17 October 2022

The Monday Briefing: Breakthru

The Monday Briefing: Breakthru

I was incredibly proud to be asked to give a presentation to my colleagues at the Bellevue Education Heads Forum on Tuesday, with the focus of the day geared towards admissions, and best practice within this area of school management.

Given the fact that the College has expanded its numbers by around 40% this academic year, I felt that I had a great deal to contribute to the event - though our recent success was never a foregone conclusion. It has taken a monumental amount of hard work, the consistent application of expertise and an innovative approach given our context. It has also, above all, needed having the right team in place, working as a cohesive unit. This has been the most prominent ‘secret of our success’ in this area.

I think, first and foremost, that it’s quite important to explain the context of Ealing Independent College. When I took over as Principal, the outlook was an extremely challenging one. Being wedded to a strategy which no longer supported the changing market had already sounded the death knell for several of our competitors, who had fallen by the wayside. It was clear to me from a very early stage that survival would be hard fought and hard won, but it was something I was committed to making happen. It needed change - and change in a school setting takes time. Otherwise the whole community can undergo a period of destabilisation.

As I shared my presentation with the group, I explained that some words of advice from key individuals at Bellevue had really stuck with me, and that I’d also kept in mind one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite films - The Shawshank Redemption. When Andy Dufresne finally made his escape from Shawshank Prison, and Elis Redding explained how he had managed it, it chimed very much with me.

“That’s all it takes really…pressure and time.”

In the movie, Dufresne chipped his way out of prison with a small rock hammer in less than 20 years.

Anyone who has ever visited Ealing Independent College will know that we do not possess any great tools or weapons in the fight to attract students to join us. Whilst our competitors have grand traditional buildings with Georgian facades or modern state of the art boarding facilities, we have a ramshackle 60s office block. If one was looking to make some kind of breakthrough in the market, one would not select how we look on the outside. What we have is on the inside: excellent teaching; strong relationships; tried and trusted systems built for success. All of these are ‘slow burn’ qualities. We have, in many ways, a metaphorical rock hammer in comparison to other colleges’ sledgehammers.

That is not to say that a rock hammer can not be effective. Yes, it takes time, commitment, patience and pressure to bring results, but the yield is all the more fulfilling when the breakthrough is made - and I can say that the glass ceiling which loomed above us has now been broken - obliterated in fact.

For me, it all started with the vision of the College I wanted to be, and ensuring that the required levels of dedication were applied to give the vision the best chance of becoming a reality. 

Keeping that in mind, the EIC ‘product’ has always been a good one:

-Excellent results, particularly in terms of value added

-Stable staff

-Engaging experiences of student rehabilitation and ‘mending futures’

-A nurturing and supportive environment with more flexibility for students, which they embrace

But we, much to my frustration, were a ‘best kept secret’ - local parents who suddenly ‘discovered’ us often said they had no idea we were there. I remember enduring several interviews at the beginning of my tenure. Each positive, but each tinged with frustration.

I knew that in the medium to long term, there was a need to break out of these constraints.

There are a number of methods I have brought in to work towards this end: you are currently reading the blog - my 84th - which has helped to bring exposure to the College. This has been enhanced further through our Alumni chats, Teacher Tuesdays and the College Magazine ‘Distinct’ all of which have been introduced with the intention to ‘open the window’ on what goes on here. Social media presence has increased, and word-of-mouth has expanded in an extremely positive manner.

In the meantime, we’ve become a trusted provider with local authorities, have enhanced the experience of private candidates at the College, and, through no particularly concerted effort, have made an inroads into the introduction of international students.

Our attractive, and regularly updated website was now getting the exposure it deserved which meant it could truly shine. When parents then dug a little deeper, they found rightly excellent Google reviews, interesting recent articles and an engaging alumni network. This prompted the unprecedented number of enquiries we’ve been receiving this summer.

When parents then came to see us, they met people with whom they could confirm the first impressions they had of EIC. They received a warm welcome, were given as much time as they needed to ask any questions through a personal consultation and received expert advice whatever situation they were in. The quality of the building and its surroundings - which had often been raised as a problem before - didn’t seem to matter at all. Small changes have taken place with regard to this, with the internal display being more modern, and photos of past students on the walls, who can be referred to during tours and visits. Our new gate creates a far better first impression, and several parents comment on the ‘warmth’ they feel during interviews.

Without a doubt, the most important part of this transition was in ensuring that the right people are in the right roles to make this happen. I have trusted staff to do their roles correctly, and they have delivered comprehensively - a small team, which all knew their parts to play in the operation - Principal, Vice Principal, Admissions and Marketing, Office Manager. Without these four people, working closely together, supporting each other and creating efficient and robust systems, there is no way that we would be in the strong and healthy position we are now.

One of the quotes I used at the start of my presentation was from the Finance Director at Bellevue. I’d like to end this blog with another of his pearls of wisdom: ‘Teamwork makes the dream work.’

That much has certainly been true during the transformation here. 

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