Taking the lead: board meeting

By | 24 May 2012

Headteachers of both state and private boarding schools held their annual gathering recently.
What do you need for a good conference? A good hotel, great food, convivial company and star speakers. Apart from losing education secretary Michael Gove at the last minute, the Boarding Schools’ Association, of which 38 are state boarding schools, did well on all four counts for its annual conference for heads, in Bristol earlier in May.

Speakers included founder and CEO of Carphone Warehouse, Charles Dunstone, broadcaster and writer Libby Purves, and entrepreneur and CEO of Timpsons, John Timpson. One of the last speakers was Professor Lord Layard, director of the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance.
Ms Purves offered a refreshing view of boarding from the parent’s perspective. She was admonitory when it came to the sometime difficulties of retrieving a child from boarding school for an event or a weekend – “whose child is he anyway?” she muttered darkly over the lectern.
And how many heads who simply obey NHS rules when it comes to registering a boarder with a local doctor realise the agony a mum may feel when a quick visit to the family doctor in the holidays requires a form declaring “temporary resident”? She was more accurate than her audience may have realised when she said that such moments can reduce a parent to tears and completely reverse a decision to have a child become a boarder.
Speaking of the “golden triangle” of trust between the pupil, the parents and the staff, she stressed the importance of patience and goodwill on all sides.
If you have ever been impressed by the service at Timpsons (shoe repairs and key-cutting) you have the philosophy of John Timpson himself to thank for it.
His primary tenet is that employers should empower the people at the sharp end who deal with customers. It seemed that Timpsons is a remarkably paternalistic company, but the picture of happy employees, who are enabled to go up to £500 if necessary to fix a customer complaint and with holiday chalets available free, rather indicated that it works superbly well for them. As a long-term foster parent, John’s account of his efforts to help many children over the years was inspiring.
Breakout sessions included a presentation from Gerri McAndrew, CEO of the Buttle Trust, a charity which has long helped vulnerable children to find places in boarding schools, and has recently launched a campaign to place another 500 such children in boarding schools in the next five years.
Are you a teacher who might spot a child in difficult home circumstances who would benefit from boarding and gain stability and an education for life? Then contact the Buttle Trust as miracles can happen.
Brought from a leading independent school in New England, Dr Christopher Thurber entertained his audience with a presentation on Appreciative Enquiry.
Schools were not created, he said, to be bundles of problems, they were created to meet a need, and most of the time they met that need very well. If as head you had to deal with problems, at least keep them in context: most of what a school is doing is going well; now work together positively to find the fix for the little bit that isn’t.
An update on the new inspection regime for independent boarding schools – out from under Ofsted’s scrutiny – and a reflective session from Prof Lord Layard on the capacity of schools to teach wellbeing, and the importance of finding a language for values in an atheist age, sent heads back to their schools with much to reflect upon.
And most precious of all, perhaps: the memory of the Uppingham Chamber Choir, their voices soaring into the vaulted heights of Bristol Cathedral at evensong. The theme of the conference, chosen by chairman of the BSA, Richard Harman, the head of Uppingham, was Belonging in the 21st Century. There was no doubt that his school’s choir belonged in the cathedral. Heads were but humble, grateful visitors.
Hilary Moriarty is national director of the Boarding Schools’ Association.  Originally published at http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/cgi-bin/go.pl/article/article.html?uid=92035;type_uid=7

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