Monday, 30 May 2016

Using Appraisal to Drive School Performance - Presentation

A presentation given to the Education Experts Conference in Dubai on Monday 30th May, 2016.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Management Teams - Why they succeed or fail by Meredith Belbin - Key Points

Belbin is a name that has become synonymous with the profiling of teams and thus it is no surprise that Meredith Belbin's Management Teams - Why they succeed or fail has become a seminal text.  Here are a few key points:
Methodology: Belbin's conclusions were based initially on research in putting teams together for management exercises at Henley Management College in the 1970s and 1980s Teams were put together by the research team on the basis of a range of psychometric tests. These teams were then tested by their performance in business game simulations where success was measured in terms of the overall profit which the team generated in the course of the exercise. Having developed a theoretical model in the Henley test-bed, Belbin subsequently put his ideas in practice in a range of industries.
Team Roles: Belbin identifies key roles within teams.  These are usefully summarised by Belbin in a very useful summary sheet, a full size version of which appears at the end of this blogpost and which can be downloaded from Belbin's website here.
Summary of Conclusions
The contributing factors to Successful Teams were:
  1. The attributes of the person in the Chair;
  2. The Existence of a good 'Plant' (the creative, imaginative, free-thinking role);
  3. A spread in mental abilities;
  4. A spread in personal attributes laying the foundation for different Team Role capabilities;
  5. A distribution in the responsibilities of members to match their different capabilities;
  6. An adjustment to the realization of balance.
The contributing factors to Unsuccessful Teams were:
  1. Characterised by an over-emphasis on a particular ability or Team Role;
  2. Individuals took on a role that was not suited to their personalities;
  3. When key roles were required,but never filled.
The role of Intelligence: Interestingly teams with very high intelligence (Belbin calls these 'Apollo Teams') were very rarely successful - so you 'can beat bright'; conversely teams where there was no one with high intelligence were almost always doomed to failure.
Team Leadership: Characteristics
  1. The most effective team leaders were not the highest scorers in mental ability;
  2. The most effective team leaders followed the 'Co-ordinator' profile (see team role sheet below)
  3. 'Shapers' (a less calm, more driven Team Role profile) were successful at times;
  4. Different leadership attributes were required to lead an 'Apollo team' of experts.
Personality Attributes of the Successful Chairmen (p.49-50)
  1. A trusting nature;
  2. A strong basic dominance (that to some extent counter-balanced their accepting nature)
  3. A strong and morally based commitment to external goals and objectives;
  4. Calm and Unflappable in face of controversy
  5. Geared towards practical realism;
  6. Possessed of a basic self-discipline;
  7. Naturally enthusiastic;
  8. Prone to detachment and distance in social relations.
Team Size:
  1. The bigger the group, the greater the pressure to conformity;
  2. Teams of 6 are often optimum
"A team of six could offer a broad range of technical skills and Team Roles so that a company could achieve, if its composition was favourable, a high degree of balance." p.113

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Sleeping with your SmartPhone by Leslie Perlow - Book Review

This book is not about managing SmartPhone usage; it is about the steps that an organisation can take to improve the efficiency of how teams work, one by-product of which was that employees achieved a better work-life balance.
On one level it is the heart-warming story of how it took a Harvard Business School professor to get a group of highly paid workaholic consultants (Boston Consulting Group BCG) to turn their undoubted organisational talents inwards to achieve the simple goal of having one 'predictable night off' a week.
In essence there were two components to the 'Predictable Time Off' (PTO) project:
  1. A collective goal of Predictable Time Off
  2. Space for Structured Dialogue
Interestingly, the primary value of the PTO project was not that the employees ended up with more quality free-time (although in most cases that did happen), rather that the process itself set up a dialogue within the teams that in time fostered a mindset that challenged the status quo - challenging long-established ways of doing things and exploring new ones. The PTO process was a vehicle to change the culture of the organisation by opening up new methods of communication within project teams. PTO was an indirect way "to get people to challenge their beliefs about what the work requires as well as to cause people to actually make changes to how they do their work." (p.129).
Reflecting on the four years of the project, the author writes,
"What we have done at BCG is break the cycle of responsiveness and create a new system where all the components are now congruent around a new culture focused on getting the work done in ways that minimise the bad intensity and maximize individual's control." p.203
As one BCG partner summed it up,
"The value of PTO is in fighting that assumption that work-life balance and effective case teams are mutually exclusive. Because they are not." p.205
The obvious problem with this research project is that it is based around an acknowledged extreme of organisational behaviour where working away from home four nights a week is their form of norm, so people working in gentler contexts will have to translate accordingly.

This is an interesting and necessary piece of research. However, the book is in the overly repetitive style characteristic of many American business books, taking a simple message and story and milking it for all it's worth to the point that it justifies publication as a book, rather than as a pamphlet or magazine article.
Rather than buying the book I recommend that you read Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter's  article, 'Making Time Off Predictable—and Required' Harvard Business Review (October, 2009); and Leslie Perlow's excellent TED talk, Thriving in an overconnected world

Monday, 4 April 2016

Bill Walsh Lessons in Leadership Part Two: An example of what not to do

Whilst The Score Takes Care of Itself has some excellent insights for leaders, the Bill Walsh story is also a cautionary tale, for it highlights the pitfalls of "Hero Leadership".

Pitfall No.1:  Inability to Delegate
Bill Walsh had an excellent knowledge of his industry, he had served his apprenticeship with some of the best and had had opportunity to develop his leadership style as Head Coach at Stanford. He was a perfectionist and this was his fatal flaw. As Head Coach and General Manager he took overall control of the whole organisation both on and off the field. He knew everyone's job, he had defined everyone's job, he set the standards for everyone's job, and believed that he could do everyone's job better than them (which may have been true) but ultimately it led to him 'burning out'.
"Somehow in my mind I believed that I as the best qualified to do almost every job, especially when it came to the offensive part of our game, In one sense, it stemmed from confidence; I was absolutely sure that if I did the job it would not get screwed up. Well that can only take you so far. Pretty soon you're on overload while very talented people in the organization are being underultilized. 
There were others, too, on my staff who are able and willing to take on more responsibilities. They were willing; I was reluctant, even unwilling - unable is perhaps more accurate.
Well that kind of thinking can only take you so far. Eventually you are working seven days a week, sixteen hours a day, with little good sleep, eating poorly, and dealing with all kind of forces."  (p.212-3)
Leaders need to look after themselves and one of the ways they can do this is by putting trust in the talented team that they have around them.. They need to use the capacity gained to take time away from the nitty gritty of work. to be able to reflect and to develop time on the ball (see blogpost).

Pitfall No.2: Perfectionism - knowing when to let things go
Bill Walsh strove for perfection - he loved what he calls the "puzzle of perfection". His analysis of the team's performance in when they beat Miami 38-16 to win their second Super Bowl (XIX) is a case in point (p.190-92): Walsh describes this as a "the closest I've ever come to coaching a perfect game", yet Walsh continues "two events marred it for me to this very day" and proceeds to deliver a detailed post-mortem on the two imperfect plays of the game.
Here lies the paradox that makes great leaders: leaders necessarily focus on things that go wrong because these are the areas for improvement; but the leaders who are able to sustain high levels of leadership need to learn when to let things go. Bill Walsh didn't and he allowed his perfectionism and attention detail to shift from being a creative to a destructive force.

Pitfall No.3:  Allowing Winning to become "Not-failing" - The Challenge of Sustained Success
No one expected the San Francisco 49ers to win Super Bowl XVI, a year after they had had one of the worst records in the league. However, with success came raised expectations and this only increased further when the 49ers won Super Bowl XIX four years later. Fear of failure drove Walsh to the point where victory was not enough - it simply became a form of not-losing. Walsh's advice with the benefit of hindsight was:
Avoid the destructive temptation to define yourself as a person by the won-lost record, the "score," however you define it. Don't equate your "won-lost record" with your self-worth. (p.225-6)
Walsh cautions against a world where executives cannot celebrate success because they are immediately preparing to win the next battle.

Pitfall No.4: Not Managing Up" - Not managing Expectations
Part of Walsh's problem in his latter years is that he did not "manage up" well. He allowed the owner of the club to have unrealistic expectations and set unrealistic, and ultimately unachievable, targets (a Super Bowl every year).  This was a major contributory factor to his burn out and early retirement.

The section where Walsh talks about the relationship with his owner (p.220-21) chimed with me. Throughout my 14 years of school leadership in the UK the most debilitating part of the job was managing expectations of Governors. In particular, there was always a constituency on the Board who, within minutes of my announcing record results for the nth consecutive year, shifted from momentary praise to laying out their expectations for even better results the following year. 
Over the years, I have realized that an important part of the role of a leader is to manage the expectations of key stakeholders (particularly, parents and Governors), Most of all, I have come to understand that I have a responsibility both to the staff, to the senior team, to the organisation and to myself to protect ourselves from short-term demands from Governors. Burnt out school leaders and staff do not bring about sustained school improvement - School Board members around the world and the British Government take note.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Bill Walsh Lessons in Leadership Part One: An example of how to transform an organisation

Bill Walsh was the coach who turned around the San Francisco 49ers taking them from the bottom of the pile to being a team that won five Super Bowl titles in 15 years. His book The Score Takes Care of Itself - My Philosophy of Leadership is packed full of insights about how to lead and manage people and how to drive change in an organisation:
"Running a football franchise is not unlike running any other business. You start first with a structural format and basic philosophy and then find the people who can implement it."  (Frontispiece)
There is not sufficient space here to do justice to all the many insights in contained in the book, so I will endeavour to give a flavour here.

Standard of Performance
At the heart of Bill Walsh's approach is the Standard of Performance - i.e. the high requirements that he had for actions and attitudes. These applied not only to the players but to every person within the organisation (he was both Head Coach and General Manager). Everyone knew how they contributed to the aim of the organisation and what what was expected of them. 
These are the characteristics of his personal Standard of Performance:
  1. Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement;
  2. Demonstrate respect for each person in the organisation and the work he or she does;
  3. Be deeply committed to learning and teaching, which means increasing my own expertise;
  4. Be fair
  5. Demonstrate character;
  6. Honor the direct connection between details and improvement;
  7. Show self-control, especially where it counts most - under pressure;
  8. Demonstrate and prize loyalty;
  9. Use positive language and have a positive attitude;
  10. Take pride in my effort as entity separate from the result of that effort;
  11. Be willing to go the extra distance for the organisation;
  12. Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation;
  13. Promote internal communication that is both open and substantive (especially under stress);
  14. Seek poise in myself and those I lead;
  15. Put the team's welfare and priorities ahead of my own;
  16. Maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high; and
  17. Make sacrifice and commitment the organisation's trademark.

Bill Walsh was a man who liked lists ("Great organisation is the trademark of great organisations" p.85) and the book contains many useful lists of advice. Here's one for Leaders:

Be a Leader - Twelve Habits Plus One
  1. Be yourself
  2. Be committed to excellence
  3. Be positive
  4. Be prepared (Good luck is the product of good planning)
  5. Be detail-oriented (but don't bury yourself in the detail)
  6. Be organized
  7. Be accountable
  8. Be near-sighted and far-sighted (keep everything in perspective)
  9. Be fair
  10. Be firm
  11. Be flexible
  12. Believe in yourself
  13. Be a leader
"A self-sustaining winning organisation"
Walsh's leadership aim was to produce "a self-sustaining winning organisation" where "everyone is able to execute their responsibilities in all ways at the highest level" (p.229), even under extreme pressure. This was illustrated in the final play of the final game that Bill Walsh ever coached. In the Super Bowl XXIII,  San Francisco 49ers were trailing 13-16 when they got possession of the ball on their own 8 yard line with only 3:08 left on the clock. What followed became legendary in NFL history: The 92 yard "Drive" to win the Super Bowl with seconds to spare:

"The Drive" was in many ways a culmination of all that Bill Walsh stood for. It was the product of hours of training, preparation, excellent strategy and meticulous planning and, executed in the cauldron of the final seconds of a Super Bowl. San Francisco went on to win Super Bowl XXIV the following year - evidence, if any were needed, that Bill Walsh had indeed produced "a self-sustaining winning organisation".

This is a book that is already heavily annotated and one to which I know that I will return, time and time again. I cannot recommend it more highly.

There is a negative side to the Bill Walsh story, which I will discuss in Part Two of this review.

Monday, 18 January 2016


The STEM movement was borne out of an initiative of the US National Science Foundation, to promote the quality of science education in order to address a practical problem in US society, namely that the US economy was experiencing a shortage of technically skilled workers. STEM education programmes set out to improve the quality of high school teaching in these areas, and thus provide a work force equipped with the technical skills and knowledge required for the C21.
The STEM movement never argued that the humanities and creative subjects were not important, rather it set out to address an imbalance within society. 
STEM initiatives in the UK
An examination of UK undergraduate admissions illustrates the need for STEM initiatives. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data for 2013-14 (most recent available at the time of writing) 45.1% of first degree undergraduates are studying science subjects (as defined by UCAS and HESA categories). A subject breakdown f the 1,533,855 first degree undergraduates in the UK shows:
  • Mathematics  35,570 (2.3%)
  • Physical Sciences  71,080 (4.6%)
  • Engineering  106,065 (6.9%)
  • Architecture  31,160 (2.0%) 
Full Data Table available at the end of the article
The fact remains that relatively few undergraduates in the UK are studying Mathematics and Physical Sciences as their first degree. (In fact these figures may be even worse of the UK economy than these statistics suggest, given the high proportion of overseas undergraduates studying sciences).  This has a double impact, both for society and for education.
The Royal Society paper The Science and Mathematics Teaching Workforce (2013) puts forward comprehensive evidence for the need for the active promotion of teaching as a career path, particularly for Mathematics and the Physical Sciences to halt a potential cycle of decline in the quality of STEM teaching in the UK. On this basis 
STEAM initiatives are to some extent a reaction to the STEM movement, seeking to redress a balance in education that does not prioritise STEM at the expense of the humanities, languages and creative subjects. However, with the exception of languages, these subjects are buoyant as the HESA data shows. Of the 842,560 (54.9%) first degree undergraduates in the UK who are studying other subjects:
  • Business and Administrative Studies  205,285 (13.4%)
  • Social Studies 147,570 (9.6%)
  • Creative Arts and Design  139,035 (9.1%)
  • Languages  88,680 (5.8%)
In the UK, at least STEM initiatives are particularly important part to play to address what is a considerable imbalance in society.

STEM v STEAM in the Middle and Far East
The STEM v STEAM debate has a different complexion in the Middle and Far East as here a much more utilitarian and practical approach to education is the norm. These fast-growing economies have a pressing need to for technically trained graduates to drive change. Here engineers and scientists are valued and remunerated accordingly.
In this context, STEAM initiatives that seek to temper the STEM drive, by promoting the importance of creativity are much needed, once again, to address an imbalance within society.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Grade Inflation in Higher Education

The Editor
The Times of London
Grade inflation in Higher Education ('Universities stand accused after top degrees soar' The Times 15/01/2016) is an inevitable consequence of the policy to apply market forces to the sector. Like independent schools who have operated in this environment for decades, universities are businesses selling education and competing to attract students. Unlike independent schools, universities not only teach but also can determine their own results. Given the economic pressures on these institutions to fill places, there is no incentive for them award low degrees. With three-quarters of degrees awarded at Upper-Second or First Class, the time has come for a separation of teaching and degree-awarding powers, as there is in secondary education.
Yours faithfully,
Mark S Steed
Jumeirah English Speaking School, Dubai.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Letter from Dubai: The Teacher Recruitment Crisis: the UK cannot compete in a Global Marketplace

Teacher recruitment is top of the agenda for the senior leadership teams in most schools in the UK.
What hasn't been recognised in the debates in the UK media is that Britain is now competing for teachers in a global marketplace. Britain is not alone in struggling to find suitably qualified school leaders and teachers to stand in front of classes. There is a worldwide teacher recruitment crisis at every level: from classroom teachers through to school Principals. Schools are chasing the top talent; middle and senior leaders are in short supply; and specialist teachers in STEM subjects are at a premium.

Britain's immigration policies and tax regime means that Britain is simply not equipped to compete in this global market place.  Britain makes it difficult for talented teachers around the world to move to the UK; and the levels of taxation and the cost of living mean that teachers' salaries in the UK are unattractive.
Allow me to illustrate,
  • Experienced teachers in the England and Wales (ex. London) on the Upper pay range (U3) earn £37,8713; even with a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR1), they earn £50,641 (Source: NASUWT website)
  • Experienced teacher in Inner London on the Upper pay range (U3) earn £46.365; even with a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR1), they earn £58,635 (Source: NASUWT website)
By comparison:
  • An experienced classroom teacher in a top school in Dubai earns £69,000 [AED 370,000] in salary and allowances; and medical care is provided by the employer. That's the equivalent pre-tax salary of over £100,000 in the UK. Granted that living in Dubai is expensive, but no more expensive than living in London.
  • The key differences between working in London and working in Dubai
  1. that there is limited job security (one-year and two-year renewable contracts are common);
  2. there is no state-guaranteed teachers' pension scheme (instead an end of service gratuity equivalent to three weeks' salary for every year worked is paid); 
  3. teachers with children may have to pay/contribute to school fees;
  4. the sun shines every day!
Working overseas is no longer the hardship posting that it was 20 years ago. The international schools market is much more mature. There have always been outstanding British schools overseas (JESS and Dubai College in Dubai; Tanglin in Singapore etc.), but the marketplace has exploded in the past ten years as commercial school chains (such as Nord Anglia and GEMS) have spread their reach, and as Independent Schools from the UK (and elsewhere) establish franchise schools (Repton Dubai) or establish subsidiary companies (Dulwich InternationalHarrow International) around the world . These factors have meant that working abroad has never been a more attractive career step for teachers.
There are 21 schools set to open in the UAE in 2016 (National 29/09/2015). They will all be looking to attract top senior and middle managers and to recruit top teachers from around the world. This will mean that there is likely to be a significant short-term recruitment crisis in the UAE, but laws that actively attract immigration and an advantageous tax regime mean that it is unlikely to last long!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

10 Questions to ask your IT Manager (that s/he doesn't want to be asked).

These questions were drafted in order to empower school leaders to take greater ownership of the key strategic area of IT in schools.
  1. If there was a major fire in the server room, how long would it be before each of these services could be restored: email, telephones, school MIS and accounts?
  2. If a generous donation of £250,000 was given to the school specifically for IT developments (in addition to the normal budget) what would you recommend we spent it on, and what would be the advantages for the school and end users (Pupils, Staff, Parents)? 
  3. If your budget was suddenly cut by 50%, how could you cope, and what would be the effects on the School and the end users? 
  4. What would be the effect of our main Internet connection being severed by a JCB somewhere? What services would we lose? Have we any backup systems in place, or would they have also been severed by the same JCB? 
  5. Can you show me any records of the systems' reliability over the past 12 months? Do you regard the reliability as acceptable? If not, how could we improve it and how much would it cost? 
  6. What might happen if a major incident occurs while you (or any one specific member of your staff) are away on holiday abroad for 2 weeks? 
  7. How many individuals are sufficiently privileged administrators that they can see my (the Head's) documents, emails, etc.? 
  8. If a pupil got hold of a staff password, and started using it, how would we ever know, and how long might it take to find out? 
  9. Can you retrieve a file which was last seen one month ago, and how long would it take to retrieve? 
  10. For each member of your technical staff (including yourself) what would be the immediate effect on the running of the system if they suddenly (with no notice) left? What specific tasks would it be difficult for the others on your team to perform, and how long might it take to recover fully from the loss? Is there adequate documentation to minimise such a problem?
These questions were drafted by the ISC IT Strategy Group in 2009. 

The Case for combining a UK and International Curriculum: GCSE + International Baccalaureate (IBDP)

The following was an interview for WhichSchoolAdvisor 30/11/2015

  1. What are the benefits of the following the British system to GCSE, in relation to the preparation it gives students for the IB Diploma (compared with schools offering the straight IB experience from KG to Diploma)?
    JESS is a British Curriculum School that sets out to prepare young people to be global citizens. A significant proportion of parents choose to combine the British system to GCSE with the IB Diploma, as a way of remaining true to their British roots, whilst acknowledging that the young people in our care are going to live and work in global economy and need the skills and experiences to be able to do this. Others choose this combination because GCSE is an internationally recognized qualification that provides a useful blend of breadth and specialization. The stretch offered in subjects such as the triple sciences in GCSE and Additional Mathematics prepare students very well for Diploma Higher Level study in these areas. The Language and Literature courses in GCSE English develop the skills for Language and Literature courses in Diploma English. The examination process at GCSE prepares students well for the rigour of IB. Combining the British system of GCSE with the IBDP enables students to tailor their range of subjects at GCSE to discover their strengths and match that of the offerings of IB. JESS’ option areas at GCSE reflect the spread of subjects and disciplines that will need to be taken in the Diploma.
  2. What type of child/parent/family does this combined system work best for?
    The combination of the British system to GCSE with the IB Diploma works best for families who recognise that young people are going to be working in a global economy and want their children to receive an education that combines both traditional and forward-looking aspects. The English GCSE curriculum is respected globally. Good teaching through all Key Stages will ensure that students develop the skills required to study effectively at Post 16. Good teaching and learning is the key to success in any curriculum. The rigour of the examination process at GCSE prepares students extremely well for a comparable two years of study, albeit at a higher level, with terminal examinations. By completing the combined system families have numerous choices of Post 16 pathways if they wish to relocate. If they remain with the IB Diploma they will enhance their opportunities globally in tertiary education which is important in the expatriate environment. The IB Diploma is perhaps the most versatile school leaving qualification both in terms of the skills that it provides and in terms of providing smooth transition to the top university systems around the world. The IB Diploma is increasingly recognized as the best preparation for University study, be that in the UK, Europe, America or in the Southern Hemisphere. 
  3. Briefly explain why it is ideal for students to follow the British system to year 12, then change to IB for the Diploma?
    Students will have embedded themselves and proven themselves in two systems which are both recognized globally. They will have succeeded in a GCSE programme that has shown they can succeed in examinations based largely in content and knowledge. The IB Diploma will then compliment this by developing higher level critical thinking and analytical skills. Admissions officers in the UK and around the world rank the IB ahead of other systems in encouraging independent study, developing work place skills, nurturing an open mind and self-management. The preparation of IB students for university (and the work place) is second to none. 
  4. Are there any negatives you see in this combined British/IB system which parents should be aware of?
    We are not experiencing any negatives relating to the combined British/IB system. The IBDP, like A-level, is capable of providing a very broad curriculum, or a very specialized one. The key advantage of the IBDP over A-level is that the nature of the courses means that students develop a much broader skills base. The IBDP allows students to specialize at Higher Level, whilst maintaining a broad and balanced range of learning skills. For example, a student specializing in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) will have the ability to write coherently and use appropriate analysis.   
  5. How ideal is this combined system for ex-pat children, who are often expected to relocate throughout their school years?
    Relocation mid-way through a two year course, be that GCSE, A-level or IBDP, is never ideal. GCSE courses are generally available around the world. The IBDP is a truly international qualification and there are now many schools in the UK who offer it. One of the key advantages of the IBDP is that it aligns more closely to the educational systems in Europe, America, Australia and South Africa than A-level. 
  6. What do you see as the post school-benefits of a combined British/IB curriculum? (university/employers/etc.)
    The British curriculum Pre 16 is tried and trusted and the internationally recognized assessment at 16 comes at a pivotal time for many families. University admissions are increasingly looking back at GCSE grades. By being in the combined system students then have the advantage of being to undertake the IBDP widely recognized as superior by both University Admissions officers and employers.
    As far as UK university entry is concerned, statistics reveal that
    + acceptance levels are actually higher for IB,
    + the drop-out rates are lower for IB,
    + IB students are more likely to achieve first and upper second class degrees. 
  7. How can parents assess the suitability/success of any combined British/IB school before enrolling? (Accreditations/published exam results/reporting etc.)
    Parents wishing to research the relative benefits of schools should:
    a) visit the school and meet the students – they are the best indicator of a good school – well beyond reading a bunch of statistics or an inspection report. SJO] In reverse order.
    b) study the destinations of students after 18.
    c) scrutinise examination results whilst bearing in mind the profile of the school intake and admissions policy.   
I am grateful to Shane O'Brien, Head of Secondary at JESS for his help drafting these responses.