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Highgate Primary 2020 Vision

In the summer term, the school worked closely with Education Consultant, Dr Ingrid Wassenaar, to establish a vision for the school for the next five years. This piece of work soon became known as Highgate Primary 2020 Vision. You can read the fascinating Executive Summary from Ingrid’s report below which leads to a set of aspirational statements as to why children succeed at Highgate Primary School.

We have also been working with local artist Brigitte Herrod to produce a set of images that exemplify these statements. Click on the statements below to see the wonderful images which are now displayed around the school, much to the delight of the children.

At Highgate Primary children succeed because…

Highgate Primary 2020 Vision Executive Summary by Dr Ingrid Wassenaar

In 2009 I helped the school develop an Olympic Vision with five interlinked vision areas. These were subsequently identified as the school’s values. Five years ago, the school wanted to name and drive its core values through every policy and strategy area, and this has now been achieved. The Headteacher invited me to conduct a second piece of work to help him capitalise on this strengthened identity and purpose, by concretising the school’s goals. This exercise quickly became known as the ‘2020 Vision’.

I suggested holding creative workshops with different groups of stakeholders in the school, as in the previous exercise. This time, we also felt that one to one interviews with new postholders would be an effective way to measure changes in the school’s organisation. To that end I worked with children from both Key Stages, with parents, support staff and teachers. I also interviewed the Head of Inclusion Services, the manager of the Family Centre and the School Business Manager. None of these posts had existed at the time of the 2009 work.

The workshops were simple in structure. I wanted to know what people felt was working well now, where they might still have concerns, and what they suggested towards change and improvement. Qualitative research is good at uncovering an overall picture and narrative of change. Talking to parents, whether on their own or in a group, quickly revealed the length of time individuals had engaged with the school. Those who had seen the school through the last five years could give very detailed accounts of the changes they had witnessed. Those who were new to the school did not express a sense of being ‘haunted’ by any residue of previous shortcomings. This is a wonderful indication of the depth of cultural change that has clearly taken place. By the same token, listening to teaching and support staff, it was clear what a happy community the school has become. People spoke with enthusiasm and purpose about the school and their role within it. Any criticisms were constructively voiced. There was no sense of the apathy or cynicism which had characterised the previous work. For me, this overwhelming sense of the change in the school was deeply moving.

I showed the posters created in each workshop to governors, and they debated some of the findings. It was easy to celebrate how far the school has come in terms of the five value areas: green, healthy, supportive, inclusive, loving learning. And it was easy to see that where there are areas in which gains still need to be made, they are small, concrete and basic, not structural, organisational or cultural. The toilets were smelly in 2009, they were patched up, and they are smelly again in 2015. So be it. Work will have to be done on the toilets.

But smelly toilets are a mere drop in the ocean by comparison with the systemic difficulties the school used to face. Because of its geographical location, the school is historically undersubscribed, and as a result has tended to attract a much higher number of children and families with particular needs. The school has worked incredibly hard since 2009 against its ‘supportive’ agenda, ensuring that it has Inclusion Services of the very highest standard. Few other primary schools could boast the same. Highgate Primary is offering everyone, children and staff and parents, an extraordinary level of care and individual attention, through its Inclusion Services and its wonderful Family Centre. Together, these two dimensions of the school have helped to solidify its identity as a school that genuinely serves its local community — putting its money where its mouth it, as it were.

Reading the report, it is important to perform a double take: it is the absence of criticisms, or the tininess of the complaints, which gives the true index of how much progress the school has made. It is also worth pointing out that some criticisms — the playground, the dinners — have been addressed or are being addressed now. This indicates not so much that there are still problems, as that culture change is a very long-term process. Reputation takes a long time to change, and it is crucial to communicate successes in a persistent way in order to overcome out of date hearsay. Of course there are some valid criticisms, and these will be addressed in the school’s Strategic Planning. This vision exercise can help to feed the planning process. By comparison with the deep change that has taken place, such criticisms are relatively cosmetic.

By far my strongest conclusion is that the school now needs to have confidence in itself, needs to blow its own trumpet, and take the message to the world. This is a wonderful school, with an ideal mix of people, full of innovation and creativity, constantly aspiring to improve, and building on each of its achievements. At the moment the only thing preventing Highgate Primary from being the ‘school of choice’ is the view that the school is ‘Highgate’s best kept secret’.