So the election campaigning is over…for now. The political parties will spend the next few days evaluating what they did well and where they fell short, and I think teachers should do the same. There are many things we can take from the failures and triumphs of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
1. Turn up to the debate (aka be seen)
Many have criticised Theresa May’s absence from her party’s campaign this time around. She sent Amber Rudd in her place to a televised leadership debate and failed to take up the offer of multiple interviews, which is unusual for a party leader in the run-up to an election. Some have said her lack of presence was a key factor in the outcome of this election and others have pointed out that it comes across as arrogant. Being on the ground, it seems, is vital.
I know from experience that it is really easy to go through phases of being holed up in my office. As assessment leader, around data-drop time, I can feel like I’m tied to my computer while trying to analyse everything and put it into a meaningful format for others to digest. These kinds of computer-based tasks can’t be avoided sometimes. However, on balance it’s so important that school leaders do get away from their desks and are out there with everyone else – regularly. I’m at the gate every day. When I’m not teaching, I try to actively go into other classes. I eat lunch with pupils most days. However it works for you, just be around.
2. Avoid negative campaigns (aka fear rarely gets good outcomes)
Another bit of criticism being aimed at the Conservatives’ campaign is that it was a negative one, while Labour’s came across as more of a message of hope. Now, obviously that’s subjective, but the principle is definitely something for school leaders to take into account.
Leading in such a way that makes people worried about approaching you is unlikely to help you achieve your long-term goals. It doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover or be positive to the point of pretending things are OK or acceptable when they’re not, but it does mean that, in the long-term, you are optimistic. This isn’t always easy but if you have it in the back of your mind, it can help.
3. Cost your manifesto (aka make your action plans and goals specific)
While we’re on the subject of manifestos, the Tory manifesto was heavily criticised for being uncosted, while the Labour sums were called into question in the last few days before the election.
Sure, we’re not writing manifestos in schools. But when I’m putting together action plans, if I don’t include resources and budgets that I’m going to need to achieve my targets, then it can all feel a little bit pie in the sky. Details like budgets and the people you will need to help you achieve certain goals make the whole plan more realistic.
4. Hang on in there (aka remember many changes are about the long game)
Whatever your political persuasion, there is something to be said about Jeremy Corbyn’s perseverance. He’s faced a lot of doubt from members of his own party and has done better in this election than most people predicted. He could’ve stepped down as party leader at many points – some would still say he should have – but he persevered and while Labour hasn’t won, this election result is almost being reported like a victory for him in many ways.
When it comes to making changes in school, it can be really disheartening when things don’t happen as quickly as you might like or not everyone can see the positives in your vision, but it’s worth remembering these things can take time – sometimes quite a long time!
5. Not all wins spell out victory (aka put your achievements in context)
So we’ve woken up on Friday 9 June with a hung Parliament and it’s a very strange situation all round. Yes, the Conservatives got the most MPs, but the mood at the Labour Party HQ this morning seemed more victorious – that’s the reality of a hung parliament.
Context is key here: Labour have gained more seats than predicted and the Conservatives didn’t get the majority vote that would’ve been expected following a snap election.
When it comes to achievements in school, you also need a heavy dose of context because, without it, the true picture can easily be lost. When I’m looking at data for different cohorts, high expectations and context need to go hand in hand. The same goes for discussing staff targets during performance management and working with specific families – if you don’t have the context you might not have the full picture.