From compliance to conviction

Robin Hughes looks ahead at a big week for education in Wales.

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams AM will make a statement in the Senedd on the latest OECD report on Wales next Tuesday, 28 February.

Back in October 2016, the Secretary commissioned the OECD to look at the strategies Welsh Government has adopted for reforming education – strategies that are, in part, a response to a 2014 OECD report.

Insiders have been briefing already that this latest OECD report will be favourable.

That shouldn’t be a surprise.

No surprise that the spin is suggesting that the OECD are backing current Welsh Government reforms.

But also, no surprise that this OECD report should be favourable – the 2014 OECD report made recommendations and Welsh Government has stated that it has been pursuing these recommendations; it would be politically explosive if OECD were to report that this isn’t true.

Tuesday is also the first day of a rather hastily arranged two day event where the Secretary has invited every secondary headteacher from across Wales to Cardiff.

Every headteacher has been offered an overnight stay.  Headteachers who weren’t prompt in confirming their attendance have been chased down.

This is an unusual event.

It isn’t difficult to get access to all headteachers as they frequently attend other meetings at a local, regional and national basis.

It isn’t difficult to get messages to headteachers; one person in a single morning could lick all the stamps you’d need to send a letter to each of our 214 secondary headteachers.

This meeting is clearly intended to secure the engagement of our headteachers with Welsh Government’s programme.  They will be encouraged to ‘get with the programme’ and ‘get on message’.

Citing OECD as a supporter of the reforms is meant to encourage stakeholders to accept the message.

This might not work with all headteachers.  OECD’s PISA tests have made many both wary and weary of the gurus from Paris.

Andy Buck’s excellent ‘Leadership Matters’ has a chapter called Building Trust.

He says that educationalists often talk about partnership and collaboration.  He could have added co-construction, and that all these are claimed to be characteristic of a ‘self-improving system’ (an idea also often heard).

However, he says, it is not often that people reflect on the conditions that allow partnership and collaboration to flourish and be successful.  A key condition is trust.

Getting people to trust in you as a leader might involve three elements: they need to know you have faith in them and care about their success as individuals; they will need to believe in your integrity; your judgement and competency are persuasive (or at least you are persuasively working on getting both right).

These are tough tests if applied to Welsh Government’s relationship with headteachers.

By offering stakeholders an opportunity to shape the message, Welsh Government is taking a big step towards getting the message right and getting it adopted.

Adoption is a much stronger association than mere acceptance.  It is the difference between pursuing a policy with purpose and seeking nothing more than compliance.

This adoption can only happen if the offer of contributing to shaping the message is genuine, evident and made real.

Robin Hughes is an education consultant with specialisms in stakeholder management, reputation management, strategic development and qualitative research.

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