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Prune before the sap rises

2nd March 2020

The first day of spring, meteorologically speaking, was yesterday. Spring has begun. Following the wettest February on record, we can only hope that this spring brings finer drier weather… and fewer wet lunch times.

The first bright and dry day for a while saw many venture into the garden for some time (October half term?). The cutting back of trees, rose bushes or even emptying water from various collections is a prime task for this time of year. Metaphorically, this is true of school life too.

In order for things to thrive and excel it is often the case that dead wood has to be cut away, leaves swept up and seeds planted. In the next fortnight this has caused me to pause and consider which parts of our work need attention in order to thrive. Recruitment season is upon us. Colleagues may need encouragement to pursue new opportunities, both because they are underperforming with us and equally that they have outgrown what we can provide and need more space to grow into the professional their potential demands. How are we having these conversations and responding to staffing considerations?

Often, as the recruitment season starts hotting up, we can become set on a world of extremes. Either, we are stuck in what we know - we seek to maintain the status quo and hope beyond hope that nobody leaves and everything can remain ‘as it is’. While there is truth in this approach, it is not always what the school or children deserve. As a great scientist suggested, if we keep doing what we are doing, we will get what we have always got. We should not put a limit on our ambitions for the children we serve. New colleagues and new roles often freshen up our practice and move the school forwards.

This is not to say that wholesale change is a good thing. Talented and experienced staff are the bedrock of high quality education. Indeed in a world where the statistic, which I question the validity of, suggests that over 1/3 of the teacher workforce in England has less than 5 years’ experience, we do not want to move on excellence unnecessarily.

However, despite all this, our school garden requires careful planning in what we prune and what we nurture. Sometimes we can do well to remember that in order for the finest roses to flourish they need a harsh cutting back in late winter.

Jack Mayhew, Executive Headteacher  Athena Schools Trust

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