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Leadership webinar: school improvement (video and webchat)

Discussion in 'Senior Leadership Team' started by AndrewFIS, May 24, 2017.

  1. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    For any school to improve, there are key areas and issues to address. But what strategy should you set to do this?

    As part of the TES Leadership webinar series, I’ll be putting your questions to Simon Shneerson, a school improvement expert.

    We will examine how school leaders can be more effective in identifying areas for improvement in their schools.

    Post your questions below now - and, if you can, join in our live webchat on June 15 at 4.30pm.

    Before that, you can watch a video we’ve made in which Simon and I discuss the issues, with key advice for school leaders.


    To access all the videos in the TES Leadership series, plus an exclusive database of grants available to schools, become a TES Leadership subscriber.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 26, 2017
  2. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    The webinar video will be available for seven days in this thread after the webchat. If you wish to view the webinar after 22nd June or to access all the videos in the TES Leadership series, plus an exclusive database of grants available to schools, become a TES Institutional subscriber. You can find out more information here.
  3. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member


    Don't forget to submit your questions below ahead of this week's webchat.

    Thank you.
  4. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    Good afternoon and welcome to today’s webchat.

    The TES Leadership webchats give you the opportunity to put your questions to industry experts about key school management and operational issues.

    In a few moments I will hand you over to Andrew, who is editor of FIS, who will be hosting this week's hour-long webchat.

    Andrew and this week's guest, leadership expert panel member Simon Shneerson, a school improvement expert, who will be available for the next hour to answer your questions.

    If you have any questions please submit them below. Don't worry if we run out of time, any unanswered questions will be responded to and posted on this thread later this week.

    I'll now hand you over to Andrew.

    The content of, and information provided in, the TES Leadership webchats and their associated materials (including information posted in these forums in connection with the webchats) (the “Content”) is provided for general information purposes only. Any use you make of, or reliance you place on, the Content is entirely at your own risk. Professional or specialist advice, tailored to your specific circumstances, should always be obtained before taking (or refraining from) any action on the basis of the Content.

    Whilst TES Global and the panel of leadership experts make every effort to ensure the high quality and accuracy of the Content, TES Global and each leadership expert makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) concerning the Content. Neither TES Global nor any leadership expert will be responsible for any damage or loss related to any use of the Content.

    Neither TES Global, nor any leadership expert, seeks to restrict or exclude any liability they may have for death or personal injury arising through negligence, liability for fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation, or for any liability to the extent that, by law, it cannot be restricted or excluded.

    Please click here for full Terms and Conditions which apply to all TES Global’s websites.
  5. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    Hello and welcome to this webchat on how senior leaders can improve their school. Joining me is Simon Shneerson, a school improvement expert. For those of you following this thread, please feel free to post your query. Remember to refresh your page to see the updates as they appear.

    Thanks for joining us, Simon.

    What are the signs that a school (as a business) is failing?
  6. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    Hi Andrew and everyone. Thanks for inviting me today.

    Obviously the most obvious sign is that pupil numbers are falling, because without pupils no school gets enough income to cover its costs and survive. Many schools delude themselves that falling numbers are a blip rather than a trend, and of course it’s always possible that you have a single poor year, just as a restaurant can always have one bad Saturday night.

    But, in general, if numbers are down for more than one year, you have a problem. That might be because the local demographics have changed, it might be because you have a competitor doing something differently, or it may be that you’ve messed up in some way.

    Financial results are another obvious sign that there’s a problem. A surplus is always needed in order to move an organisation forward. If a school is losing money then it obviously has a problem, but huge numbers of schools make surpluses which are so small they are effectively of little use. There are two measures here: percentage surplus and the cash amount of surplus. Both matter, because a decent percentage surplus gives a good amount of cover for the future, while a decent sized pot of cash means you can do bigger things. There are small independent schools making annual surpluses of £30,000, which won’t even pay for a new boiler.

    The early warning signs that you’re in trouble include things like a drop in admission enquiries. And poor teachers, a poor inspection report, and poor academic results tend to put parents off sending their children to a school, whether it’s in the maintained sector or the independent sector.

    Other signs are less obvious, but they're all the same: cutbacks in maintenance so things look like they’re crumbling; dirt, as opposed to wear and tear; a can’t do attitude among the Head and staff; or a board that has been in place for many years and is filled with well-intentioned people who are worn out but are finding it hard to recruit new governors.
  7. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    How easy is it to rectify those faults?
  8. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    Sometimes it’s impossible, but usually there’s a lot that can be done which will either turn round a school fairly quickly or, at the very least, give it more time to do the things that will take longer.

    The first step is the hard one for many schools, and that’s to recognise you actually have a problem.
    • A couple of years ago I was asked in to help a small private school that had 150 pupils, and when I looked round I thought the classes looked very empty. It turned out there were actually only 110 pupils, but they’d always had 150, everybody just knew there were 150, and nobody ever added up the numbers for each class.

    • That’s an extreme, but very often heads or, perhaps more often, governors, will be in denial because they love their school and want it to continue as it is, or else they don’t want to take tough decisions that will hurt it. Or they think or are being told things will improve when there’s no real evidence for that.

    • What’s most important is to be objective when you look at your school and its health, and to be realistic about its business prospects rather than the optimist we all prefer to be. These are tough times for all schools and money is going to be increasingly tight. Good schools will survive; failing schools need to do something.
  9. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    How much could this be down to poor funding and how much to poor management?
  10. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    It can be either, or both. Obviously the maintained sector is subject to funding formulas that are beyond an individual school’s control, but there may well be things the leadership can do to increase pupil numbers or, failing that, to increase revenues from other sources, or to manage costs.

    In the independent sector the business climate is increasingly tough and some schools are simply in the wrong location for today’s market, and there may just be not enough families in the catchment area. So it may be very difficult, or even impossible, to get enough fee-paying pupils. But, again, there are usually things a school can do, wherever or whatever it is, and it is often surprising how much untapped potential does exist.

    But even when a school is failing there are still options. You can struggle and you can struggle and fail, but there’s no real excuse for failing completely No school ever fails completely unless its leadership and governance have let it do so. I say that because even closing down a school can be done well, as opposed to badly. So yes, very often it's about money, but there's usually more that management might have done along the way.
  11. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    Who should intervene and how? Governors? Parents? Other members of the senior leadership team?
  12. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    Clearly a core responsibility for Governors is to give their school its overall direction. Whether they have drawn up a vision and strategy or agreed that of the Head and leadership team, if it no longer works then the buck stops with the Governors.

    It’s very hard for parents to actually intervene if a school is failing. They can complain, and parental comment can help alert a Head or Governors to issues or the need to do something.

    Obviously a leadership team should intervene if a school is failing, as it’s their collective job to make their school as effective and as strong as they can. But sometimes a team isn’t up to it, which can be part of the problem.

    Sometimes the Head isn’t up to it, which could be the heart of the problem. In that situation the leadership team will probably be propping up the Head and their personal and professional loyalty to the Head may limit their ability to do things.
  13. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    Is there a clear stage when a school as an institution is beyond saving?
  14. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    Yes, there can be. As I said, the first step is to recognise you have a problem and, as with any organisation that is getting into difficulty, it’s very much a case of a stitch in time saving nine.

    There’s usually something that can be done to help a struggling school, but it will always be beyond saving if the governors are too set in their ways, or if the Head can’t manage whatever change is needed, or if the prospects for the future just aren’t there. Money may appear a problem but funds CAN be raised as long as there are prospects of being able to pay back. If there’s really no likelihood of revenue growth, then the institution may be beyond help.

    Even then, though, there are things you can do to a) create a legacy and b) manage a soft exit rather than a hard and bloody exit.
  15. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    If the quality of teaching and learning is criticised by a school inspectorate, what are the wider implications for the school as a business?
  16. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    It depends on what the criticisms are, and what can and is done about them. It also depends on what the alternatives are for a school’s parents, or its potential parents. If they have few other options, then a school can survive a poor inspection and, while it ought to do things to improve, it can survive without doing everything.

    If a weak school does have competitors, and most do, then there’s a potential problem. This will manifest itself in different timescales depending on the type of school and the severity of the criticisms.

    In general, an inspection reflects not just what the inspectors find, but what current and potential parents already know. So a weak school will normally already have a reputation as a weak school, and an inspection only causes new problems if it uncovers things that people didn’t already know, or suspect.

    At its worst, a really bad inspection can be catastrophic, and this is particularly the case for independent schools. Prospective parents go straight for the most recent ISI Report and an independent school that is criticised for teaching and learning will find it much harder to sell the quality of its education – which is of course fundamental. On the other hand, everybody knows that a good report is a wonderful marketing tool.

    There’s little excuse for a poor inspection report, because any school can prepare for inspection and if teaching is poor then there’s usually time to improve it. Where this is harder is when a school is weak and its weakest teachers can’t or won’t improve. Then, if it can’t afford to get rid of these weak teachers (and they’re often long-serving and expensive to fire), it is stuck with what it has, the inspectors will spot it, and the rest is inevitable.
  17. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    What are the key strategies during a school improvement phase for:

    a) The head
    b) The business manager/bursar
    c) The governors?
  18. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    The key strategies for the Head are to understand that schools are businesses, to understand that quality, pupil numbers and controlled costs are essential, and to do what is necessary to put things on the right track as possible.

    For the business manager or bursar, the first job is to look at costs and challenge teacher numbers and deployment as well as reviewing all other running costs. Inefficiency is easier to fix than anything else, and there are always quick wins. The other job the business manager has is to guide the Head and to guide the governors, and to work with the Head in preparing an improvement plan that will make the business viable as well as the school a better one.

    Governors need to
    1. make sure the strategy and the plan are robust

    2. take ownership of it themselves

    3. support and challenge the Head and leadership team in the right ways, and

    4. be prepared to change leadership in order to make things happen. That may mean change among governors as well as among senior staff.

    5. Plan ahead so that as part of the turnround plan they put in place stronger processes for overseeing the situation in future, as well as stronger capability to take the right decisions at the right time.
  19. AndrewFIS

    AndrewFIS Occasional commenter TES Leadership Expert

    Can schools resolve any issues internally or does it need to be carried out by a third party?
  20. Simon_Shneerson

    Simon_Shneerson New commenter TES Leadership Panel Expert

    A lot of issues can of course be resolved internally, but I think it’s always quicker and easier to bring in an outside consultant, at least to help identify the issues and the likely solutions.

    Naturally, as a consultant, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But when you’ve seen a host of situations and you know what will work and what won’t, you also know the pitfalls and you have a wider view.

    All too often, I find schools saying “we can’t afford consultants”. That’s fine, but when you’re ill there’s a time for going to bed with a glass of hot lemon, there’s a time for going to the doctor, and there’s a time when you need to have an operation. My own view is that your business manager should make the hot lemon for you, but a consultant is somewhere between a GP, a consultant physician and a consultant surgeon. A consultant can offer a quick consultation, some tests if necessary, and some sensible recommendations relatively cheaply and easily. Or, if you need it, you can move on to more complex diagnostics and provide stronger medicine and maybe surgery and intensive care too.

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