Adapting and Responding to the Leadership Challenge in Smaller Schools

As a current Infant Headteacher, on secondment to SAfE, I have significant experience to bring to the discussion. It has been a pleasure to visit many of our Infant Schools, to listen to the highly dedicated Headteachers and Senior Leaders and to see what can be achieved despite the challenges we have all been grappling with since Covid 19 added additional unprecedented challenges.

I have seen schools rise to the challenge, adapt and proactively respond. Please read on for further reflections, based on my visits to colleagues across our school community.

Andrew Stear (A.Stear@schoolsallexcel.com)

Exploring the challenge: Sharing our learning

SAfE is committed to providing support and disseminating evidence of excellent practice to improve the outcomes and life chances for our pupils.  Infant Schools and other schools that have an Early Years will be receiving an email soon, with a link to a two-minute survey to find out the key challenges you are facing and key successes you have achieved, with an aim to putting in place a package of sessions over the remainder of this academic year to help mitigate the difficulties and learn from others’ successes.

Some ideas have already been shared from our successful and highly valued EYFS network meetings, facilitated by Megan Griffiths, and other initial thoughts have been given by our School Improvement Team, based upon visits to schools carried out over the last two terms.  The KSNA (Key Support Needs Assessment) surveys you carried out will also be used to provide an insight into where we can hopefully help going forward.

As a current Infant Headteacher, on secondment to SAfE, I have significant experience to bring to the discussion.  It has been a pleasure to visit many of our Infant Schools, to listen to the highly dedicated Headteachers and Senior Leaders and to see what can be achieved despite the challenges we have all been grappling with since Covid 19 added additional unprecedented challenges. I have seen schools adapting and proactively responding, for example:

  • a small one form Infant School continue to offer a highly ambitious curriculum since September, whilst working around the main building being completely flooded.  Early Years being taught out of a small portacabin, but still making substantial progress towards the new Early Learning Goals;
  • Inclusion being lived and breathed in some settings, where children’s needs are being met through highly focused pre-teaching to those with SEND;
  • Parent volunteers being re-focused as ‘Reading Support Assistants’ and being provided with training by the school to support the teaching of reading on a regular basis;
  • Staff flexibility in changing working patterns to respond to staffing shortages, working additional hours, having a ‘can do’ attitude.

These are just a few examples, there are so many I could easily go on.  However, this list does not necessarily pay respect to the number of obstacles that we are currently facing as Heads, in particular Heads of small schools.  Some that I will name may resonate with you personally…

  • Attendance rates falling (staff and children);
  • Falling rolls;
  • Governor vacancies;
  • Developing curriculum breadth and depth with small numbers of staff;
  • Strengthening subject expertise and subject leadership;
  • Making effective use of limited outdoor space on a limited budget;
  • Children exhibiting more frequent extreme behaviours;
  • Increased numbers of children with less developed social and communication skills.

Turning learning inside out

For this blog, I am going to focus on use of outdoor space and how highly effective use of what you do have, can positively impact both the attendance, engagement, health, and social communication development of our pupils.

You will no doubt have seen many articles advocating for use of the outdoors for learning. Studies have shown the benefits to all children of having some curriculum time dedicated to being outside and exploring learning in a different context. This does not have to mean a ‘Forest School’ type arrangement, more simply giving staff the confidence and training to be able to take learning outside. The benefits cover more than simply ‘getting fresh air’ and ‘letting off some steam.’ As the days begin to get brighter, taking yourself and your children out on the brighter days to carry out some mathematics using natural materials; English to orally rehearse story telling or any other subject focus, raises children’s serotonin levels (the happiness chemical in our brains), making us feel happier, calmer, more focused and resilient and therefore more likely to be successful.

This is an area I am keen to explore further and find and disseminate best practice in our schools so that we all can benefit. If you are interested to find out more, a good place to start is the ‘National Curriculum Outdoors’ which you can find at National Curriculum Outdoors

I look forward to working with you over the coming months and hope that I get the opportunity to work with, learn from and support you to achieve the best possible outcomes for our children.

Andrew Stear, SAfE School Improvement Advisor

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