Ok, ok, don’t get over excited…

But it seems to me that this is the way the management of schools is heading:

  1. Group schools together within tight geographies to become more efficient and to allow you to develop a really professional support system or ‘back-office’: by that, we’re talking about finance, HR/recruitment, estate/premises management, IT, PR/comms/marketing, business information/data management and, you could add, commercial development – in other words, trying to make the most, in terms of income, from the school’s assets when the school isn’t in session, by using its resources to best effect.
  2. At the same time, make sure you do all you can to understand the local context and find out what works. Visit other schools in similar circumstances and copy/adapt what they are getting right. Involve and engage parents/carers in the right way. This does not mean putting them in charge, though. Your governance is based on people who can do the job, not simply represent groups.
  3. Teaching become much more effective, exciting and attractive when schools focus most of their leadership time on it. Going into lessons is now about developing professional dialogue across the group, not clip-boardy assessment of competence, which remains only in schools where teaching has been allowed to fall into a weakened state. School groups are now focusing acutely on how to teach particular learning constructs. Exciting staff rooms are full of people who are on a journey of discovery, trying to find how best to ensure that all children learn and loving the conversations around this. Much more focus is now given to the work of leading researchers: Fullan, Coe, Hargreaves, Wiliam, Dweck – and leading professionals/ thinkers/ commentators in the sector such as Tom Sherrington, Mary Myatt, Lucy Crehan – and how their ideas and findings are going to be tested in class x or y today. Managing the flow of people around the school and ensuring the right resources are in the right place at the right time are done so brilliantly that teachers are now able to think in depth about the questions they have designed to promote understanding of algebra and its huge significance in the learning of maths. They can spend more time considering the structure of the opening lesson on land forms and river systems, so that pupil engagement is high for the whole series of lessons on this area.
  4. To achieve this, schools are obsessing about pedagogy, curriculum, learning materials. Leadership is focused on this more than anything else. What is effective learning and how do you bring it about? So, how should the school look? How should the school day look? What sort of people do we want to be the lead professionals in this endeavour? What traits should they have? How will we enable them to grow and develop? If they need to be learners before they can be effective teachers, how will we make sure they can carry on learning throughout their careers? How can we ensure we are recognising our most effective professionals and giving them all they need, including the right pay? How can we make sure learning is sustained? How are we going to test the efficacy of homework? How will we promote learning in different contexts? What about the difference between technical learning and abstract thinking? Language learning isn’t working as we’d like; we are going to test x, y and z…..

If I have got any of that right, then the professionalation of the back office will continue apace. Five schools will use the same systems, run by people who are experts in their application. By pooling resources, schools can now afford software licenses for different aspects of the back office that put them on a similar footing to cutting edge businesses. They manage all communications across the group of schools using the best online platform they can afford? All external communications come under the control of the PR expert. When it comes to financial management, ‘professional’ assumes data is produced across the schools in the same way and communicated at the flick of a button. Clear business information getting through to decision makers quickly is enabling a sea-change in the way the organisation is run.

A boldness of thinking is evident in those school groups where this is already happening. But too many schools are miles behind in this game, assuming that they simply can’t afford to change. I’d say they can’t afford not to, if we are going to marshal our increasingly scarce resources to get better and better at improving learning.

Where to begin, if you haven’t really begun? Start by examining what you consider to be included in the ‘back office’ and how you want the activities to be carried out. Then look at how this can be done across the group of schools. Design and adopt a two year plan to get to the new design, along with the milestones you will require along the way. Perhaps just start with one part of the back office. Go and find out what other groups have done, and learn from their mistakes.

Think about your leadership structure. Learning should be the dominant focus of the top leader, the head or principal. The back office can be run by an operations manager/director or chief operating officer if you choose to use a more American term.

Exciting models are emerging which embrace this kind of thinking. The rate of convergence towards the most effective will, I reckon, speed up considerably over the next year or two. Good job.