Tuesday period 1 – Chinese Principals arrive

China 2This last week we hosted 10 Chinese Principals, two interpreters and a facilitator from the National College and University of Nottingham, International team. I would be interested what other SLT, Heads and teachers make of these sorts of visits. All the way from Guangdong they arrived to spend about a month in England with some tourism and much work together on leadership and five days of school visits in three schools, one of these was two days with us.

For me one week into headship is was a genuine privilege to show the school and work out how to do that. In fact as a deputy I always considered it an honour if anyone wanted to come and visit the school, we have had other overseas visitors but of course other school teams, business people and even the odd MP and councillor. I have also enjoyed my own visits to other schools – after all we are all lifelong learners.

They started with a tour of school accompanied by 6 ‘little people’ from school council in pairs with a translator and 3 adults – I was so proud of our Y8 children who returned dutifully with the visitors spot on time, and with big smiles – they had enjoyed showing off their school and answering questions. They then observed lessons in a number of subjects, frankly ones that can manage 10 visitors plus two interpreters plus two of our own mandarin speaker helpers ( who were wonderful – aren’t children jus so able to rise to the occasion). I also arranged it to be Maths and Science (my prejudice, we do these quite well) and also creative areas: Design and Art and also Modern Languages (which we also do well!) Colleagues were very accommodating in fact so were their departments, it’s not really easy being observed as visitors come around, chat with you and children and take a few photos in fact a lot of photos.

China 3I also arranged a few talks which I thought might be interesting: about our school and my (new) vision and after some basic stats, some narrative about the best parts and some guesses at the worst (only done a week remember), some budgets some accountability stuff some stuff about what I think is important and some which bother me about the future. They also heard about our pastoral work and how we teach English and the role of a middle leader. We finished with discussion between them and 5 staff. There really wasn’t enough time to answer their questions perhaps some were too hard – ‘how do you show an ethos to your pupils and help them learn to appreciate it?’

China 8They brought gifts,, some beautiful China cups through to beautiful handmade pennants and even pupils work. Which meant more photos. This showed me how much they honoured the occasion and I was particularly struck when I introduced a colleague who had taught for 30 years they applauded very warmly in their acknowledgment for him as a teacher, clearly for them he had to be recognised and very well honoured, such respect I think even he was surprised. I think we can learn something there.


So what did we find out:

  • They get moved around their provinces, they don’t have a jobs market. They work hard and they retire at 55 on full pay, pay isn’t so high as here by a long way ( equivalent to about £20,000 -£25,000) but they are held in great respect in their communities and by others. They have very high status and are  well looked after’ they told me, for example if they find themselves ill. Teachers teach about half a week timetable the rest dedicated to marking and prep. Wow!
  • One Principal commented on the support given to the children in school. He liked our work with SEND, EAL pupils and with any behavioural issues one to one. He felt support was much stronger. He said our management was ‘stronger and straightforward’ particularly with ‘ naughty’ children. This surprised me but there appear to be pressures on them ( much like here) from all sorts of angles too. Their worries matched some of ours, they were worried about inclusion, they were worried about some patterns in behaviour and wondered if we had rare occasion when parents were not so supportive!
  • They quizzed me long about accountability, who was I responsible to? Well my list was long ( children/parents/staff/governors Diocese, Ofsted) until essentially it rests with governors. I think they felt we were under more pressure than them overall , but I don’t know.
  • Their schools are often very large , our visitor’s schools ranged from 3000 to about 5000 pupils. One with 4000 pupils, said our professionalism was different and he found the atmosphere in our lessons alive and exciting. In essence they enjoyed those creative and practical activities we use in learning. They seemed to note we were looking out to engage all pupils in our lesson. He said the teaching was more practical and inspirational ” something we want to learn from” I was blown away by that.
  • Some still kept asking me how we got our ethos into our pupils and had an extra hour with our assistant head who is head of RE ( worth a reminder we are an RC school ). They are Principals and they have ‘heads’ under them responsible for progress etc too but I couldn’t tell if Pastoral work was part of the core job.
  • They also asked us about multicultural aspects which was of interest, in a City like Nottingham lots of our pupils don’t have English as first language of course, I think that made them think a little.
  • I mentioned staff recruitment, they wondered how we hung onto out best teachers. In China one principal told me if he had 10 vacancies in his school there would likely be 800+ people to choose from.

Overall they came to learn, and to honour us, which they definitely managed to do. I wished we had had more time for me to find out more but it was their visit to us. From our point of view we have all learned things too, but three things really struck me:

1 Their honour, respect, and pride in their profession and in us too, shown to me and my colleagues as well as our children. It was almost tangible and amazing to watch their faces hanging on almost our every word.

2 Whatever I read about Chinese schools and Maths and standards and PISA number 1 etc they aren’t too different in the questions they ask and the systems they develop and the ambitions they all have, their worries and their commitments

3 In the end their interest was in the children in their care, their learning progress and even their morals – so despite the cultural journey and 5000 miles, not that too much different

Here is a link to the story in our  Local Newspaper  Nottingham Post.

Some Questions

Q1 What do you see as the value of such visits to your school?

Q2 Can we learn from other cultures as much as we can learn from schools in the UK, be they similar or with better outcomes?

Q3 Do we have more in common than what we have as differences?


For those in a Church school

Acts 28:7   There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days.

Hebrews 13:2   Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

3 John 1:8   We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

Proverbs 29:18    Where there is no vision, the people perish: but whoever keeps the law, will be happy.


11 YBA Head Guest post by @jillberry102

Head2In the early years of my teaching career, I couldn’t really see the appeal of headship (or, in fact, senior leadership) at all. I was aware of the pressure, the responsibility, the stress – dare I say, the unpopularity? The heads I knew (and I worked for 10 heads over a period of 20 years in five different schools) usually didn’t teach. They seemed to have relatively little contact with the students which, to me, was the joy of teaching – though it was often, of course, the root cause of the challenges too. These heads were, in the main, relatively remote figures (one was nicknamed ‘the hologram head’ by the pupils). I remember watching the head and senior team dancing at a school Christmas party in my first school, and consciously thinking, “I’ll never be a head. I really can’t dance like that.”

In retrospect, in the arrogance of youth I think I was over-critical (teachers tend to be – have you noticed?) and lacking in real understanding and empathy. Over the years, as I moved to be second in department, Head of Department and then Head of Sixth Form, I worked more closely with the heads and senior teams and developed my awareness and appreciation of their role and how different individuals fulfilled it. I learnt from some good examples and, arguably, I learnt even more from negative examples. And over the years I honed my vision of the kind of head I would be, were I to get that far.

As a deputy head I was fortunate in the two heads I worked with, from whom I learnt a good deal. It was when I was a deputy that I realised I really did want to be a head myself one day. I recognised that when the head was out of school and I was ‘it’, increasingly I enjoyed the challenge and the opportunities that gave me. The experience of being a deputy also helped me to decide what type of school I would like to lead. After five years as a deputy I moved to lead such a school, and over my ten years there I have to say I had a ball.

Yes, it is challenging, the responsibilities are considerable, and you have difficult days and demanding situations to try to find a way through. You are a public figure and if you get it wrong (and, inevitably, there will be times when you will) it will be obvious and you will attract criticism – sometimes unfair criticism which you have to be able to cope with. You have to develop your resilience, keep your integrity intact and remember what your core values are, even when (especially when) they may be sorely tested. You will work harder than you have ever done, and you can never complain about that – who would sympathise? You have to be aware that the job is potentially overwhelming and all-consuming and you have to protect yourself (and your family, friends, and your life beyond headship – you really do need one) from that. For me, ten years as a head felt like enough, much as I had enjoyed it. I paced myself throughout the ten years and was ready, at the end of that time, for a different challenge and a different balance in my life. I have no regrets about making that decision, and know that my life is richer for all headship taught me.

It was definitely the best job I did over a 30 year career, and I recommend it to anyone who has the temperament and the drive to do it. The skills will develop (you “build the bridge as you walk on it”, as Robert Quinn says) – you can prepare in a number of ways, practically and psychologically, but ultimately you learn the job by doing the job. And you never stop learning – you have never, in my experience ‘cracked it’. This is part of its appeal.

I do think it’s important that heads (and senior leaders too) consciously try to be positive role models to teachers who are at an earlier stage of their career if they are to encourage and inspire future generations of school leaders. We need to be mindful of how others see us, and if we never smile, seem constantly stressed, unapproachable and remote, we risk giving the impression that headship only has a downside. I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone into thinking the role is easy, but I have to say I found great joy in it, and considerable satisfaction when you DID resolve an issue and move forward. As head you have the capacity to make a difference on a scale unlike anything you’ve ever known before. You have the opportunity to improve teaching and learning, to protect the well-being of the staff (teaching and support) and to lift others. You can support parents and make a positive difference to some of their lives, too.

You won’t win them all, and you have to accept that. It isn’t a popularity contest and, although you need a degree of strength and self-confidence, you have to be able to leave your ego aside and recognise it is about the school and all in it (past, present and future) and not about you. Towards the end of your time, in particular, you have to think about the legacy you are leaving and what you can do to ensure the school continues to grow in strength and success after you have moved on. We are all, in fact, caretakers of the vision for a finite period and there should be a degree of humility that comes with that. We should do all in our power to try to leave the school a better place than we found it, and that involves supporting, encouraging and inspiring leaders of the future.

That’s a privilege.

head1Jill Berry

Former head

Here are some additional posts to add to this one on why be a head

  1. The Head’s briefcase.

December 2014