By Stephen Bampfylde, Chair, Saxton Bampfylde
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Saxton Bampfylde’s Schools Practice is the knowledge that in some small way we play a part in education which, as Nelson Mandela so eloquently put it, is ‘the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Given our firm’s mission is to ‘change the world by changing leaders in interesting and important organisations’, our work in this sector aligns rather nicely with the values of the firm as a whole.
We are acutely aware, however, that the UK schools system as a whole faces a range of pressures, many of which present new and very real challenges for those in leadership positions. With growing financial pressures, heightened external expectation and ever-increasing statutory requirements, we know a broad range of skills are needed to be successful. As a result, it is increasingly obvious that the most successful schools are, more often than not, being driven forward by passionate and determined leadership teams, rather than solely one individual, and that these teams comprise people with a greater range of backgrounds and skills than might well have been the case even a decade ago.
To future-proof our schools, there is a sense that leadership and management development will take on greater importance, that coaching of new leaders will be increasingly welcomed and indeed required, and that structures which support collaboration and development of middle and senior leaders will become more and more attractive. Diversity of leadership, both at non-executive and senior leadership levels, continues to be a challenge and this is something to which we hope to return in future editions of CANVAS, hoping as we do to play a part in better understanding the challenges of supporting and developing a more diverse leadership pool, across the sectors.
Teams work well when there is a strong understanding of the roles that the executive and non-executive need to play. Being a governor today brings with it increased responsibilities across the piece, but it is also a chance to contribute strategically to the future of what are often very significant operations both in this country and, quite often, overseas. Whilst it is difficult to find people willing to take on this weight of responsibility, we are encouraged that senior leaders from other sectors increasingly understand what interesting and complex operations schools are and as a result, are drawn to the chance to join such a board. Training and board review will, we believe, become increasingly commonplace to ensure that boards can work as effectively as possible to help the executive meet the challenges of the day.
Through this edition of CANVAS, we explore the difficult balance leaders need to strike as they ensure time spent tackling broader sectoral issues doesn’t detract from the day-to-day focus on what is at the heart of any school: the pupil experience.
In this vein, we’re delighted to introduce the newest Partner and Consultant to join our schools team, Jenny Dwyer. Coming directly from 12 years as Head of the prestigious Sherborne Girls, Jenny shares her thoughts about leadership in the schools sector and the ways in which both heads and governing bodies should be supported to face the challenges their increasingly multi-faceted roles present.
We are also fortunate to be able to include the thoughts of Tom Davies, Bursar at Monkton, as he shares his advice for those looking to step into a similar role. Tom talks about the importance of establishing a strong operational team and the fundamental challenges Bursars face as they work alongside heads to ensure the success of their school.
I do hope you enjoy reading this edition of CANVAS and as ever, any views you may have on the themes raised would be very welcome.