Using External Support

The discussions taking place amongst our senior team this week caused me to reflect on our changing approach towards external support.  This week senior leaders fed back on a range of external programmes and support packages that we had been researching. Discussions were focussed and reflective, considering where we should best invest resources to secure sustainable improvements for our staff and students.  As a team we were open to support providing we could demonstrate the link to our strategic aims and the areas where data shows we need to facilitate rapid improvement.  A number of strategies were rejected, a number put on hold for a year, and importantly a number identified as worthy of investment.  We are looking forward to working with these external partners as we continue to improve our school.


I am very pleased with the current approach we are taking towards engaging with external support.  To reach this intelligent, analytical and highly selective point we have been through two distinct, and equally unhelpful, phases in our development over the last seven years.


Phase 1: Imposition.

The school I inherited in 2012 was in a challenging place. A falling roll, financial difficulties and attainment and progress data that caused serious concern meant that we were flagged on everyone’s radar as in desperate need of support.  As a new headteacher in my first headship, I welcomed support with open arms.  We were offered huge amounts of support from well-meaning external providers, but this rapidly became imposed strategies and scutiny with little filtering or influence from our part.  I realised too late that we needed to be firmer in setting our own agenda and firmer in saying no to support that didn’t align with our overall strategy.  We ended up being overwhelmed with well-meaning visitors imposing their view of school improvement without enough consideration given to our context and the type of school we wanted to become.


Phase 2: Isolationism.

Achieving a good Ofsted with an outstanding judgement for leadership and management, coupled with our conversion to academy status, suddenly gave us a new found freedom as a school.  After several years of significant external scrutiny and investment, we relished the opportunity to genuinely set our own agenda and lead our school towards our own vision for the future.  Withdrawing suddenly and so completely from a range of support networks, whilst highly liberating, was also a mistake.  We missed out on valuable challenge and the opportunity to share best practice and learn from experts outside our own narrow professional networks. It became clear this year that for us to continue to improve we needed to re-engage with external support but with the determination to make it work for our context, align with our values, and move us towards our strategic goals.


Phase 3: Re-engagement.

We are now committed to re-engaging with a range of local and national external partners as we continue improving our school.  With the critical eyes of an experienced senior team I am confident that the external support we receive will add huge value to our staff and students in many different ways.

EducationMark Lewissupport, blog