Confidence and resilience through professional development: facing and embracing our EdTech future
In common with other sectors, education finds itself urgently addressing recruitment, retention, and continuous personal development because of multiple outside forces. Find out how investing in staff development has a positive impact.
Stephen Morales, CEO, Institute of School Business Leadership
Overview – Confidence and resilience through professional development
Among those outside forces are the rapid adoption of EdTech, the generational shift towards the digital natives of Gen Z, mix-and-match portfolio careers, demand for flexible working, the regular inflow and outflow of talent in education, and the realities of online and blended learning.
Stephen leads ISBL, which facilitates, guides and reports on school business leadership excellence. He shares with us the vital impact of excellent professional development in building professional confidence. He shows us how we can build the resilience that gives us the ability to face future challenges and developments.
He talks us through:
- The education policy trajectory
- The importance of the local context
- How to identify risks through horizon scanning
- Mitigating risks and seizing opportunities
- Data insights on what employers are looking for
- Professional development options and professional confidence.
Other related topics
Explore how apparently insignificant moments and gestures can have a huge impact on staff wellbeing, and in turn on effectiveness and retention of our best school staff with Dr Emma Kell, Those That Can. (hyperlink to Emma’s session).
Hear from two experts in their field as they discuss the importance and practice of harnessing the critical life skills of practicing self-care and promoting resilience and explore the role technology has to play. (Hyperlink to the role of technology in practicing self-care and promoting resilience)
For more information about the Institute of School Business Leadership and access to resources visit their website.
At Scomis, we’re committed to supporting all staff in schools to ensure you get the most out of your ICT systems. We know from listening to our customers that you need high quality, relevant training to be delivered in efficient and cost-effective ways and a ‘one size approach’ does not fit all.
Training is available for all staff in leadership, administration, support, and class-based roles across your school or multi academy trust. Our training portfolio includes:
- Self-Directed Digital Learning – Learn anytime, anyplace at a pace that suits you and save time and money. Access our most popular courses through ScoLearn Digital.
- Tutor Led Training – For more complex topics such as assessment, reporting and timetabling we offer chargeable training by a subject specialist which is delivered remotely and interactively to small groups for a personalised experience.
- Bespoke Training – If you can’t find what you are looking for from our course timetable, or if you would like to ‘pick and mix’ content across different courses, we can create a package of training tailored to your specific needs.
- 1:1 Personalised Training – You might just want some top up training or have a specific area you would like to explore in more detail on any of our supported applications. In which case you can receive personalised training directly from one of our specialists.
Further reading and reference material
ScomisLive is recognised by ISBL as Continued Professional Development (CPD)
Offering over 20 hours of appropriate learning content for School Business Leaders. ISBL members can register their attendance against their annual CPD commitment.
Stephen Morales talks about professional development
STEPHEN: I am going to talk about confidence and resilience through professional development, facing and embracing our EdTech future. We have all had to adapt very quickly to the digital remote environment, and I think that, as a sector, we have done that incredibly well – in frontline teaching and learning delivery, remote administration, or central teams providing support services to their satellite schools.
So, what do we aim to cover in the session today? How can we build the resilience that gives us the ability to face future challenges and develop our competencies? The education policy trajectory, the importance of the local context, how to identify risks through horizon scanning, the mitigations for those risks, and how we seize new opportunities as they president themselves. I will talk a little bit about data and data insights. I will talk about what employers are looking for. And then I will go on to discuss professional development options and how we develop our professional confidence.
How digital proficiency builds confidence
The first thing I want to talk about is how information skills and knowledge help to underpin confidence. If we have deep technical mastery in a particular subject, we place ourselves in a very empowered position. We can speak with levels of authority that we would not be able to do if we did not have that knowledge.
Knowledge and confidence lead to an ability to influence, and we can influence in a way that that is evidence-based. It goes beyond anecdotes and frankly gives us a mandate and authority to lead. If you take the reverse of that, those with a lack of knowledge will find themselves feeling vulnerable and exposed. That, in turn, means low levels of confidence, which often means poor levels of influence, low levels of autonomy, and no authority or mandate to lead properly. So, it is essential that we pay attention to the value of knowledge and technical expertise. Notwithstanding that, as we build teams, we do not have to be masters of all that we purvey, but we do need to know where to go to in order to cover off areas of activity.
The role of qualifications in teaching
But certainly, the more we know about the things that we are involved in, the more influence we exert. The next thing I would say is education is a sector obsessed with qualifications and I think that that makes things difficult. I am talking particularly now to the school business leadership community. It is very difficult to claim your seat at the top table without a strong set of credentials. And I am the first to agree that experience in some cases is as valuable as qualifications and that sometimes we place too much of an emphasis on qualifications and training. But whether it is regrettable or not, in the environment in which we are operating demonstrating knowledge and demonstrating high levels of proficiency through formal qualifications are important – and I think we can look at evidence which will tell us that there is high demand for highly skilled individuals and low supply. So, we do need to address that.
I am not advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater – quite the opposite, in fact. We have got 10,500 school business leaders in the system and they are exceptional. But regrettably only 10% of them have a degree or a similar qualification. What I think we need to do as a system is get behind that 90% and help them to develop their portfolio and qualifications so that that number starts to increase. What we would really like is to have a situation where those numbers I just quoted are inverted, so we end up with 90% of the current school business leaders operating at the degree and above level.
We do some interesting work with Chester University where we have taken individuals’ experience and we have converted it, through some self‑reflection work, into a degree qualification. So essentially those people look and reflect on their practice. They read literature that supports education leadership, and they do a piece of work to synthesise their own experience with what the literature is saying and end up with a piece of academic writing, a reflection of practice, that leads to legitimising their position as credible professionals with a degree level qualification.
I am labouring the point, but it is important. The sector is crying out for highly qualified individuals to fulfil senior roles in schools and trusts, and you do not need to take my word for it; the Hayes report published recently on recruitment and retention points out very clearly that that is what employers are looking for. Again, that is not intended to undermine or in any way diminish the important role that colleagues without qualifications are performing, but I think that what is clear is that, both for the sake of the individual and their professional futures and for the sake of the sector, we need to invest in our people, in our professional community.
The demands of a changing landscape
I think we all need to accept that the landscape is very different. The education sector is very different to when I first joined in the mid-2000s. There are high levels of autonomy but with those high levels of autonomy come greater levels of direct accountability. The complexity now that schools and trusts and their leaders face is ever more challenging. And there are so many things to think about, such as the issue of sustainability. If you speak to young people now, climate change is an extremely important issue to them. As school leaders, I think that it is so important that we demonstrate that we are doing our bit in that space. We need greener and more sustainable schools. We also need to pay a lot more attention to the whole subject of EDI and individuals with protected characteristics, making the school environment a happy and safe place for them to operate. And that cuts across pupils, parents, governors, teachers, other support staff, and of course senior leaders. And yet there is a huge piece of work to be done there.
As the academy program continues to move forward the expectations on multi‑academy trusts are enormous. The levels of scrutiny, the extent to which many trusts are being encouraged to grow and to expand move from quite small units into large scale operations. We are talking in some cases tens or hundreds of millions of pounds worth of public money under the stewardship of chief executives and their trust boards. And as we see these structures expand, the role of technology is becoming ever and increasingly important. The role of a central team now supporting as many as thirty schools with a geography that can cover potentially hundreds of miles means that the digital infrastructure and the approach to both remote learning and remote administration needs very careful consideration, and it needs staff within the structures to be able to cope with that complex infrastructure.
I think it is clear and fair to say that there is never a diminishing role from the local authority; local Education Departments just do not have the resources or the funding to support schools in the way that they did. It is putting pressure on community schools and their leadership teams and even if you are not in an academy structure, the expectations on you to manage your own affairs are becoming greater. And I think for many standalone community schools they are looking at the pressure that is on them and they are asking, “can we cope on our own? Can we operate as an island or does it make sense for us to consider being part of something bigger where there are economies of scale, well established systems, a robust infrastructure, and technology that will see us through the next few years?”
What you need to do to get to where you want to be
So, there is a lot to think about. It is a very different landscape from even a decade ago – certainly extremely different from before the Academy Act in 2010. As a school business professional, I think it is very important to reflect on what you want for your own professional fulfilment and to secure your position in the system. And for me there are three broad areas to explore. One is the generalist role, and increasingly the generalist role is changing. It is still important in local settings within a multi‑academy trust. It is still very important for community schools. But I think if you are part of a multi‑academy trust structure and you want to offer that generalist support to your local setting, I think you need to accept that you will have to let go of certain things and trusts will be keen to take away elements of your role that can be done in an aggregated way that removes duplication across the group of schools within the trust. Things like finance or consolidated accounts, for sure; payroll, some HR functions, and high-value procurement are all things that you can expect to move to the centre.
That does not mean there is no important role to play supporting the headteacher locally, but it is a different role. There will be layers of management up to the central team between the local operation and the central team. The likelihood is that the levels of autonomy you enjoy will be lower than those in the central team and I think it goes without saying that those operating at a local level are likely to have less attractive terms and conditions and a lower salary than a colleague who is operating at an executive level. And that is quite a sobering statement, but I think it is the reality of where we find ourselves.
There is one caveat to the generalist role, and that is that one could argue that a chief operating officer is an executive generalist. So, they are not necessarily specialising in one area of activity: they have a helicopter view across many things. But the difference between the local generalist and executive generalist is that they are operating at a very strategic level so they will be heavily influencing the strategy for the multi‑academy trust. They will be looking very closely at structures; they will be doing horizon scanning in terms of the local demographic and any trend movements in population that will have an impact on the trust.
The specialist role really does what it says on the tin. This is the opportunity to take a particular path and specialise in areas such as finance, HR, procurement, infrastructure, or even PR and marketing. Some trusts are taking that route. It means demonstrating technical mastery; it will mean minimum levels of qualifications and credentials. It will mean investing in a deep understanding of the area that you want to develop as your career pathway. And then the executive role, by its very nature, means more than one setting – it means having that peripheral vision across various strands of activity but various establishments if you like. Again, as I said at the beginning, there are executive generalists and there are executive specialists. So, at an executive level you could be the chief finance officer, you could be the director of HR, or indeed you could be the chief operating officer in which case you are that executive generalist. But the important thing for school business leaders is to identify as quickly as possible which of those things most interest you and how you can set out on a journey to position yourself for the opportunities that are presenting themselves. Or, if what you are keen on is consolidating your position at a local level – if you do not have lofty ambition, but you want to make sure you do a good job for your local school – just recognise you are going to have to concede some ground.
The importance of moving with the times
We are in a new digital era, and I think this was coming at us at pace, but it has certainly been accelerated by COVID. We are not going back. I think that flexible working, remote working, Teams, Zoom, and other platforms that are available are going to be with us for the future. There is a big debate being had across the system about the extent to which we can extend agile arrangements to the entire education workforce. I think it is very straightforward for administrative roles, and I think many multi‑academy trust central teams are adopting an agile flexible approach to working. I think the higher up you go in terms of year groups the easier it is to do some remote learning. I think it is very difficult to offer a remote provision for primary school. Not impossible, but more difficult. But there is a lot of innovation. We have learnt an awful lot through COVID. The Oak National Academy was, I think, a good proof of concept, and we saw all sorts of provision being offered through those channels. And clearly this is Scomis’ bread and butter and the work they do in this space is extremely valued by the sector. I think we are going to see a lot more of it.
Remote governance is the norm now. I think very few schools are suggesting that busy people drive from different parts of the region they work in to sit around a table. It just makes sense to run these meetings in a digital way. I think that we are seeing a lot more schools think long and hard about the way technology flows through the whole organisation rather than this kind of piecemeal approach to procuring both hardware and software. I think certainly trusts are thinking long and hard about proper sustainable future‑proofed strategies and most of this now involves cloud‑based solutions. I asked the question of colleagues: are you ahead of the curve or behind it? And what we want to avoid is the ostrich behaviour – burying our heads in the sand and hoping it will go away and hoping that things will return to the way they were prior to 2020. I urge you not to do that. Please do not be an ostrich because it will not do you any favours and it certainly will not do your schools and your community of learners any favours either. So, please, do the horizon scanning – put your head above the parapet and understand what is coming at you and work out how you can be part of that new digital era.
How to adapt and stay current
I am going to offer some tips in terms of how you might stay ahead of the curve. I think it is important that the colleagues do some self‑assessment of their own skills, qualifications, and knowledge. Think of it as a needs analysis. I think it is important to do that diagnostic piece first. I would urge colleagues to use our professional standards as a reference point; and we are about to do a root-and-branch review of those standards, so there will be a new set published towards the end of the year. I think it is very important to choose your flavour of leadership and plot your development journey. Do not be afraid to lean into providers like Scomis. It is not a failure to look to others who are experts in their field. I think the one thing that we are very bad at as an education system is learning from industry and from the commercial world; and I think we should encourage colleagues, but we should encourage ourselves to not take these entrenched views about things – this is the way we have always done it, there is no another way, this is not going to work. It goes hand in glove with that ostrich behaviour. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got – and we are in a very dynamic, very changeable environment. In fact, I listened to a speaker just before the pandemic in the United States – he was a tech guru and he was saying that we have seen unprecedented change over the last five years. It will never be that slow again. It is a sobering statement, but it is the truth.
In terms of some useful resources, I am sure that we can share these through the Scomis channels. Please have a look at the professional standards, engage in our self‑assessment tool. We have a qualifications guide which will set out the options available to you; the pathways funded and unfunded. We can also share with you a document which is our own view of the SBP professional landscape: the roles that exist, the qualifications, and the salaries commensurate with those roles. It is our own benchmarking document. It is not a national benchmark or a national view, but it is well-researched and pretty close to reflecting what the system looks like at the moment.
I have been asked a couple of questions. The first is from someone who is looking at starting a change journey and wants to know how I would you advise going about it. It is a good question. And I think what I would say is that the first thing you need to do before you embark on change is pause. You need to understand why you want the change; you need to be clear why is it you are undertaking the change. What is the end game? Once you have cleared that up, if you are very confident and can articulate with clarity why the change is in important, then it is important to create the space and the bandwidth to embark on the change journey because change takes in energy. Change by its very nature creates turbulence, so it will take resources away from other activities. But it is also important to say that, just because we are busy, that that is not a reason to do change. What it means is prioritising in order to give yourself that bandwidth to go through that period of turbulence, to come out the other side with clear benefits which you need to be clear about.
The other thing that I think you need to do in terms of change is that self‑audit. Understand where your strengths and weaknesses are, where you are vulnerable, what expertise exists internally to help manage the change, and where you need to go externally to get additional support. And as I said, we should not be afraid to lean into others that are experts in the change space or in the tech space if they can help us along the way. It is a mistake, in my opinion, to undertake change without a proper plan and try to wing it because that way it will fail. And if you really want people to come with us on the change journey, what you do not want is obstacles at the first hurdle because you have not done any of the due diligence, any of the preparation, or plotted things properly. Any scepticism that existed before will just be exacerbated if you do not plan things properly. So those are the things I think I would focus on in the first instance.
Another question asks what I consider to be the biggest barriers to change and whether I can give any advice on how to overcome them? I think that the biggest barrier to change is, simply, resistance to change. It goes back to what I was saying before: is this is the way we have always done it? You must overcome that mindset. That is why articulating the benefits of change is so important. I never assume that people understand where you want to take them if you have not had a proper conversation with them about where it is you are taking them. The journey might be turbulent at times, but you must work through it because you have a goal in mind. And I think that that is true of any change. We know that there are going to be choppy waters, we know that it may to be turbulent, but when you get to the end of it, it will be good.
We obviously should not be misleading people and selling false promises, but I think that if we are clear about the benefits of change then we will have a better chance of success. But I have seen this top‑down approach to project management where there is no engagement with teams on the ground. Where there are no proper consultations and people do not understand the benefits – that is a car crash.
The last question I have been asked is how ISBL can help. So, our network of practitioners – and that is a very broad church – are very keen to share the experiences they have had with other colleagues. So, we can connect people; we recently invested in our own digital platform where we can host content and share our case studies. Our portfolio of qualifications is designed to respond to any knowledge gaps that exist out there in the sector. We are also working very hard with other stakeholder groups to make sure that not only do we support our own community and upskilling but that we also educate headteachers, governors, chief executives, and trustees of multi‑academy trusts about the role, and about the importance of having the right individual with the right skills and taking existing practitioners on a journey from where they are today to whenever they need to be to best support the establishment that they work in.
Sometimes – certainly before we became an institute – we were mistaken to be the union for school business leaders. We are not; we are the professional body. Other sectors have more than one professional body. The reality is that, in our sector, there is only one school business leadership professional body and that is us. So we are trying to do two things – one is to provide colleagues with the professional recognition that they deserve, and we do that through spotlighting: shining a spotlight on their qualifications but also helping them to continue to develop. Secondly, we are here to provide the sector with confidence in the work that our members do. Because we take professional development seriously and we take knowledge acquisition seriously. Fundamentally, what we are about is developing the proficiency and the calibre of our workforce – and ultimately, we would like to be able to boast that our school business leadership community are world class.