Right. Jo, we’ve both safely made it back to HMC in Edinburgh. We’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time chatting to colleagues, attended a variety of seminars, and learned a lot from our dialogue with various people. I know you went to the assessment session. What did you make of it?
Yeah. It was a great session. A professor from Manchester University spoke to us, and it was fascinating. In the biomedical sciences area, she said they’ve made leaps forward in their assessments. Student surveys have been conducted to find out what is working and what isn’t, and they are offering their students a variety of ways to submit their work. It may be that they write an article or it could be that they give a presentation. They’re finding that giving students the opportunity of choice is really working for them. Ultimately, patient care is what matters most to them. Not everybody is going to always do things the same way. It’s all about the outcome and the safety of the patient, and how you achieve that will depend on who you are.
This raises the old question of how robust all these things are if you’re doing them differently. It was asked why people hold onto the assessments like we do and continue to use them because they think they are robust. By being more creative with assessments, they don’t see how they can possibly be as robust as these assessments that have been around for a long time.
That was the topic of discussion. They felt that schools were so far removed from universities and what they are doing at the moment, how can we even begin to take steps forward to get to that point and have that seen as being robust?
It’s a very interesting dialogue to have, isn’t it Jo? Measuring people’s competencies isn’t necessarily reflected by a score on a piece of paper. I think videoing people at work or allowing that as an option you borrow from the Einstein saying, “if you choose to assess the fish on its ability to climb a tree, it’ll fail every time”. That’s spot on, and it helps people figure out what they’re good at and what they need to work on.
I actually believe it would work better than people think it would. As for myself, amongst many sessions I attended, the inspection session which did become rather edgy because a couple of staff saw fit to challenge the ISI representative. I’m not sure if that was the right time or place for such a challenge since it turned into a pub argument of he said she said. However, you could see that there was a lot of consternation on behalf of heads who were attending. I can see why because leadership and management sit right at the top of the inspection rubric right now. ISI have their own reasons for prioritising leadership and management. Perhaps they feel the leadership of the independent sector isn’t as insightful or accountable as it could be.
I think that’s caused some consternation. In my opinion, it should have been done with better consultation and input from heads because the goal is to get buy-in from people. But I can see why they’ve done it. I don’t think it warranted the reaction it deserved because if you’re competent at running a school, you would probably value the input of other experienced colleagues giving you their learned opinions.
So I think it’s still up for debate from what I understand. I think some regulations are about to change in schools, which will affect both leadership and management. It’s clear that the leadership and management competencies and the spread of those competencies are set to change within the independent sector. That’s sort of our assessment of leadership and management based on what we had to consider.
Also, I went to a further ISI session, Adam. It was really interesting, with a different emphasis to the one you attended. They didn’t pose quite such controversial questions as they did in the one that you were in but what was really interesting is that it linked in a way back to the assessment session that I was talking about, and rather than focusing on leadership necessarily this time, they focused on well-being and how they were they going to track it, and if they were going to track it, what was their baseline? What are they comparing it to? And would they share any baseline that they’ve had beforehand? It really showed me how senior leaders are now relying on these tight frameworks. Any nervousness about something new that’s coming out is the fact that they don’t know the framework inside out like they do now. They have real confidence in the current framework, whereas, at the beginning, there may have been questions, but it’s always this nervousness around any change. I truly believe that schools that are confident in their policies and procedures, and if they’re in place and being lived and breathed throughout the school, then they have absolutely nothing to worry about.
So, I just thought it’s very interesting how even the two talks that I went to on assessment and ISI were absolutely directly linked, and these subtle changes are happening slowly. I think as a sector, we don’t do change management very well. This is probably why we are so popular with CPD and insets because we are a notoriously conservative sector within the UK. Because of our legacy thinking and our heritage thinking, we don’t necessarily move forward quickly and embrace new ideas.
One of the other sessions we attended was the Netflix session. I know we both had opinions about it and felt similarly and differently. So over to you to share your thoughts.
I would probably summarise this one to say, well, it was actually just about leaving doors open, and it was motivational in that it said you’re going to fail a lot, and that it is actually a first attempt in learning, and it’s a lot of what schools try to teach. Just make sure you know, like in a restaurant, that the kitchen doors open both ways. That was the one thing that I remembered from what he was saying. Do not give up and make sure you always go back but also look forward. I think that’s probably what I took from what he was saying. I think what was quite surprising was that most of what was said was common sense. Maybe it’s not, maybe executing common sense ideas consistently is the key to creating a greater organisation like Netflix. Nevertheless, having a variety of options and knowing the difference between one-way and two-way doors is crucial. Being prepared to fall forward, stand back up and fall forward again until you get things exactly as you want them to be.
All that I would have thought was fairly common management thinking. As such, it was well expressed and quite inspiring to hear. I don’t think there was anything particularly new there. That was a surprise to me. Hence, you know, Netflix’s X factor; what is it? It must come from somewhere else because it’s not just those three facets of the organisation. But as I’ve sat back and I thought about it, maybe I was expecting more. Perhaps I am being too harsh in expecting more from him when he was actually just sitting there saying, “I’m just me.” There’s nothing extraordinary. Anybody can do this. Just remember these common-sense things and just keep moving forward.
Maybe that was the point, Jo. The secret to a great organisation isn’t something special. You simply have to execute them consistently. What I did take from him, as a founder of a very large corporation, was his sense of humanity. I think he had a very strong sense that people count as social beings. They weren’t just machines or levers or dials that you turned around to get the company to perform. There was a real value of people’s social input to the company. He said “Don’t put me on a pedestal or anything like that. Anyone could do what I’ve done. It’s just about being consistent and staying positive because things may not go the way that you want them to.” I think it was a great way to get you to think about the smaller things. Smaller things done well become big things.
We also both went to see Tanni Grey-Thompson, and as a Welsh person to see somebody who is very close to my heart, very close to my thinking. I remember all through my formative years watching the tremendous things she did in the Paralympics and her being an inspiration to us all. I think it’s fair to say she was a remarkably insightful person to listen to. She really was quite different, she spoke from the heart about her ups and downs and her journey in a very different way. And again, the same message of not giving up. And for me, I picked up more on the family aspect than from Mark. He talked about the business, the team and the collaboration within the team that he was working with. In her speech, she talked about her parents and the drive she gained from them, as well as how one person in a school shut her in a cupboard so that people wouldn’t notice she was there because she was in a wheelchair. She was really focusing on particular people in her life that had given her opportunities, not necessarily talking about what she achieved. She did talk about the medals that she got. However, it was about the people along the way that really inspired her and helped her to get to those things.
She actually played down the sporting achievement quite a lot by saying, you know, sixteen or seventeen medals were won in twenty minutes on track over fourteen years. So the amount of time spent in relation to her life and her training was tiny. I think again, what struck me was the importance of her family and her daughter and her parents and referencing a Head who for several years was far too busy to fill in any forms to serve tests on that she should not be admitted to main stream education and in fact kept her there, I thought was very impressive.
My other takeaway in terms of inspiration and insight was to continue doing whatever you are doing. Keep chipping away. Keep doing the training and don’t get put off by the knockers. The way she described the person who said this is for losers and then she continued on to win gold medals at the Paralympics the following year was very humorous to me. The same person was there and declined to speak to her and pretend that he couldn’t see her after insinuating that she was somewhat over the hill. She had that self-belief in abundance. It wasn’t going to be put off by an officious steward who was trying to tell her what to do.
I also took away some parenting advice. She had planned when she was going to get married and when she was going to have children around her athletic career and timing it for these different competitions. She’s so organised and plans so much, so there are so many things she can teach us. The fact that she was able to laugh at herself and realise all of these different aspects when you are trying to keep a career or something going, you need to manage that effectively as well, and she did just that.
For me, and maybe you don’t agree, but Sir Geoff at the end talking about inclusion, race, I think is a good example of the conference’s theme, which is the ills of the world are made good but the good things that people do on a regular basis. And you, I’m sure, will have your opinion on it, but I did find them remarkably inspirational.
When you look back on what Mark said, he touched on this in one way, then Tanni expanded on it in a different way about the family and people surrounding her. Later on, Sir Geoff went on to say that it is all about people, and the right people with the right mindset, and that he was fortunate enough to come across these people at this time. Instead of saying, oh look at me, this is what I’ve done, he said something humbling. These people actually supported him at this particular moment in time and helped him get to where he is today. And I suppose at the conference, it came at exactly the right point, they had us up and singing. That was amazing and really good fun.
Absolutely. It was orchestrated either consciously or unconsciously to build to a genuinely enjoyable crescendo. Just like Tanni, Sir Geoff was also able to benefit from serendipitous encounters along the way, such as the civil servant who knocked on his mom’s door and said, “No, this boy needs to attend school for just one month.” He was admitted to grammar school because he was seen playing cricket, then the university colleague who said well, look, you know, you will graduate in three years which set him off on his career. What emerged to be a master brewing, of course, helped Nigeria brew Guinness that was far nicer than Indigenous Guinness which was a wonderful story.
However, I think it created a pleasing crescendo by segueing from one speaker to another. It was very special, and I’m glad he took so much time to come and talk to us personally.
As a scientist, I am interested in learning more about botany and how he has passed on his skills and coached his trainees at university. I’d love to speak to some of those to find out the fascinating nuggets and stories that they’ve been told on a daily basis. I’m sure what he said has only scratched the surface with all the insights he has. He truly is a very, very interesting person. For one person to be able to capture an audience like that shows how truly remarkable they are.
Here’s another thought. If you’re coming back to self-direction on our wonderful inspirational learning resource centres, when we were all singing, we all chose to harmonise when nobody told us to do so. So what does that tell you about heutagogy and how people work together in collaborative areas? That actually, if you give people the freedom, they will naturally find the space that works for them.
When I was at The Bridge School, which is one of my top ten cool schools. Very little supervision. At first, I didn’t want to like it that much because I felt it was too cool for itself, but I eventually got on board. And I’ve watched these children, and I’ve watched how self-directed they were and how little teacher surveillance there was, how much ownership and learning there was and how little poor behaviour about attitude there was. Again, you led to that same conclusion. The multiplicity of environments for self-expression encourages behaviour because you feel better about being there.
That is very high praise indeed coming from you, Doctor England. It is indeed Doctor Ladds!