, you know what?  We were right all along...)

Positive relationships

The previous bullet point and paragraph may make you think otherwise, but some of these discussions have actually made our relationships even stronger.  We have also faced some individual challenges, with some extremely frank discussions, but we have all come out better people, and, more importantly, a much better school, as a result.

However, don't think it's all antagonism.  A far better example of this would be lunchtimes: our lunchtimes, with our playpod, and our climbing frame and our new structures (both physical and organisational) have made lunchtimes an utter joy.  Yesterday, I was playing catch with a year 2 boy, a year 4 boy and a year 5 girl.  A child from reception came to join us, and was accepted with almost open arms.  No arguing, no antagonism, just really good fun, built on positive relationships.

Shared goals

Too numerous to mention, but perhaps a better / more appropriate description is a shared weight of responsibility.  When I announced to the staff that I had "invited" the LA to come in an undertake a mock inspection, there were very few grumbles.  It was more a case of "okay, let's do this".  And we did.  And it was brilliant.  

When you get such a call, one of the leader's major worries is "Will everyone be able to sing from the same rock sheet?  Will everyone be one point / message?" I did not have to entertain this thought on this occasion - and it showed in the feedback we got.

Care, and a sense of belonging

As I say, it showed in the feedback.  However, the exact words used would cause us and others embarrassment, so let them remain in the feedback room.  Let's talk more about how our attendance figures continue to grow, and how our praise system is on overdrive.  How our uniform is the best it's ever been.

Mostly, let's picture the scene of children coming in to school today, clutching their carrier bags full of goodies to donate to the festival today.  Already people are talking about Children in Need.  Caring, whatever form it takes, is never out of fashion, thank goodness.

Willingness to grow

Today's harvest festival was a good example - we are now officially too big for our own hall.  Normally, we have room to spare.  Today, it was pushchairs out, all other furniture out, and almost a few children out.  Yet the overwhelming feeling was of a shared experience which did us all some good.  We hijacked the festival to offer our wishes to someone who has given the school 40 years - yes, 40 years - and all we got were more and more warm wishes.

Yet its more than this.  It's not just physical growth, its the ability to allow our systems to grow and develop - and sometimes get it wrong.  The rolls in both the school and the centre are pretty much at their biggest ever - so is the staff roster.  It's a time of amazing excitement.  And scariness!  But's that's good, surely...

Time for reflection

We don't always get things right first time.  Big deal.  Yet it is in the bravest organisations that people say "We haven't quite got it right yet - how can we improve?".  That was what that "loud" SLT was about the other week, and wasn't it all worth it.  Trust me, it was, I've seen the data, and Miss Beeks' dance once she had finished the data.


This is an area where we simply never stop, and I'm glad we don't.  However, one of my favourite memories from this term is leaving the final decision on the new outdoor dining area to the boy in year 6 who gave me the idea in the first place.  He spoke to the builders, he made the decision, the builders agreed.  It was a really nice moment, not just a warm and fluffy off-the-cuff affair, but a moment that showed the strength of the relationships overall, and how it can impact positively on our whole community.

And he made a better decision than I would've done anyway.

Empowerment             Aspiration

There are so many examples of this I do not know where to start.  There are the bikes, the music, the forest school and the new curriculum I have bored you with in previous blogs.  But I think the most telling aspect of these two elements - which I have deliberately combined - is our brilliant friends group, the Buddies of Badocks, who are, as I type this nonsense, hosting not one but two hallowe'en discos.  All of this less than a month after they - yes they, no-one else - brought the circus to Southmead.  It was someone's idea, and my only contribution was "Fine, get on with it".  They did.  It was stunning.  One of my proudest moments at the school in fact.

Celebrating differences

Where do we begin?  All of the above is based upon how we can work together and allow our differences to be our strength.  It is not just cultural differences - it's differences of opinion, differences in expectation, and differences of experience as well - that can be both a barrier and a contribution.  But in acknowledging this, we become much much more than the sum of our very different parts.

What I'm really hoping all of the above tells you is that we're on the path.  We are still on an exciting journey towards excellence, and our ideal of it, but we have started that voyage, and we're having a great time.  We've made the first tentative steps on a journey, no, an adventure that will at times be challenging and difficult for us all - there will not be much comfort in these early stages.  Yet already we are seeing the green shoots of our outcomes, the fruits of our collective labours, and already I am prepared to say "It's worth it!".

So it's not excellence, not yet.  But there is much in which we can take pride, we know what we do really well (and what we don't) and, above all, we know how to work together to overcome the barriers that will inevitably stand in our way.

Not a bad piece of work for term 1, eh?

Have a wonderful break everyone - in term 2, we continue our exciting journey, and everything it brings with us.

From me, with my enormous thanks for everyone's indefatigable efforts towards our aspirations of excellence, that is all.