School Improvement:

Bananarama and the Fun Boy Three were wrong 

Earl Richards, Executive Leader for School Improvement thinks about why he does what he does.  

I am not the oldest member of St Martin’s Multi Academy Trust, but I am getting there.  

 I am not going to try and make ageist comments like with age comes wisdom. However, I am immensely proud that after 34 years in education I still get a buzz from turning up at work every day. 

 Mark Twain, or Confucius said, ‘Find a job you love and never work again.’   So, what is it that gets me out of bed every morning still with a spring in my step, still excited at the anticipation of what the day may look like?  

 Well, as the title suggests Bananarama and the Fun Boy Three were wrong when in 1982 they sang ‘It Ain’t What You Do It’s the Way That You Do it.’ 

 I do enjoy what I do. Anyone who has met me in the corridor of one of our schools knows I like to talk. I can talk about most things, but music, film and teaching are high on the list of subjects I would choose if I were ever on Mastermind. I enjoy every aspect of my job.  

 But this is what I do and although enjoyment is key it is not what gets me out of bed in the morning and what has kept me hungry for the challenge of every role I have ever had in education. So, if I could change the lyrics to the song, it would be It ‘Ain’t What You Do It’s WHY Do You Do It?’ 

 The why for me is that I am here to make a difference – trying to create a place for people to thrive.  

 I have always gravitated towards schools in deprived areas. Areas where aspiration and inspiration is often low. Schools where children have hard lives and see things they shouldn’t. Schools where children often do not get opportunities that I certainly take for granted. Ofsted call it cultural capital, but for my own children it was the norm on a weekend to visit an art gallery, to learn to swim, to go bowling, to eat in a restaurant, to go to the park, the cinema, the theatre, a concert and so on.  

 Recently I was hearing a child read and I asked are you a good reader? I then read all the comments in the reading record that described how fluently and confidently and with expression they had been reading, and the progress they had made from Accelerated Reader book level 2.1 to 4.2. When I asked the question again, I received the same response which was a shrug of the shoulders.  

 I am not saying that I expect children to talk like a typical (if stereotypical) American child who gushes about how great they are and what talent they have, but I do want children to recognise and celebrate what they are good at and what they might need to work on further.  

 So, what does making a difference look like? For me it is changing someone’s thoughts, feelings, or perspective.  

As a starter, a ‘thumb’ or a ‘heart’ in Microsoft Teams is a step in that direction. In a busy school day, someone has read and acknowledged something. But has it made a difference? Has it changed someone’s thoughts, feelings, or perspective? If there is an additional comment with the thumb, then maybe. But the school improvement Gods always make me dig further, to look for the tangible evidence. That is why you all see me looking at reading files, or hearing children read, or talking to them about what they have been learning, or talking to you about the progress the children are making. 

 Reading has been one of the things I have been most proud of since taking up this new role of Executive Leader for School Improvement. Reading is a key life skill and without it you are going to struggle. Instilling this love of reading is something we should all work hard to achieve and be proud of. Another example of the ‘why’, as I know this has made a difference. 

 Listening to children read is a successful strategy to employ when improving standards in reading and to enable children to read books. But for some children, this approach is not working. Hearing them read every day is not accelerating the progress they need to catch up with their peers. So, the search for making the difference continues and has now led me to talk to SEN (Special Educational Needs) leads and have more detailed conversations with support staff about why they think the progress is not forthcoming.  

 What these conversations do is prove to me is that I am not alone in keeping the why at the forefront of what we do. We all want to make that difference, change someone’s feelings about themselves, give them more confidence, or make them reflect on how they responded to something, or see something from a different point of view and change the way they react.  

 So, to finish, a film reference: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ the 1946 Frank Capra masterpiece. You must all have seen it; it is on every Christmas. It’s considered one of the best Christmas films and was No. 1 on the American Film Institute’s list of the most inspirational American films of all time.  

 James Stewart is George Bailey, a man who gets the rare opportunity to see what life would be like without him. It is only then that he sees what a difference he has made. His guardian angel explains: ‘Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives…’ I genuinely believe we are all doing this, touching so many lives, making such a difference because we know why we are doing what we are doing.  

 And like James Stewart, I feel I am living a wonderful life.  

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St Martin’s Multi Academy Trust is a private company limited by guarantee, with charitable status, registered in England and Wales (company number: 09443906). The registered office address is at Wallace Road, Bradley, Bilston, WV14 8BS.

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