How to lead schools innovatively rather than in a spirit of compliance… using the STIR model #BELMAS2019

STIRring Times: Accelerating Innovative Change through Leadership in UAE Schools“,
Khalid, F., Webb, C. (July 2019). Conference: BELMAS Annual Conference 2019 – ‘Educational Leadership for Social Change’. Jury’s Inn, Hinckley Island, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. 12-14th July 2019
“The UAE has undergone significant changes in the educational sector in an attempt to overhaul didactical methods to teaching and learning. The changes were announced in 2014 with an ambition of accomplishment by the year 2021 focusing mainly on improving student attainment and progress as measured by the international standardized test TIMSS and PISA, in which the UAE plans to be in the top 25 performing countries. The UAE ‘National Agenda’ sets clear criteria to improve educational systems with special emphasis on leadership and the role leaders undertake in ensuring effective change implementation. Leadership in the region has often been dominated by authoritative individuals’ apparently compliant to highly bureaucratic systems that can sometimes fail to place students and staff teams at the core of planning.
In light of this, the study reported on in this paper investigated effective leadership in two schools in Dubai, exploring distinctive leadership behaviours, expertise and actions, specifically looking at how leaders guide teams in adopting effective practices to improve student and school performance. The purpose of the study was to investigate leadership holistically, linking to literature in an effort to define effective leadership in the context of implementing change.
Research adopted a post-positivist paradigm approach, founded on a critical realist perspective, attempting to validate data using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The qualitative data rested on semi-structured interviews (n=10) with SLT members across 2 schools, and quantitative data was derived using online surveys (n=105) completed by teachers in both schools.
Findings revealed that SLT members had extensive knowledge of effective leadership behaviours, and similar perceptions were also shared in teachers’ responses. This however when analyzed revealed that both teachers and SLT aligned their discernment and knowledge to the given structured KHDA criteria for successful leadership and management which coincidently can be suggested to be contradictive to the proposed collegial and innovative approach to change management and implementation as recommended in the literature.
A model was therefore suggested founded on a paradigm suitable for UAE schools which considers an incremental approach factoring on culture and school capacity to accept and implement change using processes that are reflectively iterative and based on team empowerment. The resultant STIR model can be useful to leaders aspiring to be agents of effective change, who are creative and innovative exploring multiple views in an effort to improve and sustain organizational progress.”
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When Outdoor Learning Gets Hot! Leadership skills for UAE style Forest Schools? #BELMAS2019

“Out of the Woods and into the Desert – Leadership of Forest Schools: A UAE Case Study”. Hendawy, Z., Webb, C., July 2019. Conference: BELMAS Annual Conference 2019 – ‘Educational Leadership for Social Change’. At: Jury’s Inn, Hinckley Island, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. 12-14th July 2019
This paper presents research on an exploration of leadership in Forest Schools as a model of nature-based learning. A needs analysis indicated demand for creating nature-based learning environments in the UAE. Therefore, this study investigated leadership in UAE schools and changes required to initiate nature-based learning relevant to the UAE context of nature, culture, and heritage, over the period from April to June 2018. The first research question focused on establishing a thorough understanding of leadership styles and characteristics in Forest Schools by interviewing a range of international Forest School leaders and experts (n=10). The second research question explored leadership style and characteristics of UAE school leaders across Abu Dhabi schools using a survey questionnaire(n=74). These questions were put forward to offer a clear understanding of the relationship between leadership and creating outdoor learning experiences. Literature and interview results indicated that with leadership distributed at different organisational levels Forest School Principals allow great flexibility to adapt to environments pertaining to nature pedagogy. School leaders interviewed suggested they adopted a transformational leadership style which can positively encourage and promote change required to create nature-based learning opportunities. However, roles and responsibilities in UAE schools need to be distributed to involve more teachers indecision making, and to motivate and empower them to take part in the required change towards nature-based learning. On the basis of the above, it was possible to derive a nature-based leadership model with specific style and characteristics that offers several ways to initiate nature-based settings in UAE schools.
Link to conference slides:
Zinab 3rd version - CW 30th June BELMAS Presentation

So many ways to lose your teachers – how can we keep them? 120 teacher retention factors & strategy explored… #BELMAS2019

“120 Ways to Lose your Teachers: Teacher Retention Factors for School Leaders to Act On”. Longdon, S., Webb, C., July 2019. Conference: BELMAS Annual Conference 2019 – ‘Educational Leadership for Social Change’.At: Jury’s Inn, Hinckley Island, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. 12-14th July 2019.
This case study explores factors that contribute to teacher turnover and the opinions of educators on what can be improved to aid retention based on a study conducted in an international school in Dubai, UAE. Collecting attitudinal data and determining the most significant factors that affected teachers’ employment decisions supported the evaluation of leadership’s impact on the retention of international-school teachers. Two stages of data collection were conducted in a mixed method design, consisting of semi-structured interviews (n=10) and asurvey (n=80). The sequential sampling and staged research approach were usedto add credibility to the research by synthesising the findings from bothmethods to support triangulation. The study discovered that in the opinions of these educators, 120 factors either cause or contribute to teacher turnover and retention. Of this multitude of factors, leadership was the most significant reason teachers left the School, which was primarily caused by the lack of appreciation or recognition leaders show towards their staff. The main reasons teachers stayed in the School was due to the familiarity they had established with their colleagues and the work environment. Teachers believed that leadership’s behaviour was the most significant area to improve to retain teachersdue to the perceived lack of recognition, support, empathy, approachability, instructional involvement, autonomy and trust in teachers their leaders provide. These findings provide educational leaders in international schools around the world, and in particular, Dubai, valuable information on what influences teacher employment plans. With this knowledge, leaders can select effective leadership styles and interventions to retain teachers.
Conference slides available from:
BELMAS Conference - Simon Longdon with CW Notes v2

Can recruitment of teachers aligned with school values ever be authentic? #BELMAS2019

“Leadership of Authentic Values-Based Recruitment in Schools: Implications for Teacher Retention”. Nolan, B., Webb, C., July 2019, Conference: BELMAS Annual Conference 2019 – ‘Educational Leadership for Social Change’. At: Jury’s Inn, Hinckley Island, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. 12-14th July 2019.
Since the turn of the 21st century, educational recruitment processes have evolved as globalisation has created a need for organisations to focus on attracting international as well as local talent. A distinctive global teaching labour market and enhanced teacher mobility have emerged as a result. Concurrently, a need for a reemphasis on values within education has been reported globally. In the UAE, the international school market is vast, and expanding at a rapid rate. The government has responded with Vision 2021; an ambitious set of goals that prioritize the development of a first-rate education system by the year 2021. A key issue challenging the vision is high teacher turnover rates, with official reports identifying figures up to 60% in some UAE schools. Subsequently, attributing adverse effects on the quality of educational instruction across the country have been identified. There is therefore an urgent need to define strategies in order to lower turnover rates and avoid further adverse effects. This study proposes values-based educational practices, particularly values-based recruitment as a key tool for educational leaders in order to improve teacher retention and lower teacher turnover. The 2018 study assessed the extent to which educational leaders in the UAE are currently engaged with values-based recruitment (VBR) practices and the potential for their application across UAE schools, with an emphasis on lowering teacher turnover. Mixed method research was conducted in which surveys and interviews were undertaken across four international schools in the UAE from April to June 2018. Responses obtained from educational leaders (n=10) during the qualitative interview phase and classroom teacher (n=142) survey respondents during the interview phase identified a strong correlation between values-based leadership practices and teacher turnover rates, explored through statistical tools including regression analysis. As a result, a model to support authentic values-based recruitment for educational leaders in Dubai schools is presented and discussed with an emphasis on increasing values-based recruitment practices in order to address high teacher turnover rates. This raises further questions as to how these findings may be of value to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis in the UK, and whether it would be possible to adapt the developed model for implementation in socio-economically diverse contexts where a values-based recruitment and education model could also respond to current and evolving challenges, which will be discussed at the conference.
Link to conference slides:
Brian Nolan and Carol Webb BELMAS Presentation 29th June Final

To what extent is UAE school leadership transformational? #BELMAS2019

Without Reflection, We Go Blindly: The Direction-Giving Power of the Process of Writing Education Leadership & Management Reflective Journal Entries During Times of Change in the UAE. Webb, C., July 2019, Conference: BELMAS Annual Conference 2019 – ‘Educational Leadership for Social Change’. At: Jury’s Inn, Hinckley Island, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. 12-14th July 2019.
To complete the titular quote, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful” (Margaret J. Wheatley). Conversely, this paper highlights the learning achieved and focus gained for the continuing professional development of 10 UAE-based current and aspiring school leader managers as evidenced in their own qualitative reflective journal entries as completed over the duration of 7 months. The 10 research participants each made 10 entries of approximately 200 words into their work-based diaries over the time period from October 2017 to April 2018. To give structure to the task they were required to focus on a different topic pertaining to education leadership and management in each entry, to reflect on their own experience or observations of others in practice, to relate this to relevant theory, to create personal learning and professional development targets, and to reflect on their own progress made over the course of the 7 months. The richly qualitative yet pithy accounts collated provide insights into the UAE’s current efforts in educational leadership and management transitions from the challenges of the autocratic transactional towards transformational leadership approaches grounded in more collegial and distributed styles. Amidst the backdrop of this dramatic tension, the research participants each relayed snippets of their own stories of sense-making, while clinging to their own visions of ideals of leadership and management in education, and continually striving ambitiously to meet them. In spite of the use of reflective journal writing being far from new, the context, content and mode of application in evolving time and space invariably leads to new insights – in this case on the emergence of a new group of visionary education leaders in the context of a rapidly changing UAE knowledge-based society and post-oil economy. Extracts from the data to be discussed will highlight the highs and the lows of such journeys, and point to new directional futures.

Without Reflection We Go Blindly - C Webb 2019 BELMAS

Does School Leadership Impact on Social Change? #BELMAS2019

“Best Practice in School Leadership Maximising Social Change in Areas of Disadvantage: Lessons from Liverpool”. Webb, C., Newport, S., July 2019 – Conference: BELMAS Annual Conference 2019 – ‘Educational Leadership for Social Change”. At: Jury’s Inn, Hinckley Island, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. 12-14th July 2019.
Since 2012 more than 20 Merseyside schools, mostly in the RI (Requiring Improvement) category have been engaged in an ongoing university partnership with the aim of adding value to their school improvement journey under the umbrella of an unfunded project referred to as ‘The Hope Challenge’. The Hope Challenge Programme has been developed to support the work of Local Authorities and HMIs in working with schools in socioeconomic challenging circumstances and those judged as requiring improvement. Liverpool Hope University is working proactively with Local Authorities, regional HMIs and schools to lead North West collaboration with the aim of improving the life chances of children. For the purposes of the Hope Challenge Programme – schools in socioeconomic circumstances are deemed to be those where Pupil Premium is at least 25%. The purpose of the ‘Hope Challenge’ is to support Liverpool Hope University and its partner Local Authorities to ensure that all schools within their influence are at least ‘good’, a particular challenge for many LAs with reduced capacity. This particular project is Liverpool Hope University’s response to the new ITE Ofsted requirement to work with schools in ‘challenging socioeconomic circumstances (Pupil Premium at least 25%) and those judged as requiring improvement’ (RI) by Ofsted. The benefit of working collaboratively is to ensure coherent and planned ways of working that support the improvement plans of schools to create synergy, add value and build capacity, rather than onerous parallel working which has little impact. The Programme also develops research informed teacher education and enables staff and students to undertake action research and to use their findings to inform future practice. This paper will report on the emerging narrative highlighting the important role of school leadership and their buy-in and ongoing commitment to the impact of this process, and how this has now evolved into impacts on the curriculum and pupil achievement in areas of disadvantage. Through 7 qualitative interviews, data has been collected around the impact of this effort so far, on teachers and their practice, in addition to the role of leadership. The work of Leithwood and Robinson has been used to articulate an emerging framework of best practice demonstrated by leaders arising from successful experiences of engagement in the project. This framework and qualitative findings from the interviews will be relayed at the conference as lessons learned with recommendations for creating impact for social change through such endeavours.
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C Webb Friday Workshop BELMAS 2019 Front Slide

Leadership for Activity Passport Type Ideas: Requires Improvement

So over Christmas the DfE launched the new activity passport initiative, which essentially boiled down to a set of middle class assumptions made by someone in a DfE office somewhere about what children of certain age groups could do to have more fun outside school to no doubt help them escape the dangers of mobile phone and other tech induced mental health problems. The implicit message seemed to be: do something creative and fun, away from mobile phones; parents and children should do these together; it should involve others living close by, their pets, and the outdoors. Or similar.

I tweeted to suggest the approach was a nanny state mode of delivery, and that it might be better to perhaps create a tool to stimulate students and parents to come up with their own ideas for extra curricular fun and challenge. This must have been part of similar feedback from elsewhere as well as now the activity passport has evolved into something a bit like that.

But it’s still been designed as a tick box performance measured approach. Which immediately raises the shackles. I know many people do enjoy recording their achievements, and brownie and guiding badges have existed for years. This can also be motivational for children. But in education you need to start from a different point. Especially to introduce such approaches from a leadership perspective.

As an exercise in leadership this is very ill thought through.

First of all, if the department for education are proposing this, and not social services, child welfare or health, for example, then there are many assumptions being made attached to pedagogy, learning, curriculum, theory and development.

The tools clumsily proposed so far are laughable because of this.

If an individual school had decided to consider delivering something similar, they would have already had a unique strategic vision it would have been aligned with, based on their student community and local needs and unique contexts. There would be a set of values the school leadership team would be working with. There would be certain philosophical choices underpinning all of this that would provide a starting point for generating a set of guiding principles for an activity passport, before it was then tailored to their students in terms of reality, affordability, stretch and challenge and diversity.

At best, something the DfE should have done was to take a step back to say that each school could use a set of guiding principles to create its own agenda for extra curricula activity development and improvement.

This might well be linked to pedagogic choices such as those influenced by Montessori approaches, or forest schools, outdoor learning, child centred learning, and more. It would depend on each school in turn. It might also depend on knowledge of local environmental contexts, linked to actual places, parks and nature, such as local beaches, hills, woodland, or inner city venues.

To create the tick sheet activity passport that was pushed forward was naive and shows up the lack of knowledge and expertise in teaching and learning and educational practice and contexts, as well as demonstrating poor leadership.

Where was the consultation? Where was the coaching and mentoring for parents? Where was the nuanced finesse based on knowledge of the diversity of the audience ? Where was the motivational package supporting it?

And, what about some infrastructure locally for schools, parents and the community to help facilitate life long age and diversity appropriate life enriching activity? Can this be developed to reflect the diversity of society at large and to enable and support bottom up self organised initiatives? Is funding available to support this?

How can this be meaningfully led to achieve impact rather than dismissively thrown at parents, schools and children in a semi-accusative manner from a middle class backdrop of homogeneity?

Also, with more thought, might such action be linked to the sustainability development goals and global learning?

Thoughts on Releasing the Political Grip on UK Education: Could the Haldane Principle Offer Inspiration?

The argument that the UK education system should not be thrown around on the tides of politics is frequently made and the extant situation bemoaned: every time a new minister for education or political party takes the helm, everything changes, and teachers and children suffer. It even affects educational delivery in other countries, as so many British curriculum schools exist internationally.

Activist efforts to reclaim pedagogy grassroots style are often made by teachers themselves (e.g. through teachmeets and conferences, in schools and even pubs – c.f. ‘#BrewEd’). More formalised efforts to remove education from the tight grip of political interference also come in the form of the Chartered College of Teaching, set up in much the same manner and with similar aspirations to the Royal College of Nursing – to create a professional body to oversee, nurture and lead the profession and to eventually regulate it no doubt.

Another example exists, from within education itself, which may also offer a model to consider for further innovation and development, perhaps aligned with the idea of expert peer review.

I refer to the manner in which research funding is allocated in the UK, based on ‘The Haldane Principle’: “the idea that decisions about what to spend research funds on should be made by researchers rather than politicians” –“named after Richard Burdon Haldane, who in 1904 and from 1909 to 1918 chaired committees and commissions which recommended this policy”[i]

“In 1918 Haldane’s committee produced the “Haldane Report”. The report suggested that research required by government departments could be separated into that required by specific departments and that which was more general. It recommended that departments should oversee the specific research but the general research should be under the control of autonomous Research Councils, which would be free from political and administrative pressures that might discourage research in certain areas. The principle of the autonomy of the research councils is now referred to as the Haldane Principle. The first research council to be created as a result of the Haldane Report was the Medical Research Council. The principle has remained enshrined in British Government policy”[ii].

Certainly, releasing education from political pressures would be welcomed by many.

What if an evolved version of the Haldane Principle were adapted for review of educational policy, practice and school inspection? Government officials influenced by politics would no longer be able to interfere and influence the direction of education. UK education may even become self-regulating. Imagine if your school was not inspected by Ofsted, but instead a local panel of headteachers representing a cross-section of regional schools, who were not ascribing a ranking or rating to the ‘inspected’ school, but instead providing expert peer review to be channeled directly into school improvement and recommendations for authentic and constructive assistance based on contextual need.







Full Special Issue Now Live: Middle Eastern post-conflict futures in education: Iraq, Syria and Yemen. IJCED, Vol 20, Issue 3 / 4

Special Issue Update: Middle Eastern post-conflict futures in education: Iraq, Syria and Yemen

Table Of Contents: Volume 20 Issue 3 / 4

Published: 2018, Start page: 130 Special Issue: Middle Eastern post-conflict futures in education: Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Editor(s): Juliet Millican and Carol Webb

Foreword by Yasmine Sherif, (United Nations – Education Cannot Wait – Global Fund for Education in Emergencies UNICEF, New York, New York, USA):

Yasmine Sherif
, (2018) “Middle Eastern post-conflict futures in education: Iraq, Syria and Yemen”, International Journal of Comparative Education and Development, Vol. 20 Issue: 3/4, pp.130-131,


“We are still here”: the stories of Syrian academics in exile

Tom ParkinsonTarek ZoubirShaher AbdullateefMusallam AbedtalasGhana AlyamaniZiad Al IbrahimMajdi Al HusniFuad Alhaj OmarHamoud HajhamoudFadi IboorHusam AllitoMichael JenkinsAbdulkader RashwaniAdnan SennouFateh Shaban (pp. 132 – 147)

Keywords: SyriaHigher educationExileCollaboration

Type: Research paper

Yemen and education: Shaping bottom-up emergent responses around tribal values and customary law

Carol Webb (pp. 148 – 164)

Keywords: YemenEducationConflictTribesComplexity scienceCustomary law

Type: Conceptual Paper

School block grants as a model of financial decentralization in Iraq

Swapna Nair (pp. 165 – 175)

Keywords: DecentralizationChannels of school financingIraq education sectorSchool-based managementSchool block grants

Type: General review

Conflict, insecurity and the political economies of higher education: The case of Syria post-2011

Jo-Anne DillaboughOlena FimyarColleen McLaughlinZeina Al-AzmehShaher AbdullateefMusallam Abedtalas (pp. 176 – 196)

Keywords: Higher educationPolitical economyConflictDisplacement

Type: Research paper

An argument in favour of an extra curricular adventure curriculum for kids

With just a few weeks left until the end of the summer holidays for most school kids and teachers alike, I take a moment to reflect on the privilege of getting out into the great outdoors.

Have your kids and others had the privilege of a bit of adventure this summer? How many have not? How many have sat at home while parents worked? How many have been stuck with their nose glued to the TV, computer, games console or mobile phone indoors during the heatwave?

I’ve been grateful myself to have got myself out of the city and into the countryside this summer. I’ve been to three national parks: Snowdonia, The Brecon Beacons, and The Lake District. I had a serious go at hiking up Snowdon and got 3/4 if the way up. I started out by heading with all good intentions up Scafell Pike but then realised i was probably not ready for that yet – nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed a six-mile hike around the bottom and various neighbouring tarns. And then, finally, I achieved a summit – I got to the top of Pen Y Fan last week and felt a sense of fulfilment.

Aside from all the personal challenge confronted in my current round at getting fitter again after spending a few years in air conditioned Dubai, by pools and cocktail bars, the gorgeous green, natural beauty and sumptuous fresh air I encountered on my hikes in Wales and the North West of England did of course fill me with awe and wonder: it was inspiring, breathtaking, and humbling, magnificent, tremendous and pleasantly overwhelming. Perhaps it was the contrast between leaving the desert cities of the Middle East and launching myself back into this lushness that made me appreciate it all the more. I do know that many others have felt the same on their return from the human grilling machine of the UAE summer sun and sandpit.

What did make me smile quite warmly was also seeing families and children enjoying themselves out in these places as well. There were groups of teenagers with maps in hand carrying rucksacks bigger than them heading up mountains probably on a Duke of Edinburgh mission. There were five year olds running ahead of puffing and panting parents up mountain paths. There were kids fishing with adults along the canal, paddling canoes together, cycling around reservoirs, and camping in fields. It was a dream to behold: the halcyon days of youthful summers were there in plain view.

It wasn’t quite Swallows and Amazons: I didn’t see any groups of children trundling off unsupervised onto islands in the middle of lakes, but then we aren’t living in 1930s Britain anymore, are we?

But one chance conversation with a headteacher from London outside a welsh tea shop last week out things into perspective. She smiled when she affirmed that at this age her gang of boys thought all caravan and boat trips were pure adventure, but lamented knowing that on her return to school life in September there would indeed be hundreds of kids who had never made it off their street or out of the house. Some parents, she explained, had not even known where Regents Park was when letters were sent home about the location of last term’s sports day, as most of them it seemed just went to work, the shops and school for the kids. The headteacher was sad to report that as a result it was all too easy for children to end up in inner city gangs.

When I returned to London last Friday and crossed the road to catch the bus, I was happy to see a minibus pass me by with a load of kids crammed in it, with a tonne of gear covered by a tarp on the roof, and the words, “Bede’s Adventure Project” emblazoned across the side. ‘Heading home, or just going out?’ I wondered. Either way it was win/win.

That’s what we need now. More weekend adventure opportunities for children who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance. Parents should be encouraged to get involved if possible or even take the lead, but if parents aren’t available then there should still be chances for kids to get out there and do stuff anyway under correct supervision and training: hiking, cycling, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, mountaineering, abseiling, and the like.

What can Schools and local authorities do to help? I’m sure they do want to close their doors for a much needed break over the summer months, goodness knows they need it. But as the teachers close the doors on weekends and for summer holidays, could external agencies open them to use the facilities for extra curricular activities such as these? Should school buildings ever be locked up empty when they could be used for hubs for so much more?

It’s true that some organisations do exist to provide all of the above. Eg Guides, Brownies, Scouts, Cadets etc. But are these secular enough and do they reach out to all enough? In today’s diverse England, does everyone wish to pledge allegiance to the Queen and have automatic assumptions made about attachments to faith based organisations? Can we have adventure and the outdoors without all that so that more diverse inner city populations in London, for example, might wish to engage?

Food for thought.

In the meantime, I’d love to see an extra-curricular, age-appropriate, adventure curriculum offered (not mandated) for all school age children, and especially for disadvantaged children. This could include the full range of activities currently covered by those groups such as Scouts to DofE.

Not necessarily Swallows and Amazons, but definitely a chance to get their feet wet somehow. But perhaps we are going in this direction… I was happy to read Nick Gibbs’ announcement the other week that the DfE would be investigating links between extra curricular activities and social mobility over the next few years. Bring it on! But please bring with it the above opportunities too.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.