Given the challenges posed by the last year, setting long-term goals for the future and thinking about what life could look like beyond the pandemic has proven important for so many reasons.
The fact that each week has brought something new to adapt or respond to has made longer-term planning difficult to contend with. Yet making time for such considerations is vital to ensure we can all emerge from the pandemic in the best possible way. Having a strong “North Star” in the form of long-term goals and aims will always help when picking through day-to-day challenges in a way that is consistent with the values of our institutions. While not comprehensive, the following list will hopefully provide prompts for reflection on longer term issues.
Financing the future
The financial pressures around our schools are well documented and aren’t going anywhere soon. Even before the pandemic, fears over independent education becoming unaffordable meant that fee rise conversations became increasingly delicate. This desire not to accelerate the cost of attending our institutions, combined with pressures around TPS and the spectre of business rates or VAT changes have only been exacerbated by recent events.
“It is clear that diversification of income streams is something that all of us should consider more.”
Schools are becoming increasingly creative when it comes to safeguarding their financial futures. Schools are creating enterprise operations, creating training programmes that can be bought into by organisations at home and abroad; stepping into the international arena; issuing bonds to fund capital projects, or creating school groups and partnerships that share costs.
It is clear that diversification of income streams is something that should be given greater consideration by all of us. There is no one solution that will work for each school and chasing income should not distract from our core business or the care of our students and wider community.
Shape of staffing
With financial pressures come inevitable conversations around staffing models and the associated costs. While in times of difficulty, the idea of protecting jobs and the health of the institution might help bring people around to unpalatable choices regarding pensions, cost of living increases or the wider pay scale, these are not sentiments that can be relied on in the longer term. If the offer to staff is eroded too heavily, this will only have an impact in the classroom and the wider operation of the school.
Identifying the shape and scale of the curriculum you wish to offer in five years’ time is a helpful starting point for ensuring subsequent staffing conversations are in line with these wider aims. Yet beyond this, again, the opportunity to think creatively should not be missed. So much has been talked about in recent months about the ways in which working life might become more flexible in many areas of society.
Consider how this might be reflected in your own school; what could a more open and flexible approach look like, and how might this serve as a different tool to support staff retention and development. What are the ways in which you can recognise the extraordinary efforts and contributions of staff so that, if difficult decisions around pay awards must be made, there are still compelling reasons to remain a part of your community?
How we participate in our wider communities, as well as communicate clearly with all members of the community are ripe for review and innovation. While we might be sick of time staring at screens by now, there is no doubt that the use of Zoom or Teams has opened up ways to host more inclusive events.
Certain changes might be made for reasons of convenience, such as online parents evenings being preserved, while we will all now feel more confident inviting speakers from around the world to present to students remotely. A more ambitious approach might see schools look to invite members of the local community to events online. Broadening those who have access to university information evenings or speaker events is a simple way to make a positive difference.
“It may be those aspects of school culture that were previously felt to be indelible have been tested beyond breaking point.”
Better still, creating bespoke events that might benefit those living in the local area of your school could be very powerful. It would not take much to host evening classes on creative writing, art or even CV writing and networking, using the expertise of your colleagues. Given the pressures all areas of society have faced, making sure that we do not focus solely within our own walls is going to be important in so many ways in the years to come.
Who are you?
Even those schools with the longest traditions and strongest sense of purpose will have been shaken by the last year. We all have a chance to think about the wider part we play in society and the ways in which our students will go on to shape life in the post-pandemic world. Planning for the longer term is always much harder without clarity over the mission and values and making sure that all members of the community continue to buy into them.
This does not mean having to throw the baby out with the bathwater and move away from the foundations that have helped your school cope with extraordinary events. However, a chance to sit back and reflect on what the school might now stand for moving forward should not be ignored. It may be those aspects of school culture that were previously felt to be indelible have been tested beyond breaking point or are now ready for deeper discussion in light of all we have seen recently.