With the horizon now in sight, what future do we want to build for all Surrey children?


“On behalf of all of us that work alongside you and all the children and all the families for whom you’ve gone the extra mile, and in many cases the extra marathon, thank you.

Maria Dawes, CEO of Schools Alliance for Excellence

SAfE has been proud to work alongside and in support of our Surrey school community throughout the last year. We have seen first-hand the incredible resilience, adaptability, and sense of collaboration from our school leaders.

Following the announcement of plans for school re-opening from our Government last week, we now have a roadmap to work towards, and a light at the end of what has been a difficult and challenging year.

Over the past year the priority has had to remain supporting the ongoing learning of all Surrey children, and there has been an enormous amount of work laid at the feet of school leaders to educate and protect their children, staff, and our communities.

Amid all of this firefighting there has been less and less room to pause and consider strategic planning, and what we as a partnership of Surrey educators want to be when we step out of the other side of the pandemic.

On February 10 th The Schools Alliance for Excellence, in collaboration with Surrey Phase Councils, brought together 5 incredible speakers from across the UK to speak at our inaugural Surrey Leadership conference ‘Leadership for Now, Leadership for the Future’.

Our one day virtual event provided an opportunity for school leaders to pause and take a much needed moment to reflect. Over 300 of our Surrey Colleagues registered for our event, and whilst we were still not yet able to gather face to face, we were pleased to see so many school leaders joining in the conversation through our twitter hashtag and our online chat throughout the day.

With Thanks to Paul Foster @pjf_paul



“Collaboration is the Oxygen of School Improvement,”

Sir David Carter

Our first speaker for the day, Sir David Carter, joined us to talk about the role of collaboration in education.

“One of the products that has come out of the last 12 months has been a resurgence in collaboration,” Sir David said, and the ways in which school leaders work together whatever type of school they are part of. He acknowledged the “generosity of spirit” that has been brought to light by the pandemic.

The experiences of the last year have reinvigorated a sense of community, but have also reminded us that no one school has all of the answers to our shared educational challenges. David reminded us that “collaboration is the oxygen of school improvement”, but this collaboration must be purposeful and deliberate.

The solutions to some of these challenges might already be part of our classrooms, David said, but it is through collaboration and strong system leaders that this practice can benefit all Surrey children.

ResearchEd founder Tom Bennett joined us to discuss evidence informed Quality First Teaching and how this can be best used in the classroom.

Bennett founded ResearchEd in part as a response for the need to derive the best practices in teaching from evidence, and weeding out practices that are unhelpful or unsupported by research. In his session Tom took to task teaching myths and shared examples of good teaching practice, covering cognitive load theory, retrieval practice and spaced learning, among other insights.

He was then joined by a panel of Surrey Headteachers and Leaders across each phase to discuss their own reflections on quality first teaching and key takeaways from this unusual time in education. Our panel took the opportunity to consider the practices that they have embedded in their schools, and what our strategic priorities as school leaders could be going forward.


“I think that we’ve entered a fascinating, and scintillating age of education where we’re now starting to lean really heavily into research and evidence basis,”

Tom Bennett


“The starting point has to be that what we know about successful excellent school leadership applies as we think about how we lead our way out of the pandemic,”

Professor Toby Greany

In the afternoon, the University of Nottingham’s Professor Toby Greany joined us to talk about leading for all Surrey children and highlighted the importance for school leaders of considering their motivations and rationale when thinking strategically.

The last year has placed enormous pressure on school leaders, and Toby Greany emphasised that we cannot focus on strategic leadership without first considering our own strategic priorities and well-being also; or as Greany phrased it: “sometimes it’s about spending as much time on the balcony as the dancefloor”.

At a time when school leaders have had to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and priorities that have been created on a National level, which cannot always capture the nuance and individual needs of school, this can mean challenging and subverting policy where necessary.

During our lunch break we tasked our Surrey school leaders to think about their well-being and what it is that they are doing to ‘fill their bottles’ - activities and measures that can be taken to replenish their energy reserves for the days ahead.

Beyond considering the ways in which we can support our leaders right now, the summit also provided an opportunity to reflect on the kind of leaders that we want to be when we find our way back to life as ‘normal’.


“In the rush to get back to normal, what parts of normal do we want to go back to?”

Dave Hollis

Earlier in the day we were joined by Viv Grant who spoke passionately on the topic of addressing unconscious bias and white privilege in Surrey schools.

Viv posed evocative questions to our school leaders – asking us to look at our own ‘soil’ – our early socialisation and our cultural identity, and how this has crafted who we are as teachers and as individuals.

“We teach from who we are”, Viv Grant explained, built from our own experiences, often unconscious. Viv drew on her own experiences and reminded us that whilst we all take different paths in life, we all go to school, and our responsibility as school leaders to create a space for our young people to flourish whoever they are is significant.

“It starts with you as school leaders, you’re all on this call today” Viv urged, acknowledging that by joining this session Surrey school leaders were taking the first steps in the process of addressing equality, but not to let the momentum fade. Viv asked school leaders to consider what room there is in their schools for conversations about race to continue.


“It starts with you as school leaders,”

Viv Grant

Stephen Tierney, as our last speaker for the day, reflected on the past year as a ‘Great Pause’ – a time in which normality has been disrupted, and what we can take from this experience as we consider how we might ‘build back better’.

Stephen acknowledged that the pandemic, whilst it has brought out a spirit of collaboration and generosity, had brought to the surface the underlying significant impact of poverty and disadvantage on our young people who have been disproportionately struck by the pandemic.

Stephen Tierney addressed the responsibility of school leaders, and ourselves as individuals, to ensure the most disadvantaged of our society are protected in our new normal, in whatever form that disadvantage takes; be it race, gender, or income, all must be a part of the better education landscape we hope to build.




“We succeed through unity, and that’s the future we need to sing into existence, one that will serve all of our children and our communities,”

Stephen Tierney

But no one school survives alone!

Echoing Sir David Carter’s thoughts earlier in the day that no individual school has the solutions to all of the issues we face, Stephen Tierney reminded us that we succeed together, or not at all.

We know that there will be hurdles yet ahead as we bring all children back to the classroom, but we hope that our attendees were able to take away from the day some of the key thinking and messages from our speakers.

For SAfE, this Summit is just the beginning, and we look forward to building on these important threads identified throughout the day with all of our Surrey colleagues. We look forward to coming to you with our proposals, alongside Phase Councils, to bring this work forward in the year ahead.

'Leadership for Now, Leadership for The Future' Speakers 

Click Here to Read More About Our Speakers!




Sir David Carter, Executive Director of System Leadership, Ambition Institute


Sir David is a trustee at several charities including Centrepoint, the charity that is aiming to eradicate youth homelessness, a trustee of the charity that oversees the annual Teaching Awards as well as being on the board of the Talent Foundry Trust, a charity creating new opportunities through wider enrichment and support for dis-advantaged children. On November 1 2018 Sir David took up the role of Executive Director of System Leadership at the Ambition Institute, leading the training programmes for trust leaders as well as designing and leading a new model of reviewing and assessing Multi Academy Trusts.

Sir David continues to place family, music, golf and Cardiff City FC at the heart of his relaxation time and continues to be very proud of being awarded a knighthood for his services to education in the summer of 2013. In August 2020, his book “Leading Academy Trusts-why some fail but most don’t” was published by John Catt Educational. He’s on twitter as @Carter6d.



Stephen Tierney, Executive Headteacher, BEBC MAT


Stephen was Headteacher of St. Mary's an 11-18 school for thirteen years before becoming the Executive Headteacher of the school and of a one form entry primary school.  These schools formed a cross phase multi-academy trust, with one other primary school, which he led until recently.  His work sought to develop a culture in which staff, children and young people could flourish.  At the heart of this was the professional development of teachers and a more evidence-informed approach to school improvement.  His work in Blackpool rooted him in the daily practicalities of teachers’ and leaders’ lives.  
He is Chair of the Headteachers' RoundTable Group; leading on their policy ideas for an alternative to the current high stakes, cliff-edged accountability system.

As a prolific blogger ( he writes on a range of topical educational issues.  The core school business of teaching & learning and leadership are the main themes on his blog.  He’s on twitter as @LeadingLearner and is author of Educating with Purpose & Liminal Leadership.  



Prof. Toby Greany, University of Nottingham


Toby is Professor of Education and Convener of the Centre for Research in Education Leadership and Management (CRELM) at the University of Nottingham.  His previous roles include Professor of Leadership and Innovation at the UCL Institute of Education, Executive Director – Leadership Development at the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) and Special Adviser to the Education and Skills Select Committee.  Toby’s research is focused on understanding the ways in which educational policy and practice interact and the roles of system governance, leadership agency and evidence in this process.  His Nuffield-funded research into England’s ‘self-improving school-led system’ reforms was described by the Observer as “a seminal analysis”. He’s on twitter as @TobyGreany.



Viv Grant, Integrity Coaching


Viv Grant is an Executive Coach, Author and Public Speaker. She is the Director of Integrity Coaching, a leading provider of coaching services for Head teachers and senior school leaders. Viv has been in the teaching profession for over thirty years. When she was just 31 and expecting her first child, she was appointed as one of the youngest Heads in the country to turn around a failing primary school. It was because of her experiences as a Head, that Viv developed a deep interest in approaches for supporting the emotional and psychological well-being of school leaders. She is often called upon nationally and internationally to speak at conferences on the subject.

As an Executive coach, Viv now works extensively with Head teachers and school leaders, helping them to overcome the challenges of their roles, so that they are able to maintain their humanity, joy, love for the profession and the communities they serve. As a pioneer in the field, the coaching provided by Integrity, has recently been the subject of an evaluation/research report for the National Education Union (NEU). Her book “Staying A Head” is considered a seminal work in this area.Recognised as an expert in the field, she has contributed to various books and periodicals on the subject.

As an expert commentator, her contributions have also been featured in The Guardian, London Live, Sky News, Radio Four, Woman’s Hour and the World at One. Viv is also an Advisory Board member of the UK’s first Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools at The Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University. Prior to setting up Integrity Coaching, Viv worked as a lead consultant on a range of leadership development programmes for the Institute of Education, the National College, the National Union of Teachers [NUT] and the Department for Education [DfE].

Viv’s website and blogs can be found here: and on twitter as @Vivgrant.



Tom Bennett, researchED


Tom Bennett has been the UK government’s school ‘Behaviour Czar’, advising on behaviour policy, as well as chairing the Mental Health in Schools panel; currently he leads the DfE Behaviour Hubs project. He is also the founder of researchED, a grass-roots organisation that raises research literacy in education and campaigns for better evidence awareness worldwide. It now holds events in five continents and thirteen countries, attracting thousands of followers and generating discussion and change in schools throughout the world. He is also the editor of researchED magazine, with over 15,000 global subscribers.

He has written five books about teacher training, including his most recent best-selling success ‘Running the Room- a teacher’s guide to behaviour’. In 2015, he was long listed as one of the world’s top teachers in the GEMS Global Teacher Prize. In the same year he made the Huffington Post’s ‘Top Ten Global Bloggers’ list. He is also the Director of Tom Bennett Training, which supports some of the most disadvantaged students and schools in England, by helping them to raise standards. His online resources have been viewed over 1,200,000 times, and he is a Teacher-Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge.



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