School leaders have shouldered some big burdens over the last couple of years. The HMC conference title this year reflected this: “Headspace to Refresh”. In giving independent school leaders space to reflect, I wanted them to be able to reflect on a period of extraordinary disruption to education, and to recharge their vision for education.
The conference opened against the backdrop of threatening sounds from the Labour Party gathering in Brighton – the potential for VAT and the loss of charitable status to damage the independent sector.
The possibility that this policy could cost the Exchequer money (Crowe estimates that it will result in a loss to the taxman of approximately £0.5bn), require taxes to be raised elsewhere, and increase pressure on class sizes and admissions codes in the state sector were highlighted in our responses.
“I suggested that HMC heads should stand with other school leaders to help the DfE to navigate the difficult waters that lie ahead.”
The chair’s address traditionally opens the conference. In that speech, I congratulated HMC heads on their leadership over a period in which schools and their leaders have been under great pressure. The pivot to online learning was outstandingly done in HMC schools, as well as in many other independent schools and state schools all over the country.
As we consider the future of our schools, and of all schools, I also suggested that HMC heads should stand with other school leaders, and teachers, to help the DfE to navigate the difficult waters that lie ahead.
During the remainder of the conference, we heard on the main stage from voices outside our sector – from Peter Tatchell and Chanel Contos (of Teach.Us.Consent) about the importance of school as an environment in which all can thrive. We also heard from Justin Maciejewski and Pip Hare on the nature of inspirational and effective leadership; and from Baroness Morrissey and Stephen King on the nature of the world for which we are preparing our pupils, and for which we are readying our institutions.
“Above all, we enjoyed reconnecting with each other.”
Workshops gave headteachers an opportunity to learn about the best practice in other schools, other sectors and other businesses, as did a panel of technologists, and of schools’ associations from Europe, North America and Australia.
There was much to feed our minds. As to our relationships, we were warmed by Rev Richard Coles’ blend of humanity and humour, and by the scholarly call from Rev Dr William Olhausen in our conference service to help our schools to rediscover their sense of community.
And – above all – we enjoyed reconnecting with each other: having not met in person for two years it was so important to rekindle the fellowship heads share and talk through the similar and testing roads we have all journeyed down.
Cardiff’s International Conference Centre of Wales gave us space: speakers and each other’s company gave refreshment. I hope HMC heads went back to school with a greater bounce in their stride, remembering why they first wanted to be teachers, and headteachers, with a renewed determination to make a difference in their schools, and their communities.