08 November 2021

The Monday Briefing: Stranger in Montreux

The Monday Briefing: Stranger in Montreux

I was incredibly privileged over the last week to have been part of a governance team sent to review the processes and practices of a fellow Bellevue school: Surval Montreux in Switzerland. Such opportunities form a key part of professional development for Heads, Deputies and wider Senior Leadership Team staff whilst providing a unique chance to gain insight into the running of like-minded institutions.

As part of a family of twenty one schools and colleges, the advantages are limitless - especially when compared to an establishment trying to survive and thrive alone. Though each Bellevue school is run independently, which reflects the overall mission of the group in treating all students as individuals, a culture of collaboration prevails. There is a passionate approach to instill a love of learning to all students under the care of the schools within the family.

The supportive power of the group was demonstrated especially well during the pandemic, with regular and comprehensive cooperation on the seemingly daily procedural updates, the sharing of best practice in delivering online learning and the piece of mind in always knowing a supportive ear was available through the minefields of testing, examination administration and negotiating the ‘strange new world’ of education. I felt that the leadership at Bellevue were quick off the mark when it came to getting plans together on how to deal with the uncertainties which could easily have overcome headteachers, and, in a similar vein, an inspiring strategy which will guide the group approach in the next few years, has been developed.

Bringing together the strands of learning, opportunity and collaboration, Bellevue is committed to developing the abilities of students, staff and parents to seek the highest standards of performance. Innovation is encouraged through training and networking, and, whilst every school has its own character and priorities, the extensive range of excellence contributed by staff is brought together to create something more.

During my visit, I realised several things: working with colleagues in person encourages trust which comes quickly and endures; good practice in one school generally translates well to another, but has to be ‘owned’ by that institution; everyone involved in the day to day running of a school should to be consulted in depth, with the findings contributing to the formulation of an agreed way forward.

Such visits can be fraught with danger on both sides. Those being reviewed could see an outsider coming in and making judgements as negative or condescending in some way. This was the opposite of what I experienced. I was welcomed into a charming, elegant school last week with incredible potential. It has an inspiring leader of a strong body of teachers, keen to listen and consider ways to improve, as well as harnessing the power of spirited students who have bright futures ahead of them. 

At the same time, as a reviewer departing the College of which I am Principal for a few days may not sound significant, but it is. It is human nature to worry when not in situ that some kind of emergency will erupt in my absence, but I needn’t have. Another important realisation during my trip was that the College, and the leadership capability in place while I could not be there, is that it can cope without me. This is all down to the fact that the College has dedicated, committed and hard working staff, as well as having well-established policies and procedures which are kept to by students. Though my presence wasn’t felt in lessons, these were covered by the staff of which I speak, and they always ensure that learning continues apace.

That being said, I can barely wait to get back to my day job: enthused and emboldened by the fact that the management within Bellevue trust me to play such an important developmental role in the journey of another part of the family; eager to reconnect with the students I’ve been fortunate to build productive relationships with; keen to express my gratitude to staff at Ealing for how they have worked to maintain the high standards which we build our institution on.

Ealing Independent College is a unique place - and my brief period of absence has made the heart grow fonder. I’m even more determined to oversee improvement for all involved within it upon my return.

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