Stop, Look and Listen

Getting used to the sound of one’s own voice is one of the features of being a Headmaster which has taken a bit of getting used to. My mother – and some of my school teachers, too – will tell you that I had plenty to say for myself growing up, which is one of the reasons I ended up as a scrum-half and wicket-keeper in the winter and summer sports seasons respectively. That I am only five foot seven may also have had something to do with it!

But the endless carousel of staff meetings, year group and whole school assemblies, prep school forums, phone calls and much more mean that it is easy for school leaders to grow weary at their own regular perorations. Even more so when these are delivered to a camera or a computer screen without the inter-personal feedback which one receives when and addressing a room full of people.

Working with young people in schools, it is tempting to say that a teacher’s role is more about speaking and giving feedback rather than receiving it, and this might explain why some of us – and I include myself in this generalisation – are happier talking than listening. But one of the great shifts in education over the course of the past 25 years has been to the position of reflective practice, of actively seeking feedback, and of listening to the perceptions of others in an undefended way. It is not always comfortable, particularly in a profession such as teaching, where individuals give so much of themselves – their personalities and passions, their strengths and vulnerabilities –  but it is so vital for personal, professional and organisational growth.

I wrote in my letter on Friday that the College has embarked upon a Review of Purpose and Strategy, and I am grateful to those parents who have reached out to me over the weekend on this topic. We are not doing so because Wellington is a school without a purpose, in fact nothing could be further from the truth: Wellington’s purpose is clearly defined in the Royal Charter under which the College was founded. Nor are we doing so because we feel there is a significant failure of the current strategic priorities of the school. That said, we must continue to interrogate the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and, most important of all, the ‘why’ of our current practice to ensure that we are fulfilling all of our charitable and moral duties as successfully as possible. It would be a wasted opportunity if we were not to stop, look around and listen to the views of all key College stakeholders at this particular moment in time.

Looking at shorter term challenges, we have been grateful to hear the survey feedback from both pupils and parents in recent days about our current provision during this second closure of lockdown. In a spirit of transparency:

  • • 95% of parents felt the academic programme had been successfully maintained
    • 94% of parents felt the connection between their child and their House had been maintained
    • 95% of parents felt their child had received regular personal contact from their House team
    • 85% of parents felt the College had provided a good range of co-curricular options
    • 70% of parents felt the co-curricular provision had been beneficial to their child
    • 97% of parents felt that changes and information on exam year groups had been well communicated
    • 83% of parents felt that the amount of prep outside classes has been right

Headlines from the pupil survey were that: House meetings, tutorials and extension activities such as clubs and societies were the most helpful ways of boosting wellbeing and the sense of being connected; 96% of pupils rated their wellbeing as fair, good or excellent; 92% of Wellingtonians rated their online learning experience as excellent, better than or what they would have expected. And, in stark contrast to the response of their parents, 67% said that the amount of prep being set outside was too much! In all seriousness, this feedback from both parents and pupils not only helps us monitor our provision but also shape future decision-making, and reminds us all of the importance of taking time to stop, look and listen during our busy lives.

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