School leavers require more than qualifications if they are to meet the needs of employers, believes former Executive Principal Kirsty Jones who was recently appointed Head of School Support Services at Birmingham-based Services For Education
Our schools face great pressures – having to cope with not only the same issues impacting others such as rising costs, staff shortages and staff retention, but also the legacy of the pandemic which has affected pupils’ knowledge and skills, their well-being, and even social skills.
After 20-years’ experience in school leadership spanning mainstream, special schools and alternative provision working with both disadvantaged children and high attaining pupils, I am aware of the myriad of challenges school leaders are encountering and the support they and their colleagues require.
Services For Education is an unusual organisation – a Birmingham-based charity that ten-years ago was created out of Birmingham City Council employing more than 200 staff delivering training and development to teaching and school support staff in nearly 600 schools in the West Midlands, and music provision to 93% of Birmingham schools. With an annual turnover of around £7m, we are one of the largest organisations in our sector in the region.
Our aim is to deliver professional development and school improvement for teaching, support staff, leaders and governors in early years, primary and secondary schools. We work with individual and groups of schools to improve practice, policy and ethos in leadership and strategic management, workforce and curriculum development.
Our goal is to support schools to enable them to develop children and young people with the qualifications and softer social skills – acquired via the ‘hidden curriculum’ – that enable them to meet the needs of employers in both private and public sectors: well-rounded citizens who are adaptable, approachable and have a broad understanding of the world. Employers require not only qualifications but qualities – attributes more difficult to measure but which nonetheless enable our young people to succeed in and contribute to society.
Whilst most schools have returned to some normality – where children meet, work and play together as part of that ‘hidden curriculum’ – the same is not so true of delivering training, professional development and CPD programmes for teachers and support staff.
Before the pandemic, most courses and programmes were delivered face-to-face enabling delegates to meet socially with their peers. But the pandemic stopped that and so we responded, with agility, by moving to on-line delivery (requiring a different set of skills for trainers and support team).
Whilst face-to-face training is still appropriate in some areas, both schools and their staff are now more comfortable with remote learning which offers greater efficiencies albeit with fewer opportunities to exchange ideas in a social context. But even there, we have worked to overcome those barriers with break-out sessions enabling one-to-ones and small group discussions.
But perhaps the greatest change during and in the wake of the pandemic has been the expansion of the range and scope of our courses to meet the changing needs of schools and to support early career teachers whose formative years were affected by lockdown.
We now deliver 20 separate safeguarding courses, five of which are new, as well as free webinars for teachers and support staff. We have introduced a subscription service with ‘how to’ video guides and training for school safeguarding leads and created free webinars and podcasts covering issues such as relationships and health education.
Post-lockdown, we have witnessed an increasing number of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND). SEND can affect a child’s behaviour, their ability to socialise, read, write and concentrate along with their physical abilities and mobility. Training helps teachers and support staff to identify issues at an earlier stage and deliver the specialist support that is needed.
We support school governors enabling them to fulfil their statutory duties. Many people offer themselves as governors, but my experience is that few realise the expectations and accountability of this volunteering role including during Ofsted inspections. Training enables governors to better meet a school’s needs.
The benefits of continuing professional development (CPD) are rarely disputed. A study by the Education Policy Institute, commissioned by Wellcome, concluded CPD plays a crucial role in improving teaching quality and has the potential to close the gap between early career and more experienced teachers.
Evidence suggests that quality CPD has a greater effect on pupil attainment than other interventions such as lengthening the school day or adjusting class sizes.
With the finances of most schools under pressure, and limited budget available for CPD and training, the pressure on us to deliver affordably and to meet the specialist needs of schools has never been greater if they are to produce the right employees for the future.