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Be more penguin

30th November 2020

As I kicked my feet and pulled my coat around myself more closely on the school gate this morning, I was reminded of the emperor penguins at the south pole, working together for warmth, collective betterment and the ability to get through the long dark winter. I would like to stress that this reflection is an analogy, and I am not suggesting staff members need to huddle tougher for warmth. Definitely not in these COVID times!

Bull13bHowever, being part of a trust is in some ways similar in terms of mentality. We understand that the education year sometimes presents us with challenges which feel more like the depths of an Antarctic winter than feeding in the endless summer time sun on Atlantic krill. As schools, we come together as a trust to work through the good times and the bad; to share successful approaches to brilliant classroom practice and provide the best for our pupils. Like the penguins, we rotate. The pack moves, and those on the outside take their turn on the inside, sheltered from the excessive freezing temperatures and winds. This allows us to recover and preserve energy.

Last week, our CPD afternoons and network meetings helped us ‘rotate’ and restore our energies and resolve. I’d like to highlight two networks in particular,  our SEND and PP networks. Often the trickiest of educational nuts to crack, the progress of our SEN children and disadvantaged youngsters is not always comparable to others in our school populations. But it should be. We need to review our provision. Review our curriculum. Reflect upon how, in many cases, we need to develop in this area. It was pleasing, therefore, to hear from the SEND network whose reach includes those outside our trust, and learn of their consultation with SEND specialists and the local authority about how we can work better together to meet the needs of children in these cohorts.

Our disadvantaged network is also considering how we can share best practice and secure improved outcomes for our PP learners. It is interesting that time and again they are returning to improving quality first teaching, getting the curriculum right and holding our expectations universally high for these children. My thanks goes to those who lead and attend both these networks. They help us identify how we can, metaphorically, huddle for support and warmth in hostile environments.

However, to end, our penguins also offer us a cautionary tale. It seems that these penguin huddles can actually be too good at keeping the emperor penguins warm. The rotation from inside to outside the circle is just as vital. Penguins can get too warm and must seek the outside to better balance their needs. Trust life is the same. We cannot exclude those ‘outside’ our trust. We work alongside many great schools and colleagues from whom we can learn, be inspired and supported as we look to provide the best for our children. We must not become insular in our thinking – believing that everything from within is good, and anything outside is not to be trusted, learned from or ‘stolen with pride’.

Potentially as our deep in the autumn term winds blow seeking this balance of internal and external support is important. More than anything, supporting each other, and realising we achieve more together than apart, is essential. This week, be a little more penguin - but penguins have nothing to do with Christmas!

Jack Mayhew, Executive Headteacher  Athena Schools Trust

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