Martha Collins’ guest blog

Thursday and Friday saw the Deputy and Assistant Headteachers’ annual conference in Brighton, now an important part of the Camden CPD agenda for leadership. It was great to see so many, now-familiar faces of colleagues from such a wide range of schools across the Borough.

Dr Andy Hope, the only Doctor of Happiness, and author of popular children’s book Spy Dog, among others, opened the conference.

Andy’s thoughts and research on positive psychology helped us all mentally download, and focus on self-care before thinking about how we might aid others to do the same. In our hectic roles, time for recalibration and the introduction of new ways of approaching well-being allow us to create space for more strategic approaches to improving our thinking about our Camden schools.

I was really intrigued by Andy’s idea that happiness is simply a mental construct. Rather than wasting our days relying on happiness at the end of the rainbow, for most people working in schools, a half-term or longer holiday can do the trick.

He talked about the idea of Hygge (Hoo-Ga), the art of noticing and taking pleasure in the little things and doing something to help others feel good about themselves. This will be one of those things that I hope will stay with me in my practice.

Thoughts and actions can be circular: if you are locked into the same old thinking, you’ll get the same old results. By contrast, lots of small changes will produce something more beneficial. Most of us understand this, but the daily routines of a school can make us quickly forget.

Sonia Blandford, from Achievement for All, was up next, and benefitted from the newly created room we were allocated for tackling the progress of young people in our schools, in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds. She challenged us to grapple with several aspects within our own schools:

  • How can we close the gap for our young people from disadvantaged backgrounds?
  • With 9 billion spent on PP in the last two years, what impact has it had?
  • For those children who are stuck, or whom we feel stuck with, and who we worry will end up NEET, what are we going to try next?

She then shared the findings of her more recent study into 2000 schools, over a two-year period, which came to the conclusion that some of the most impactful measures we can take, include establishing good parental engagement with all our parents/carers and having strong, visionary leaders.

Becky Allen, Chief Analyst and co-founder of Teacher Tapp, as well as Honorary Research Fellow at the University, presented on the second day of the conference. Becky forced us to think carefully about closing the attainment gap in our schools, and how we decide to spend our money on this. She worked through three key questions, giving us constant food for thought, as well as challenging our current ways of thinking:

  • Can we reduce the impact of home life on educational outcomes?
  • Can we reduce the prior knowledge gap?
  • Can we reduce the pace of learning gap?

As well as leaving us with several, very important messages, Becky forced us to think about labelling or stereotyping children and its negative impact on the work, we do, in trying to close the attainment gap. Instead tying attainment to learning, she argued that focusing on quality teaching for all is more impactful than any culture of intervention.

After the first day, Hoo-Ga stayed with me and I notice the colours of the sea, the sound of the pebbles along the beach and the first Christmas lights as more intense than normal. This exciting, well-planned and excellently organised conference is only once a year, but it is to be hoped that Hoo-Ga will remain available to us throughout the coming years. The quality of the conference Camden Learning has put on, has certainly given me the space and opportunity to think how we might address all of these issues.

Martha Collins
Deputy Headteacher, Acland Burghley School

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