Conference conclusions

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

What do some 300 headteachers want to do when they convene for their annual conference, say in Belfast?

Having just returned from this event and having done it, here is a pithy summary.  People want three things: to be inspired, to come back with some useful things, and to have plenty of chances for fellowship.  Time and sundry survey monkeys will no doubt tell whether my august colleagues found the balance right in the conference I have shaped but here are some highlights from each of these categories.

Inspired we were on Monday by Jonathan Powell telling us about the Northern Ireland peace process and the role that he played as chief negotiator.  On Tuesday, Barb Oakley (Professor of Engineering at Oakland University) and John Lloyd (creator of QI and so many of the great satirical TV shows of the last 35 years) inspired us to think about how we learn and how he might better galvanise children’s curiosity.  On Wednesday we heard from one of our colleagues, Mark Steed, on how educational experimentation in Dubai may be indicating a future where education in its current form, say at Bedales, becomes as unusual as bespoke tailoring and most learn through a combination of technology and a small amount of classroom contact.

Useful things are done mainly in workshops, which cover areas such as legal, strategy, neuroscience, gender identity, entrepreneurship, partnerships and even pensions.  Heads’ panels exploring different kinds of innovation in our schools give us ideas we can take away – people are keen to share ideas and there is a spirit of collaboration.  A final heads’ panel has six of us describe particularly testing times that we have faced – here, as is so often, usefulness and inspiration blend.

Fellowship?  Leading is, we think, a lonely business.  Moving into headship you go from having plenty of colleagues you can share confidences with to very few: the relationships you develop with fellow heads become a critical part of your personal, as well as professional support network.  So, planning a conference, you want to make sure that there are plenty of generous breaks for coffees, teas (as purveyors of these beverages on the railways uniquely say).  You also want to make sure that the evening events are sufficiently attractive to make sure that people do want to congregate and that food and drink are compelling. For me, no conference is complete without a poetry reading so we had Alice McCullough on Monday evening.  You need to allow people to do other things together, so have an afternoon when you can tramp the beautiful hills of Mourne or seek out the mysteries of the Titanic.

Having the unusual privilege of organising such an event is itself quite thought-provoking, but I can recommend it.


Find out more about the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), and view films from this year’s conference on the HMC YoutTube channel.

 

Spring resolves

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Snuck in when the gloss on the term is still sparkly comes the HMC Spring Conference; “Putting ourselves in parents’ shoes: new ways of working between schools and families”. As usual with conferences and training sessions, it is the sustained reflectiveness, here on a single topic, combined with hearing some stimulating new thoughts, that provides the benefit. In this case I came away with two clear resolves.

The first concerns the new challenges that living in a digital age place on us all – parents, students and teachers. HMC has been working closely with Digital Awareness UK. This company, led by sisters Charlotte and Emma Robertson, has worked initially with the Girls’ Day School Trust and now with HMC to produce material that is suitable for students and parents. Their approach is all about embracing technology’s benefits but learning to live without the potentially harmful consequences that it so easily brings – not least for family life. In particular the new short film which Digital Awareness has produced in partnership with HMC was especially effective at communicating potential traps and suggesting solutions. Resolve one is to ensure that we are being yet more proactive in this area.

The second was the fresh perspective that you can gain from seeing your own school through the lens of a set of very different schools. This was provided by a talk by Tony Little, former head of Eton and now working for GEMS Education, which has a vast number of schools across the world. The fast growth of British style education globally has brought with it the creation of schools by organisations like GEMS – right across the price range – in response to parental demand. These schools, catering virtually entirely for parents whose expectations are likely to be more based on what they see in the commercial world, rather than their own schooling, need to forge ways of promoting themselves and working in partnership with their parents that meet those needs and expectations. In particular, given that in an international school a student stay of 18 months is typical, they need to do it all in double quick time. Result? They are doing some things – clarity about school values and parental engagement in particular, better than UK schools are. There are all sorts of interesting things happening; the relatively staid world of UK independent education can, I am sure, learn much from what is going on in these schools across the world. It is something that I have already built into the main HMC conference I am organising in Belfast this October. Resolve two: we are engaging our parents quite well, but we can do it better and will.

Keith Budge | HMC Spring Conference | Digital Awareness UK | Tony Little, GEMS Education

Young creatives’ thinking

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

I finished my ramblings last week saying that the Young Creative Leaders session at the HMC conference was for me the most stimulating.  Why?

Three entrepreneurs, who had left school in the last 12 years or so, talked about the so-called millennial generation’s aspirations – what are young professionals looking for in their lives and how can we prepare them?  Lizzie Fane, founder of Third Year Abroad and Global Graduates, Phoebe Gormley, founder of Gormley & Gamble and Charlotte Pearce, founder of Inkpact made up the panel.

The threads that emerged from their session resonated strongly with what I hear from their contemporaries who are OBs and my own three children who are of that generation.

  • Do something you love, something that you find fulfilling, that makes you feel alive
  • Find something that gives you the satisfaction of seeing something through
  • Spend as much time as possible seeking out different experiences, especially through travel: this will help you spot a problem that you could solve through your business
  • Look out for the ways that “digital nomads” make their livings – people who have found ways of earning money whilst living in different places: technology transforms things
  • Enjoy having control over your time; you can share working space with other creatives
  • Look for all opportunities whilst at school to take new things on, take risks, work out practical solutions for yourself, even if you seem to be one of the awkward squad
  • Building a business is all about being able to inspire people with an idea and keep them motivated – look for chances to do this at school
  • Schools need to help students understand the business basis for schools through showing them how a school needs to operate.

Interesting to reflect on the influence of their parents in all this.  The cultural, social and financial capital of their parents has been a factor in enabling them to take these risks and start their businesses. But what is also interesting is that the millennials’ determination to have greater autonomy over their lives and give greater emphasis to their personal fulfilment is partly a reaction to seeing their parents disgruntled by their work – within the corporate world in the cases cited here.

All the above are handy reminders as we look at how the Bedales experience evolves and especially how we create the right spaces to enable our students to take responsibility and risks within a safe environment.

Being as open with students as possible concerning how their school is run and how decisions are reached is part of that.  An element of this is our annual Governors’ Question Time.  Mirroring Headmaster’s Question Time which happens termly, the Governors’ one has three governors in the panel with me in the Dimbleby role.

Last night most of the questions take the three governors – Matthew Rice, Tim Wise and Michele Johnson – into suitable areas which help show their role – areas such as how the school spends its income, reviews decisions I make and what are the next building projects.  Afterwards, School Council has a session with them.  These things should help increase our students’ understanding of how their school works – and by extension give them a better insight into how complex institutions and businesses operate.

Time on and off the treadmill

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Having spent too much time sitting, some of it eating, I find myself in the gym on the treadmill watching snippets of Anne Robinson’s Britain which looks at parenting and the first of that erstwhile autumnal favourite, The Apprentice.

My sitting and eating has been matched by listening (a lot) and talking (a bit) at the annual Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in  its appropriately heart of England location, Stratford-upon-Avon.  It was a very stimulating three days when we were encouraged to think about creative leadership, which may be why, no doubt under the influence of a shock of endorphins,  I find myself speculating about the respective worlds of Robinson and Sugar.

Crosspatch Anne’s exploration of families’ values – from the ‘gentle attachment mother’ to the one who describes herself as more lioness than tiger – could be nicely applied to schools  (boarding schools especially), which after all have family-like characteristics and embody their values in the upbringing of children.  Look here – this family even has written policies and timetables: all set for a good inspection.  I think Anne likes that.  Anne would have an entertaining time doing such work in our schools.  When two parents swap and look at each others’ lives, I am reminded of the value of exchanges, even my swap with my colleague, Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds in summer 2015.

Then, in the wake of the imperious and hatchet-faced Sugar come the latest batch of apprentices, who must surely be coached in how to outdo each other with the absurdity of their hubristic brags and the lurid nature of their imagery.  One contestant’s tasteless boast that “the only things I fear are tsunamis, volcanoes and Ebola” takes, so to speak, the biscuit.  Apprentice-speak has crept into the world of job interviews, I fear, albeit rarely garnished with quite such sickly figurative dressing.

It would, I speculate, be good entertainment to put a group of headteachers through an Apprentice-style exercise, having asked them to talk about themselves in the obligatory argot; not least because we like to feel we are open to ideas and experiences – as we were in Stratford this week.  Here is just a sample of the goodies we had:

Will Gompertz on why everyone should think like an artist.  If ever there was a talk that gave 285 headteachers a stack of ideas for a term of assemblies, it was this one.  Watch out for them popping up, ranging across the need to ensure our students could think creatively enough both to avoid being replaced by “snazzy algorithms” and to have “a lovely life.”   So, we had Cezanne, Baudelaire, Titian, Manet, Hirst and Ai Weiwei.  Artists have to be collaborative, entrepreneurial and properly sceptical – qualities that our young need much more than in their post school lives than the ability to pass exams.  Rubens was a compelling salesman of The Three Graces to aristocrats who didn’t really think they needed one until he spotted just the ideal spot in the banqueting hall.

Greg Doran, director of the RSC’s King Lear, its Artistic Director and possessor of a leonine mane that must make A C Grayling envious, talked to us about how the RSC’s work with schools and communities aims to change young lives and make us think about our lives.  Their new Roman series will ask such questions as this:   Is politics inherently unfair and can it work for the benefit of the many?  Ask Caesar, yes, but let’s spread the debate as well and avoid too much fighting in parliaments as well.

We have the chance to learn through doing (hoorah!) and I sign up for a class with one of the RSC’s voice and movement coaches – a very good two hours and lots of good advice about how to make better use of our voices and to take better care of ourselves to boot.  We are taught about cat and dog gestures – the welcoming palm (Labrador, tail wagging) and the keep-your-distance over turned hand (cat, tail swirling).

But the best session  – and one I will write about next week – was the Young Creative Leaders panel when three young (millennial, we can say) female entrepreneurs talked about their careers, the aspirations of their generation and what schools can do to promote creative leadership.   No Apprentice-speak there.

Connecting

Conferences should encourage you to think as much about what might be as about what currently is.  In that respect my time at HMC in St Andrews was also stimulated by reading John Browne’s book Connect, which has been written with the help and insight of OB and McKinsey partner Robin Nuttall. Drawing on discussions with current business leaders, Browne’s time at BP and case studies ranging from Carnegie (whoops..) to Cadbury (yay..) he invites thought about how schools connect with the people they serve.  It will be a treat having Robin here on 4 December to do a Civics and to hear more about the ideas underpinning this book.

In this connection it is a busy time with regard to connecting with stakeholders, with the Bedales Parents’ Association meeting last Saturday and plenty of governor activity this week – the Finance and General Purposes meeting on Thursday and Governors’ Question Time on Wednesday when three governors face the Bedales students’ questions in the Quad.

Back to St Andrews for a moment: this short film started our conference.  Its aim is to illustrate the important things that HMC schools do.  The profile of our school amongst the 275 is important – being known for doing useful and important stuff is helpful in so many directions, not least the profile amongst the profession that helps us attract strong teachers.  So, here it is – we feature early on. View film here.