SWOT now?

Congratulations! You’ve done your SWOT analysis. You’ve chosen a not-too-broad section of your school. (Trying to look at a whole organisation in one go is often too massive a task). You’ve researched, discussed, gathered opinion, consulted and analysed. You have your SWOT. Now what?
There are lots of websites telling you what a SWOT is and how to produce it, but not so much on what to do with it when you have it, probably because the variables are endless. But there isn’t much point in going to all that effort to produce a framework for your research if it is just going to sit in your file as proof that you must be a leader…you’ve done a SWOT analysis! 

It is sometimes counter-productive to share the SWOT table itself with the uninitiated but it needs to be converted into competitive advantage for your school and (after all, the reason we’re all here) be of benefit to your students. 

So, let’s look at some possible examples;

Your SWOT analysis looked at SEND provision in your school. You have listed the fact that you have a long-standing SENCO as a Strength. He/She is well regarded in your area and achieves visible results both academically and pastorally. So with your team now think about;

1. Do you effectively communicate that Strength on your website, newsletters and prospectus? Do your “customers” know it is a Strength?

2. Do you use your SENCO to impact all students or just the ones eligible for support? Could they improve outcomes for a wider body of learners. 

3. Is your SENCO involved in training your other staff?

4. Have you also listed your SENCO as an Opportunity? Could you offer their expertise to support staff in other schools?

5. Are you over-reliant on your SENCO so have you also listed it as a Threat? What plans do you have in place should they leave or retire?

These questions can now be converted into tangible actions; Communicate your success in SEND to your community, find ways of disseminating their practice outside the department, make local schools aware that you are open to collaboration, and also plan for staff succession. 

Your SWOT has succeeded in its purpose to deliver school improvement. 

Your next SWOT analysis looked at your site and building stock. It is clear that, due to the age of your school, you have some small Weaknesses that, while not currently effecting your ability to deliver the curriculum, will need to be addressed to ensure long term sustainability and anticipated growth.

1. Use what you have found to draw up a five year premises plan.

2. Talk to other schools and experts in your community to gather advice and experience. 

3. Sort out your “wants” from your “needs”.

4. Prioritise the “needs” (I know that sounds rather obvious but you must be focused and ruthless.)

5. Show stakeholders your plan and consider Opportunities for fundraising, grants and bids for capital.

Again, your SWOT analysis started you on a path of specific action to achieve resolution of a future problem, also leading to benefits for your staff and students. 

The usefulness of a SWOT analysis cannot be underestimated, but it is what you do with it when you have finished it that is the real test of its capacity to improve your school. 

Am I Emotionally Intelligent?

I occasionally tell Barry that he has the Emotional Intelligence of a potato (Usually when he has done something I consider to be particularly insensitive – such as erase my Sky planner savings). However, I always reflect afterwards and wonder whether I am actually very high on the EI quota myself? 

Google can give you loads of information on ascertaining whether you have a decent level of EI. The most obvious indicators seem to be;

1. Use of emotional language. Check. I can readily explain how I’m feeling in wide, varied (and frequently flowery) vocabulary. People who resort to insults when they run out of argument make me laugh. If you’re calling me names, you’ve lost the battle. I’m not easily offended (that SBM rhino skin) and I don’t hold grudges. Come back and have another go when you’ve smartened up your vocabulary. 

2. Cares about others. Check. I care about my fellow man (and woman) but what I’m not good at is communicating how I feel. I rarely cry in movies and I’m not one to express my horror at tragic events in the news on social media. This doesn’t mean I’m not moved. It just means I’m British. 

3. Ability to embrace change. Definitely Check. I love change. It excites me. I love variety. What can I say? I’m a Gemini. I’m easily bored. 

4. Aware of own strengths and weaknesses. Check. One of the purposes of my blog year is to explore what I’m good at (and what I’m not). 2017 is a year of self-improvement for me, promoting and practicing what I’m good at and learning more about my weaknesses so I can address them. I think my main weakness is that I’m not a great completer/finisher but if you’re aware of it, you can work at improving it, right? 2017 is also a big birthday for me, a turning point, a milestone, the start of a new chapter, (I plan to enjoy it).

5. Good judge of character. Check. I believe I am fairly easy going, (“low maintenance” I tell Barry – who then chokes on his drink) I tend not to take things personally – after I’ve got over the sting of being stabbed in the back. I guess I don’t suffer fools particularly well and I’m not good with cliques (even if I’m in it). I like to treat everyone equally and give them a chance, I want everyone to be friends, I like peace but not at the expense of societal sectors or progress. 

So, according to the experts, my EI seems to be of an appropriate level?… Maybe. I’ve still got some areas to improve. 

I must try harder not to enjoy arguing so much and remember that not everyone relishes debate. 

I must try and let go of the control freak in me. “Bossy”, the Head calls me (I just pass him a copy of the Single Equality Policy with a smile. He wouldn’t call a male AHT bossy, anyway one of his frequent requests to me is to “boss the situation”.)

I must work harder to empathise. I need to listen to the feelings surrounding the problem as well as the problem itself. I tend to launch too quickly into resolution mode without giving others the chance to express themselves. 

I need to say ‘No’ more often. I need to look after my own wellbeing. Sleep, exercise and nutrition are not going to sort themselves out. They need engagement from me. 

Finally, I must try harder not to liken my husband to a root vegetable. 

The future is still bright. 

I’ve had a rather odd day. I’ve spent a good portion of it planning a budget for 2027, which blows my mind on its own, but this evening I watched a “futuristic” film which was, you guessed it, set in 2027. 

The dystopian film future of 2027 is pessimistic, grubby, dark, cold and violent. Inequality and poverty are rife, there is no trust, in either leaders or neighbours.

But when you have considered what your school budget of that year might look like it is difficult to see it with anything other than optimism. Your year seven intake have just been born, bringing all the hope and promise of new life. They are like brand new notebooks, full of potential to be filled with words, numbers, drawing and creativity. All that has been written so far is their name on the front cover, the rest is up to you and them to fill with life. 

Of course, there is so much guesstimation involved in preparing a 2027 budget. You can anticipate which long serving staff are due for retirement but you can’t assume specific turnover. You can assume pension oncosts will rise but it is hard to judge whether cost of living will continue to be awarded in the longer term. I think it is always safe to suppose that the gradient of the non staff cost curve will be positive but who knows what will happen to the National Funding Formula?

So amongst all the dystopia, I am pleased to report that according to my (very) long range forecast I am still able to turn out a realistic, cautious budget that I can just about get to break even. This, although depressing in its demonstration of the need for thriftiness for the next ten years, in turn makes me optimistic and confident about the future. 

Whatever we might be told in the political turbulence of the next few months, I don’t think we are about to descend into anarchy where we need to board ourselves into our homes or protect ourselves by carrying a weapon. We have shown time and again that the only thing that stops us British is light snow. 

We might protest against poor leadership by voting for Brexit, but only because we are sick of our voice being ignored. I am clear that want to be part of one planet, that works together to tackle the problems of tomorrow (namely the changing climate) and I want my children to aspire to the same.  I want to celebrate our differences, enjoy the fact that we all bring diversity, variety and a healthy gene pool!

So, until the day that either First Contact is made (because if that doesn’t join us together, nothing will) or I can actually influence world leaders, I will quietly prepare my budgets, imagine how gorgeous those future year sevens are right now and remember that old saying. Every day is a gift, that is why it’s called the present. 

The Joy of Building

I grew up on a building site. But if you’re thinking heras fencing and ‘keep out’ signs you’d be totally wrong.

My parents moved out west to a small town in the mid-70s. I was an adventurous but clumsy oaf of a child and bought with me a broken arm that the doctors had deemed necessary to immobilise in a full bent arm cast, hoping that it might slow me down. Ha! I could still manage handstands and monkey bars with one and a bit arms (ok, in fact just one!)

The house we moved into was one of the first to be completed on a new section of estate surrounded by half built brickwork shells, scaffolding, ladders for stairs, those wire bows that always litter the site (I’m still not entirely sure what they do) and cement dust to make cracking mud pies. Heaven. 

Of course, nowadays I couldn’t allow my own, or anyone else’s, child to play in that sort of environment but at the time it was the norm and I revelled in it. 

So you will now understand my adult love of project managing new builds and I have been very lucky to have been involved in a few. I love the site meetings; the design planning (with the Head demanding yet more “future-proofing” sockets); the hard hat, hi-viz and welly tours; the mud in the pouring rain; the heras fencing blowing over in the wind; the building becoming water tight (and then clearly not!); the unpicking of mistakes in the contractors finances (you don’t imagine I can leave that to a QS?); the snagging, handover and moving in. The excited faces on the first day in use. It is all bliss. 

The builders probably hate me. 

Anyway, here are a few small things I’ve learned;

1. The first design will never be what you get, so don’t fall in love with it. It will turn out to be over budget and not appropriate for t&l. Remember: builders know nothing about t&l. 

2. Make a complete nuisance of yourself by demanding to see everything and keep asking questions. If you don’t do this you’ll realise too late that whiteboards are not included in the contract price, that you haven’t got enough sockets (don’t forget the cleaners) and that the pokey little room on the end is useful to nobody. 

3. Check, check and check again the valuations. They always make a mistake. 

4. If they tell you there is a H&S folder on site “which you are welcome to inspect”, make sure you do. They love that. 

5. Snag the building yourself to within an inch of its life. Who cares you have an Employers Representative? You are going to be the one living in it.

6. A building project, like childhood, is over so quickly. Enjoy every second of the process. 

Somehow (probably more through luck than judgement) I managed to survive my early years of building site freedom, cement mixing by hand and swinging through the scaffolding. 

It was then that I decided to take up horse-riding…

Election Madness!

This election is making me mad! 

That’s it. I could stop there but a) it wouldn’t be much of a blog and b) I’d like to explain further, if you’ll join me. 
The first reason is because I live in a very solidly blue area. My old Dad, who stood in a couple of general elections himself, used to say that you could put a monkey in a blue rosette in our town and the faithful would still vote Tory. Every election, the local party will minibus their voters to the polling station from the sheltered accommodation, old folks homes and Agricultural College where they happily cast their vote, their mission in life complete. I have to admire the fact that, around here, the Conservatives know how to win.

But this means in reality that I can’t compete, it doesn’t matter who I vote for, I have no voice. Even in 1997 (when I had the privilege of being at the count when the Tories were routed nationally) they hung on in my constituency. It makes me feel that all that hard won suffrage was for nought. What I think doesn’t matter. 

My second reason for being mad is that this election, its rhetoric, manifestos and debate, has been so…bland. Nobody is saying anything and what they are saying is so obviously to divert my attention away from the real issues. What I want to know is how the next Government is going to fund and improve education, health, social care and policing, but they don’t have the answers or anything resembling numbers. So we go round and round quibbling about free school meals (which I will bet won’t be changed) and who is the “party of taxation”, while we avoid talking about the disaster that is Brexit.

Politics for me has become so jaded. Has it always been like this? I feel like I am being treated like a small child who won’t understand important grown-up stuff. I have to try and read between the lines of the media who are are so manipulated, (or should that be manipulating?) because they are not telling me anything straight and, in all honesty, I’m struggling to believe anything that anyone says.

Of course, wild horses won’t keep me away from that polling booth on 8 June and I don’t believe in spoiling the ballot. I am lucky to live in a democracy and I’m damn well going to exercise my right to vote, even though I know that the local chap I would like to represent me won’t get in and I’ll be stuck with the choice of the “blue rinse brigade” yet again.  Maybe one day the system will change. Maybe one day pigs will fly. 

Happy voting on Thursday everyone. 

Supporting Support

A few years ago a new member of senior teaching staff mentioned to me that we seemed to have “rather a lot” of administrative staff. Now I was minded to instantly disagree as we had pared back to what I considered to be the absolute minimum, we’d lost a few staff that hadn’t been replaced and I was, at the time, hearing grumbles of “too much to do”.

In my experience, support staff in schools are a loyal, good natured and flexible bunch. They enjoy their jobs. They appreciate how well it fits in with family life and most of them realise that there would be a considerable number of candidates wanting to take their place if they did decide to leave. They value the friendships in the team and, quite frankly, it is good to hear the laughter when I have my head in the monthly management report. 

However, the query was out of the bag and I needed to check, even though I knew what the situation was (not least of all because I know the exact numbers and ratios!) So I asked a few local similar size schools to tell me what their team looked like and even I was surprised at the result. 

Leaving aside the roles that our individual situation requires, it was clear from the benchmarking exercise that we were, in fact, well understaffed in comparison to other schools. Our actual FTE in admin was lower than any of the other schools and, as some of our roles had been amalgamated into one person, the actual number of bodies was also lower. I had expected a small difference, perhaps slightly below the average, but this was a revelation. 

So I then wondered what would give a newcomer the perception of too many staff? Was it the way in which we squeezed everyone into small rooms in a grade two listed 1880s building? Was it because we have those extra needs who were also based with the other admin staff? Was it because some of the roles you might expect to be external or outsourced were also in the mix? Or was it because there was so much laughter and harmonious singing of ‘happy birthday’ on every occasion?

I’m still not sure of the answers, and I’m not sure it matters. Our admin team is just that, a team. They work hard (and probably over and above what they should). They play hard (and I mean that in an entirely professional way). They have the respect (for the most part – there are always a couple of fools who think schools should be populated solely by teachers – though I’m never sure who they think might empty their bin or print their copying) of the teaching body and leaders; and, contrary to what they claim when they are having a tough day, they are highly valued members of the team who impact t&l more than they realise. 

So I say, let’s make a point of showing them how much they mean to us. Let’s take time to say ‘Good Morning’ (I’m terribly guilty of rushing by in the corridor I know). Let’s listen when they grumble. Let’s join in with the singing and let’s communicate their value to the whole staff. 

Oh, and let’s use the benchmarking and work on that budget so that we can get a couple more hours a day in!

One small voice

You may have gathered yesterday that I was very excited to have attended the SBM Roundtable event in Camelot (sorry Birmingham – I can’t suppress the fantasy/fiction/ myth lover in me). However, in the cold light of a new morning, after my brain has had chance to sort out and reflect on all the information stored, my emotion changes from ‘excited’ to ‘inspired’ to ‘did-I-really-tell-the-CEO-of-NASBM-what-was-wrong-with-the-funding-formula-like-he-didn’t-already-know?” and lastly to a typical SBM response of ‘so let’s get on and do something’.

I make no apologies that yesterday’s blog was an ebullient telling of what was discussed at the event. Thankfully, @shropshiresbm then posted something much more coherent and professional for everyone, containing suitable links to further reading (I have a lot to learn). SBMRT17

It is clear to me that the message to come out of yesterday is that we need a metaphorical ‘call to arms’ of school leaders across the nation. We need the professional bodies, the protest groups, Headteachers and SBMs to unite in one voice behind the one and only issue.


We need to stop allowing the message to be diluted with diversionary tactics by just (in accepted political fashion) ignoring them totally, and we need to lobby and harangue until the real issue is addressed. 

A few months ago, I wouldn’t have known where to start but after yesterday I am convinced that we all need to find a way, however small, to add our own voice to the rising chorus that is out there. We can do this on social media sites; at SLT meetings and staff meetings; at our local collaborative groups; by writing ‘Mr Angry’ style letters to our PPCs, MPs, professional bodies, local papers, national papers etc. etc.

And I think the question has got to be;

“What are you doing to ensure that children of the future are not educationally disadvantaged just because of where they live”

This isn’t an election issue. It is a problem that will have a significant effect of the delivery of education (and the economy) in the UK in both the short and long term and there isn’t a quick fix. 

We need a steady rebalancing of per pupil funding over, in all likelihood, 10-15 years but we have got to start NOW and we need to do it TOGETHER.