10 top tips to get you through to the holidays

These 10 top tips are for head teachers planning the last two terms of the year. You can find the original HERE & it is republished with the author’s permission.
10 top tips for HTs
The metaphor of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere after a long voyage through space works well for the summer term, not just because towards the end of it all you can do is hang on for dear life and hope everything holds together, but also because the amount of planning which you do at the start of the term has a direct correlation with how smooth the ride will be come July. So plan every last event between Easter and Summer as much as you can at the beginning of the term. 
I’m not saying the exact format of Sports Day needs your personal input in April (that’s the PE leader’s job) but knowing when everything happens and, generally, how it happens, is a must. The thing with the first year in a new school is that literally everything is new to you and some concert or other which you thought would be a doddle can become some beast which the staff will tell you the very survival of the school depends. So plan ahead.
Hold a diary meeting with the staff as soon as you can (obvious, I know – but with 101 pressing issues it’s tempting just to do this yourself). Schedule every event big and small and make sure that you (and everyone else) understands who needs to be involved and what prior planning is needed in advance. Plan in planning meetings for events that are complex and decide who is in charge of what. Set deadlines for completion of each stage!
This again may sound overly anal. However, in my experience, schools in trouble rarely plan ahead habitually and often try to do things last minute, resulting in concerts, sports days etc sometimes being… a little bit crap.
Plan ahead and … you’ll be glad of the clarity come July when a million events take place at once.
It’s a little bit late for this one post-Easter (it’s better done in Term 3 once you know your budget figures) but before you start creating your budget, decide what your SDP priorities for the new academic year will be and build your budget around this. 
I’m guessing that like the rest of us, your budget will be looking pretty tight this year and probably 80%+ of your spending will be on staff. However, this is exactly why you need to carefully plan how the little which is left will fund the improvements which you need to make in the coming year. This is likely to be broad brush stroke stuff but will guide you when you and/or your Business Manager write the budget proper.
Whilst most of the staff head off to lie on sunny beaches over the summer, our School Business Managers/ Leaders refer to the start of the summer holiday as ‘Term 7’. This is because it is often these few weeks over the summer where 90% of the school’s building, renovation and site work takes place. And that takes planning.
Scheduling carpet cleaning, redecorating and all those other little site jobs which can’t be done when all the children are around takes quite a lot of organisation, especially when you’re dealing with multiple contractors. Add in several larger building improvements and you’ve got a pretty packed summer holiday.
Sit down with your SBM and site team/ caretaker and agree what needs to be done. Larger jobs will need 3 quotes and the agreement of governors so, when we have a particularly busy summer of works ahead, we create a RAP-esque plan just for the site work, showing when quotes have to be in and ratified by governors, when work will begin and who is in charge when this takes place.
In a larger school, you may be lucky enough to have a site team and School Business Manager/ Leader who can take on the lions share of responsibility (although don’t forget to acknowledge this burden – for these colleagues this is the most stressful time of the year!). However, in a small school, it might only be you and the caretaker. If you are having major renovations or re-fits done, then you are ultimately responsible for H&S on site whilst the work is carried out so check with a H&S specialist who can advise you on this. It is possible (we guttered half the classrooms/hallways/ toilets in the school in my first summer holiday as Head) but it will take a lot of planning – so start thinking about this at the start of Term 5.
A couple of years ago I noticed that during the summer term the mood of my staff began to shift. A few professional rivalries simmered, dragging others into the argument. Negativity began to spread. At the time I did nothing to address this with the team as a whole – they were grown-ups after all. However, this was a mistake as, by the end of July, people were openly sniping at each other and we limped to the end of term utterly exhausted. 
So the following year I took a different tack. At the first staff meeting of the term, I reminded the staff of our Team Values (something we’d agreed a couple of years before) which included things like ‘we are positive’, ‘we give honest feedback’, ‘we don’t ‘scuttle-butt’ etc. I acknowledged that the summer terms are long and busy but that this meant that we needed to be extra kind and forgiving of one another. The results couldn’t have been more different – staff were kind and forgiving to the last day.
I’m not saying for one moment that people won’t be kind and forgiving without being told. However, having that conversation when everyone is still fresh means that you as a team will have consciously agreed your team norms for times when things get stressful – and in the summer term, these will be many!
Although a really busy term, its nice to put your shoulder to the wheel with the staff and help with some actual teaching between the start of Term 5 and SATs in May. You may be doing this already (my breakfast maths group have been meeting at 8:30am since January) but if not, ask your Year 2 or Year 6 teachers what you can do to help and then get stuck in. 
If you’ve only just come out of the classroom chances are you’ve taught in a SATs year so your experience could be useful and an extra pair of hands at this critical time of year can make all the difference.
But remember – You’re there to help, not take over! Pitching in will show the staff that you can still teach; sticking your nose in and bossing people around will put noses well and truly out of joint!
Term 5 (and the first half of Term 6) is your last chance to secure the progress which your children will need in order to meet the targets you will have set for them. It is worth really delving into each child’s progress at the start of Term 5, looking forensically for any weaknesses in groups, classes or cohorts and quickly planning interventions to overcome these.
You will no doubt have been doing this all year. However, time is now running out and at the start of the summer term, staff need to have a sense of urgency in making sure that every child achieves well.
Simple progress matrices are one of the most effective ways of identifying children who are slipping behind, particularly if benchmarked against ‘prior attainment groupings’ in KS2 and EYFS outcomes in KS1. It is easy to get sucked into the quasi-science of ‘expected progress’ and even worse ‘expected point score’ (where a school creates a wholly unscientific and unreliable point score measure to show progress in non-SAT year groups). DON’T! OFSTED themselves have told inspectors not to ask about progress scores (apart from those in the IDSR) as there is no such thing as ‘expected progress’ post-levels.
My advice on progress is to simply look at where the children need to be at the end of the key stage and then establish whether they are on track or not – and a progress matrix is all you need for this.
Now I’m not suggesting a clandestine plot to unseat the much loved Reception teacher here, merely that at the start of the summer term you start to put together various hypothetical staffing models depending on what happens as the 31st May deadline for experienced staff to get promoted looms.
Staff getting promoted is a good thing and I always worry when a school says that no one has left in the last 20 years. Stability is good – but comfort can sometimes slip into complacency.
Chances are, during Term 5 you’ll start to get a feel for whether you will have to make appointments for September (and if you’re very lucky you’ll know this already).
We always start with a blank sheet of paper and a pile of post-its. At the top we write ‘Top secret staffing plan’ (it makes it sound more exciting!). Then we plot out all the teachers and all the classes/ year-groups with where we’d ideally place teachers (and support staff) next year.
It’s always good to ask your staff to tell you if they want a change. It may spark a new, unexpected plan which you’d not considered. One of the best changes we made came after my two super Year 6 teachers got promoted to other schools, leaving a Y6 shaped hole which we filled with a Y2 and Y4 teacher (neither of which had ever taught Y6). The school achieved its best ever SATs results from these newbies!
However, I’m not one for just letting staff choose which years/ classes to go into – sometimes the school needs certain people in certain places at a certain time.  Hence the need for a plan. I used to share the staffing plan whilst it was developed initially – and to some extent I still talk to everyone about what we’re thinking. But the problem with sharing all your thoughts is that, if someone ups and gets a new job, the teacher who had their heart set on teaching in Y4 may have to go into Y6 etc. So its a good idea to have various discussions at an SLT level to plan for differing scenarios.
Never, ever, ever appoint someone because you’re worried that time is running out. It doesn’t matter whether your school is Outstanding or in Special Measures – it should be an honour to work at your school and only the best people should get a job with you.
We’ve all been there: one of your best teachers gets a new job on the 31st May and then you’re scrambling around to appoint a replacement when there’s not a good KS2 teacher to be found in a 40 mile radius. I have, on occasion been panicked into doing some rash things in these circumstances but it is never worth the gamble.
The temptation is to lower the bar – hope that the so-so candidate who did apply will turn out okay; or worst still go to a recruitment agency who will tell you a so-so candidate is the best thing ever and then charge you 15% of their salary.
Give a temporary contract if you must, but hold out for a member of staff who is worthy of your school. Your staff are what makes or breaks your school – choose them wisely.
Like Sandra Bullock holding on for dear life at the end of the film Gravity, the last 2-3 weeks (as sports days, plays, events and just too much ‘difference’ starts to take its toll on staff and children alike) the school (like a space capsule returning to Earth) can feel dangerously out of control.
It may feel like a great idea to allow timetables and basic rules and expectations to go out of the window but in my experience there is a direct correlation between this and children (and occasionally staff) behaving increasingly unpredictably. Like it or not we are creatures of habit who thrive on routine. Take that away and often anarchy will fill the void.
So if you don’t want to spend July metaphorically tumbling through the atmosphere as bits of your school glow white hot and then fall off around you, try and keep these last few weeks as orderly as possible.
We teach the full curriculum until pretty much the last week of term, when class moves and other disruption makes DVD/ Rounders purgatory inevitable.
On a space craft, the astronauts avoid the chaos of re-entry flooding in by working through carefully thought-out checklists. It sounds crazy, but we’ve found that this is not a bad idea…
So just before the last two weeks of term, we issue an ‘end of year’ memo. This includes a run down of what is happening and what needs to be done on each day (what day we send books home, clear the cloak rooms, move classes etc etc etc). It sounds really OTT, but believe me, it means everything gets done in an orderly fashion as nobody’s making it up on the fly. We even have a single page on the last day which details which classes are in charge of tidying which part of the school. Again, sounds OTT, but actually means you leave the school looking nice (not like a crumpled space module which has just returned to Earth)!

Are you ready for the summer terms? What will your landing be like?

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