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Setting up our stand at the Association of School and College Leaders Annual Conference brought back strange memories from the last time we were at the ICC in Birmingham. The last in-person ASCL conference took place shortly before the first lockdown of 2020, under a cloud of uncertainty and the beginnings of panic – which was evident from the state of our equipment when we finally unpacked our conference kit as we prepared for this event, our first in almost exactly two years.
To say that the education sector has seen extraordinary upheaval over the past two year is a gross understatement. It would be easy to assume that everything has changed, yet some problems have simply been exacerbated by the pandemic. This impact that the conditions of lockdown have had on all children's mental wellbeing in the long term have yet to be seen, but there can be no doubt that many of the most disadvantaged pupils will have been deeply impacted by time out of school. At the same time, the pressure on teachers, and school leaders in particular, has been completely unprecedented as they attempt to keep up with the switch to online learning, continually changing government strategy and contact restrictions, and managing staff absence, let alone the uncertainty and stress of coping with the disease and its effects.
While recognising that the Covid-19 pandemic has not yet completely gone away, this year's ASCL conference aimed to look towards recovery and rebuilding resilience in the sector, with the theme of 'Ambitious Leadership'. This theme was interpreted in a number of ways, but many of the keynote presentations and workshop sessions focused on strategies for supporting students and teachers to build confidence and encourage school leaders to set their sights on achieving high.
Nadim Zahawi key note to Association of School and College Leaders conference
In his keynote on the Friday morning, The Secretary of State for Education, Nadim Zahawi, hailed the conference theme of Ambitious Leadership saying that there has "never been a more critical time for leaders to make ambition really count". Speaking about the forthcoming Schools Whitepaper, Zahawi stated that the paper would outline his plan to ensure that 90% of children achieve expected standards in literacy and numeracy by the time they finish school. He said that the strategy would focus on investing in teachers and school leaders, recognising this "is the single most important way to improve pupil outcomes".
He spoke about the importance of training and support in improving standards: "I want to empower teachers to focus on delivering the best possible lessons, and support schools by giving them access to resources and approaches that have proved their effectiveness."
Announcing the establishment of Oak National Academy as a new "arm's-length" curriculum body to support teachers' lesson planning, he also highlighted the importance of basing strategies for improving teachers' subject knowledge and pedagogy on evidence, explaining that the body would continue to work with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to provide research and practical guidance based on the "best available evidence".
"With the same motivation to use evidence wherever we can, we will permanently put evidence at the heart of the teaching profession by re-endowing the EEF.
As independent evidence guardians in the system, they will continue to generate and spread world-leading education evidence. The EEF will lead an ongoing cycle of reviews of the underpinning frameworks for teacher development at all levels to make sure they're always based on "what works" to improve pupil outcomes.
They will keep these frameworks updated in line with the best available evidence from this country and of course from abroad, giving an independent badge of assurance to our teacher development programmes… and all the while making sure teachers in England get the cutting-edge training they need to drive up standards."
Here's a clip of Nadim Zahawi meeting BlueSky CEO and founder Denise Inwood just before her workshop session:
I enjoyed speaking to members at the @ASCL_UK conference today and meeting so many of the incredible leaders from our schools and colleges across the country 👩🏽🏫🧑🏻🏫🏫
— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) March 11, 2022
Geoff Barton highlights the need to empower teachers to develop their skills
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders gave his keynote address on the Saturday, providing some reflections on the Education secretary's speech. Among his five recommendations for the outcomes of the Schools Whitepaper, Geoff Barton highlighted the need for a review of how teaching can be developed as a satisfying career, that develops and rewards teachers for the commitment they make to improving outcomes for their students.
"It requires a fresh look at what being a teacher in the twenty-first century means, how technology could transform the role, how we attract the best graduates to join and then stay in this greatest of professions, reinvented through technology and flexible working. We've talked about this before.
We think we need more than an early career framework. We think for teachers, for leaders, engaged as they are in one of the most important roles in society, we need a whole career framework that welcomes the new recruits, supports and develops them, retains and empowers them.
And which takes them on a rewarding journey to expert teacher, expert leader, coach and mentor for the next generation of teachers and leaders."
BlueSky Workshop: Exploring a Developmental Approach to the Performance Review
We were delighted to have over 70 school leaders attending Denise Inwood's workshop presentation on the Friday. The session was well received with a number of schools asking for further guidance on implementing a developmental approach to performance management in their schools.
Denise's presentation drew on research previously released in The Emerging Revolution - Appraisal, Performance Management & Professional Learning Research Report which explored how schools are changing their approach to the performance review. The research discovered a growing shift in schools away from 'traditional' performance management practices that focused on numerical outcomes, towards a more developmental practice that encourages ongoing conversation between individuals, their manager and their peers.
Denise explained how subsequently we have seen further consolidation of the staff-centric approach to setting objectives. Drawing on data from the BlueSky Education platform, she revealed that there has been a significant decrease in data-focused Objectives that use numerical measures of performance, and exponential growth in the number of CPD activities recoded.
Denise stated that this shift in practice reflects a change seen in the wider business world. There is a growing body of research that indicates professional development both enhances staff performance and benefits staff retention. This is filtering through to education institutions with wider use of coaching and greater emphasis on aligning staff objectives with wider business goals through professional development.
"There is a heavier emphasis on the growth of the individual and professional development, using the impact and outcomes of development as evidence of achievement."
While BlueSky's data and market research indicates a shift to 'qualitative' performance assessment practice, Denise emphasised that the 'less formal' ongoing conversational approach does not mean a lack of rigour – in fact, we believe this approach encourages greater commitment to achieving objectives, support to reach the goals that have been set and increased agility to fit objectives to what is needed at the time.
We will be returning to this topic with further research and guidance in the near future. Don't forget to sign up to the BlueSky newsletter to ensure that you receive all our updates.
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