31/1/2024 0 Comments
“I believe as school leaders, we must challenge and be positive in promoting teaching as a career that is brilliant, rewarding and a worthwhile choice.”
It feels fitting that Fiona Harvey is the Deputy Head at Colyton Grammar School with special responsibility for scholarship. Fiona started her teaching career at this high-achieving school back in 1999 as a Newly Qualified Teaching (as they were then called) in her first Teacher of English post and where she has been proud to grow and evolve to her current post on the Leadership Team.
A West Country girl, Fiona grew up in Cornwall and graduated in English at the University of Exeter. Colyton is the Lead School for the Colyton Teaching School Hub – one half of SWIFT, working in partnership with Kingsbridge Community College.
Scholarship is an essential part of school life at Colyton that has twice been judged Outstanding by Ofsted – the most recent inspection being in November 2022. As a school, they encourage their students to step out of their comfort zone and to take on new challenges and “to adapt to new situations, solve new problems and acquire new domain specific information,” which is reflected and modelled by their teachers in their continual learning.
It was with this in mind that we invited Fiona to share her insights into her role as one of our experienced SWIFT Facilitators for the National Professional Qualifications (NPQs).
1. What do you find to be most rewarding as a National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) Facilitator?
There are three key aspects that I find most rewarding as an NPQs Facilitator.
Firstly, it gives me the opportunity to stay updated with the most current educational research so that I am constantly refreshing my ideas and teaching strategies through the materials. Secondly, I think it is a beneficial way to be very outward-looking and I get lots of ideas from the participants on the course about what they are doing in schools, what works, what perhaps has not worked as well, and which I can feed into my own practice.
And then I think thirdly, it is very rewarding to get to know and support aspiring leaders. Too often, the media can present an image of teaching in quite a gloomy way. But in my role as a Facilitator (and for the Programme Members themselves) you get to meet aspirational, passionate, enthusiastic professionals who are truly dedicated to improving student outcomes.
2. How is this impacting on your current role?
I think being a Facilitator encourages you to be constantly reflecting on your own leadership and practice. During many of the seminars we are asked to share our experiences from our own leadership positions and to provide real life examples of what is working. But also, what has not worked, and this means that I am constantly revisiting and learning from my previous experiences. Moreover, when we are talking about, for example, the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) guidance reports, it is a good reminder for me to consider how closely we are following the evidence-based approaches. So, it is impacting positively on my own leadership abilities and how to bring about positive change.
I think it also helps with the professional development that we offer in school. Not only for those who are undertaking an NPQ, but more widely within our own teaching and learning strategy or when we are thinking about developing people, we are always able to look at the NPQ programmes and materials. I think also perhaps previously there has been a perception that when you move on to the leadership team, you forget what teaching is about or you can sometimes get distracted by other priorities. Being a Facilitator means that I always have teaching and learning at the heart of what I do.
3. What do you consider to be the main benefits of the NPQs for school leaders?
I think it is important to make your staff know that you are thoroughly invested in them. That you value them, and that you wish to provide them with opportunities to develop their careers, and to develop their understanding of different roles that are available in different career routes. Also, making sure that you recognise they wish to grow and that you see their true potential; there might not be a position opening up soon within their current school, but that you still want them to develop their experience, so they are ready for future leadership roles.
I think another benefit of the NPQs is that it is sustained over time. It is not just a course that you send people on and then they come back to school and do not have the time to think about it. Their learning should be ongoing and should give them the opportunity to develop their thinking, and the chance to take on a departmental or whole school project. This provides not only leadership opportunities, but also, when they are ready to apply for their next steps, they have evidence of change, and of something they have done and can talk about the impact. So, I think it is a question of supporting their career progression and making sure that they are feeling refreshed and invested in.
I also benefit by speaking to colleagues from other schools and finding out what they are doing. I can build on these relationships, and I enjoy getting to know them in the breakout rooms and at the conferences. I always come back with ideas of how we can make improvements at my school.
4. What do you perceive to be the biggest challenge for school leaders?
I think there are two significant problems that the teaching profession is facing. Firstly, the (ongoing) challenging financial times and dealing with the constant cuts to the school budget and linked to this, secondly, is the retention and recruitment of teachers. We know that teacher training courses are not filling up, and this is creating uncertainty about where our future teachers will come from. Also, managing the media drip feed of criticisms and a lack of support for the profession. I believe as school leaders, we must challenge this, and be positive in promoting teaching as a career that is brilliant, rewarding and a worthwhile choice. I think the commitment to professional development is a way of tackling both of those issues, that can be cost effective and impactful, helping to retain our teachers and to make sure that they feel valued.
5. What would you ideally like to see in future NPQs?
To me, the NPQs are generic and some of the materials covered across the different NPQs are quite similar.
If I had to say one thing, it might be to make them more specific to their particular strand. For example, for the NPQ in Leading Teaching, there could be a greater focus on challenge, supporting the more able that is not only about bringing about change, but is specific to teaching in the classroom. Also, for the Behaviour and Culture, there could be more about developing character and resilience, which we know are important issues in schools right now.
So, I would think about the key issues within each of the NPQs and to incorporate an aspect that is more content driven, rather than focusing mostly on leadership skills.
I would also support more in-person sessions, as well as the online part of the programme. The face-to-face sessions and conference days feel real, and there is always a super buzz because colleagues are sitting together with opportunity to discuss beyond the seminars; in downtime the conversations are still going, which can get lost in the online seminars.
I am certainly very committed to my role as a NPQs Facilitator working with SWIFT and I look forward to my continued involvement in the programme delivery.
We thank Fiona for her insights into the role and thank her for her dedication and wish her every continued fulfilment in her role as NPQs Facilitator.
Interview by Jude Owens, SWIFT Executive Assistant