New terms are always pivotal points in the year, and the first new term of a new year will always be the hardest to manage. David Hall, associate headteacher at Bay House School and Sixth Form in Hampshire, provides his top five tips for leaders to ensure that things run smoothly from day one.
1. Get the key messages across
As our A-level and GCSE exam results are published, the time for analysis and reflection begins. The excitement of knowing how the school has performed is understandable, but the focus needs to shift to the lessons learned and how to apply these to the plans in place to support students’ success.
Equally, it’s really important to devote time to sharing the broader key priorities and messages for the year ahead. This is about wanting staff to be energised, focused and clear on expectations. We communicate priorities through staff meetings and activities during our professional days. This is then reinforced by assemblies with each year group on the first day back.
2. Stagger the start
We usually start the new term with one or two professional days followed by a day where students work with their tutors before lessons commence.
Each one is carefully scheduled so that everyone knows where they need to be and when, and, most importantly, what they will be doing.
3. Give staff time to prepare
The start of the academic year always brings the challenge of getting to know new classes, and it is essential for teachers to hit the ground running. Giving them a rich spread of information about pupils helps and can prove invaluable in ensuring that the first lesson gets off to a positive start.
During our professional days, we set aside time and space for staff to look through the latest data on their classes and use this information to plan effective lessons and devise appropriate seating plans.
4. Focus on the learning environment
Just as a department store will dress its windows to attract customers, it’s important that every opportunity is taken to make the school environment reflect its key priorities and messages.
Classrooms and corridors with refreshed and exciting displays reflecting a strong learning culture and will help to reinforce that sense of renewed energy and optimism that should come with the beginning of the new year.
5. Be visible
When the first day of school arrives, it is important for leaders to have a strong presence around the site rather than being tucked away in their offices. The new intake of pupils is always the priority and should be given close attention. Being a welcoming presence at the gate and offering a cup of tea to anxious parents can also go a long way.
From there, it’s about getting into the classrooms, delivering assemblies and walking around the school, particularly at break and lunchtimes. Using every opportunity to talk to pupils and staff allows you to model high expectations and can set the school up for a great year.