‘Teachers need autonomy in the classrooms – as do students over their own learning’

TES, 09.05.16, ahead of his school's upcoming leadership conference, HMC member Keith Budge, headmaster of leading independent Bedales Schools explains why school leaders need to start looking at the bigger picture. 

If we as headteachers are to be creative and innovative, we need the space to lead. Perhaps paradoxically, this requires us to give others in the school picture the wherewithal to lead in their own domains. Teachers need autonomy in the classrooms as, in turn, do students over their own learning. Not only does this give everyone a stake in the direction of the school, it frees headteachers from the shackles of micromanagement and instead allows us to consider the bigger picture.

Yet for all of the apparent promise of greater freedoms to be found in the White Paper, these remain fractious and uncertain times for education policy and practice. Plans for the academisation of all state schools have been less than well received by teachers, the opposition and even Conservative MPs, with reports of parents keeping their children out of school in protest at the new assessment regime for primary school pupils. All of this takes place against a backdrop of shared concerns about an increasingly narrow curriculum and school heads being stifled by a fear of finding themselves on the wrong side of inspectors.

Learning about leadership
Themes such as these will undoubtedly permeate forthcoming education conferences. Inspiring Leadership, to be held in in June, has keynote speakers including a former party political leader and cabinet minister, and a glittering array of academics and authors. But before that is the Liberating Leaders conference at Bedales on 25 May. Of course, we can’t compete with the scale of the Birmingham three-day conference and have focused our attention on a more intimate gathering. We, too, have great speakers – Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted and formerly a very successful headteacher, Barbara Oakley, creator of the world’s largest Mooc, Learning How to Learn, academic Bill Lucas of Educating Ruby fame and Silicon Valley leadership expert Danielle Harlan.

However, our conference will have one big difference: students will also be taking part in the event along with their teachers. They won’t be there as passive observers: students’ involvement in the school’s running, a strong feature from our foundation, is taken as read. Bedales founded its student school council 100 years ago. Even the food served at the conference – school-reared meat and hand-baked rolls – will have been prepared by our students. This theme of partnership – reflected in our ongoing relationship with King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds – will therefore also be echoed through the dialogue between teachers and students.

All of us, in the end, are learning about leadership.

Liberating Leaders will bring together staff and students from both the state and independent sectors to explore leadership as it applies to their schools’ distinctive values and practices, and to new developments in teaching and learning. A partnership between Bedales School and the TES, this event is designed for serving and aspiring school leaders (200 places, £75 each), with another 100 free places available for pupils who will be offered leadership workshops. For further information and tickets, visit the Liberating Leaders event page. 

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