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The Conversation: Every teacher matters

Redbridge Community School invests heavily in its staff. Deputy head Lindy Barclay tells Di Beddow how its award-winning approach is paying off

Redbridge Community School invests heavily in its staff. Deputy head Lindy Barclay tells Di Beddow how its award-winning approach is paying off

Redbridge Community School invests heavily in its staff. Deputy head Lindy Barclay tells Di Beddow how its award-winning approach is paying off

Lindy Barclay

Q: Lindy, your school takes great pride in putting teachers first - before parents, data and shock, horror, even before the children. You're very passionate about it. What evidence do you have that your approach is successful?

A: If you have staff who are well-trained and looked after, who are loyal and hardworking, and who want to come to work in the morning, then everything else falls into place. As for evidence, despite operating in one of the most deprived areas of Southampton, Redbridge has twice been recognised as "outstanding" by Ofsted, and is a lead school for curriculum innovation. We are in the top 1 per cent of the country for contextual value-added, and we are fully staffed year on year. We are convinced that much of our success is down to our policy of putting staff first.

Q: Was there a Damascus moment - a time when you, or the school, decided to change direction?

A: There were probably two major influences that helped to define our thinking. The first came from a book by Tom Peters, The Pursuit of Wow. I remember being almost dazzled by an idea that was both incredibly simple and obvious, yet barely considered appropriate in the field of education. Peters' "staff first, client second" is a mantra that has been successfully applied to businesses worldwide. But there was no apparent reason why it could not work in schools. It made great sense to our leadership team.

This coincided with our reassessment for Investors in People status, which was our second driving force. Their interest in raising productivity through investment in staff training and development also made sense. Every school has the desire to drive up standards. We set about it by putting time, money and thought into our staff development programme.

Q: If I were to walk into Redbridge and trip over the "staff first" philosophy, what would it look, smell and sound like? Could you give three examples?

A: I think you would encounter staff who are positive and optimistic. You would find them open, friendly and welcoming. Without a doubt, you would hear them laugh. There is a real recognition that teaching is tough and that no one gets it right all of the time. A sense of humour carries us through the toughest of days.

I think you would also pick up the buzz of learning in many classrooms. And as a consequence of the above you would meet our "clients". An inspector commented on a recent visit to Redbridge that she had never met students so proud of their school. As for three things that changed: first, top-quality training for our staff - a database of the best trainers and courses in the country, and a policy, where possible, of sending staff out in pairs.

Second, a flattened management structure: head, one deputy, six "directors" and four senior members of staff - all of whom make up our "extended leadership group".

Third, getting the right people on the bus, and then getting them in the right seats for them on that bus - moving good people around so that they are in areas of strength and interest.

The effect is that our teaching staff have a can-do approach to learning and are willing to take risks. Staff retention is very high and we have no unfilled vacancies, year on year. A happy, settled staff leads to a happy, settled school. It's hardly rocket science.

Q: The result is that you have just received an Investors in People champions award. How?

A: Redbridge was put forward by our assessor last summer. We had to go through various qualifying stages and were in competition with many large organisations. The programme is about being "the best of the best", and recognises organisations for their exemplary staff training and development.

Of 33,000 businesses that have Investors status, there are only 42 champions. It's a huge accolade and a reward for our enduring commitment. Just before the final stage, our assessor phoned to wish us luck. She said: "You'll be fine. Redbridge is like a stick of rock. You break it off at any point and you see the same lettering all the way through."

It was a hugely encouraging observation and we went on to become a champion.

For more on Investors in People champions see:

Di Beddow is deputy head of Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.


Name: Lindy Barclay.

Job: Deputy head.

School: Redbridge Community School in Southampton, a specialist sports college.

Education: BA (Hons), MA (Ed), Diploma in book publishing and design, trainee consultant with National College for School Leadership.

Years in teaching: 29

Special interests: Walking in cities (just like Charles Dickens used to do); drinking far too much Italian coffee.

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