LEADERSHIP will be key as schools prepare to re-open and welcome back students and staff - many for the first time in six months.
The scrutiny on headteachers and senior leadership teams is set to be unprecedented with everyone from the Government to teaching unions, students to parents, having their own view on how schools should operate in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
As schools prepare to reopen, executive leadership coach Neil Jurd has been supporting senior leaders, via an online platform, to deal with the difficult task of reshaping and reinvigorating the education sector.
Neil, who served in senior positions in the army for 25 years before establishing his own leadership coaching firm in Cumbria, believes senior leaders and teachers will face a variety of new and difficult obstacles.
He said: “Teachers were taught how to teach, not how to be a leader, so in turbulent times like these where leadership can suddenly be thrust upon you it’s crucial that you know how to act diligently and with confidence.
“I believe that good and kind leadership is crucial in all schools, especially during this time of uncertainty. Senior leaders will be needing guidance.”
Since 2014, Neil has spent time helping senior leaders at a school, which has a high percentage of disadvantaged learners, in Oldham - one of the places recently placed into additional local lockdown restrictions.
When the country first went into lockdown in March, Neil turned to virtual coaching in order to continue to help the headteacher of Blessed John Henry Newman Roman Catholic College.
And now, following months of disrupted education, its headteacher Glyn Potts explained leadership coaching for teachers across the nation has become vital, not only to restore stability among the staff and pupils but also to families outside of the school.
He said: “Many of the children who come to our college are already at such a disadvantage in life. So it’s crucial when we reopen our doors in September that we can resume our teaching and help our students gain back some form of normality, which in turn will allow many parents to get back to work.
“Everyone is looking for direction at the moment, many of our students and parents' lives have been turned upside down, and the new norm is increasingly difficult to navigate.
“Our job is to provide a clear path for our children’s education and minimise the pandemic’s effect on their learning whilst at all times making sure they are safe. This requires our staff to lead with both empathy and conviction. Something which Neil has championed in his work with us.”
During lockdown, Glyn and his senior team made sure their pupils still attended classes by taking lessons online. The college also provided around 1,000 hours of counselling to its pupils and delivered more than 2,000 packed lunches.
Glyn said: “If Coronavirus struck just a few years ago, I think we would have cracked and we wouldn’t have been able to support our children's wellbeing and their education. We would have let them down.
“If I hadn’t received Neil’s coaching, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to drive the school over the past five months. The education sector certainly needs good leaders, especially at this time.”
Glyn, originally from Barrow, took the role of headteacher at the Oldham School in 2018 and immediately faced a multitude of challenges, including a severe flood which happened weeks before lockdown forcing the school to shut temporarily.
In 2013, the college, which has more than 1,500 pupils, was rated by Ofsted as ‘inadequate’ and required special measures. Then in 2014, a further inspection concluded that the school ‘required improvement’.
In 2016, the Newman RC College underwent another Ofsted inspection and this time achieved a standard of ‘Good’. Throughout this time, Neil had worked alongside Glyn and his senior colleagues to help create a leadership team that would later prove to be very effective.
Glyn said: “Before Neil came on the scene, we were operating as robots, no one felt safe in their role. But Neil enabled me to have the confidence to create a staff body that is committed to the school. It was no longer about ego and power, instead it was about the job and the children.
“Here at Oldham, we believe teaching is a vocation, and among our senior team, we want to ensure that our teachers can make a positive difference to our pupils’ lives.”
Neil has been coaching senior staff in education leadership for around 10 years.
Neil said: “I’ve always wanted to help improve leadership in the education sector because young people need all the help they can get. Schools have a moral duty to give students the best chance in life and without good leadership, this cannot be achieved.
“Under Glyn’s leadership, the Blessed John Henry Newman RC College has truly come together and it’s been great to see the improvement among the senior leadership team.”
Over lockdown, Neil has also been coaching leadership virtually to senior leaders at Lancaster University and the University of Sheffield.
To find out more about Neil and his business visit his website www.neiljurd.com