It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have worked so closely with numerous highly respected sector leaders both domestically and internationally during the eight weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. I am humbled to be able to represent the school business leadership profession during this time of national crisis. Perhaps never before have SBPs been so influential to strategic decision-making as part of the effort to restore our education system.
I have enjoyed closer interaction with multiple groups serving a range of education sector stakeholders than perhaps ever before during my career in education – head teacher unions, sector and professional bodies, think tanks and training providers including ASCL, NAHT, Confederation of School Trusts, Chartered College of Teaching, Ambitions, Education Endowment Foundation, New Schools Network, Teach First, Teaching Schools Council and the National Governance Association, to name but a few. Internationally, we have worked with colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
The term “professional generosity” has been widely used during the pandemic to describe altruistic acts by both individuals and groups working across the education sector. But for me, what has been so inspiring, so comforting and indeed so wonderful about the working relationships education leaders have developed is that when all is said and done, there is far more that brings us together than that separates us. By putting to one side our respective organisational ambitions, we have been able to work in a more joined-up, cohesive, collegiate and coherent way.
As leaders, we bring different experience and characteristics to the table; some have been forensic with their analysis of policy and guidance, some have been almost poetic with their statesmanlike communications, some have been robust in their determination to protect the education workforce, others have been the catalyst for developing content including broad operational guidance, strategic advice and vital curriculum-related material.
Together we have been an unstoppable force, and it is largely due to this combined effort that we will emerge from this pandemic stronger and more joined-up as system leaders. So, amidst the crisis, the ensuing chaos, confusion, frustration and anxiety, we will emerge as one, committed to improving children’s life chances.
Many of us have participated in the same steering and focus groups as well as regularly consulting with each other on the many measures and ever-changing, ever-evolving nature of this global crisis.
Matthew Syed (Rebel ideas: the power of diverse thinking. London: John Murray, 2019) talks about the importance of cognitive diversity in strategic decision-making.
Never could this be more true – we have brought together leaders from different backgrounds, with different strengths, with different professional experience and indeed from different global jurisdictions.
I have learnt so much from my sector leader colleagues, I have participated in conversations dealing with complex scenarios that have stretched my intellectual capacity, my leadership skills and my decision-making abilities.
I have made new friends, friends that I hope I will maintain for many years to come. As leaders, we don’t always agree, but we share a very simple, powerful common purpose and equal measures of passion and commitment to improve children’s life chances.
So, whatever our differences, we have been able to work through them because in the end the real prize is protecting our wonderful and precious world-class education system.
This remains a very difficult period for the education sector and society at large, but I believe we are starting to see glimmers of hope. Given everything that I have set out in this blog, I believe there is good reason to be optimistic about the future.