It is an honour to write the ISA Welcome as incoming Chair. As I take over from Matthew Adshead, I would like to thank him for his considerable work on behalf of the Association over the last year, and in particular for working into the summer holidays with the office team and the Independent Schools Council to make a response to the Labour party’s suggestion that independent schools should be abolished.
I would also like to thank Alex Gear, the outgoing Vice-Chair and Honorary Officer, Neil Roskilly, our CEO, Peter Woodroffe, his Deputy, and the excellent office team who work so hard on behalf of the members and our schools. We have an outstanding staff, who are constantly looking for ways to develop and expand the opportunities and support that ISA provides to its members.
ISA is a remarkable association, with diversity, fellowship and development at its heart. ISA currently supports 528 member schools, each of which is different, many of which are small and non-selective, all of which are at the heart of local communities. Whilst some ISA schools are charities, some are proprietorial; whilst some have fewer than fifty pupils, others have over a thousand. Some have proprietor heads; others have a conventional Board. Yet at event after event, conference after conference, I see heads, members of staff, children and young people, enjoying each other’s company, supporting one other, working together and valuing the rich variety within our organisation.
We are united in our aim of providing the best education we can for the pupils in our care, supporting the staff working within our schools and contributing positively to the educational landscape, which is facing significant challenges at this point in time.
We recognise the importance of having a broad perspective and a long-term view. We know that many of our member heads are facing tough challenges, and we want to support them in leadership to have the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to be able to flourish in their roles. We know that there is not one way only to exercise leadership well, and we recognise that our schools are all different.
ISA is not introspective and static. We are constantly seeking to foster collaborative and meaningful educational relationships within the UK and beyond. As many of you will know from our Annual Conference in May, we now have a memorandum of understanding with a large association of independent schools in Nepal, we are developing a link with the European Council of National Associations of Independent Schools (ECNAIS). We are contributing to the national educational landscape and responding in a well-considered way to current educational debate. As you know, we are forward focused and determined to offer the best support and opportunities we can to our members, in order to secure the best educational outcomes we can for the well over 100,000 pupils currently in ISA schools.
I have worked in ISA schools since 2003. In the time I have served ISA, I have been a regional secretary, chaired the London North regional committee, represented ISA on the IStip Panel, been an elected Board member and chaired Education Committee. Through the roles, I have worked with some incredible people. I have found myself challenged, resourced and inspired. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to give back to the association which has supported and equipped me through fifteen years of leadership in schools.
I hope to do two things in my year as Chair. The first is to find new ways to tell the story about just how special our schools are. There are thousands of families whose lives have been transformed by our schools. They have a story to share. There is a uniqueness to ISA schools: relationship-focused, personalised, with the individual child at its heart and where partnership with parents and local communities is highly valued. We are not stuffy, arrogant or elite. We are approachable, real and we understand the challenges for our parents of making a commitment to an independent education. We know they do it because they value the experience we can provide.
We are making a positive difference to children and young people’s lives; not because we are giving them a sense of entitlement or privilege, not because they believe they are better than anybody else, but because they are recognised as individuals, able to develop their talents, participate in a wealth of different events and competitions and understand the value of an education that can meet them where they are and give them the skills and attributes they need to face the future with hope and confidence.
In talking to many heads, I know we are trying to make our schools accessible to as many families as possible. We are trying to keep fees low, to support families financially where we can and to network with a wide variety of types of schools in our local areas in meaningful, symbiotic partnerships.
My second aim this year is to equip, enable and encourage our members and their teams by looking afresh at school leadership today. Leadership is both a ‘call’ and a ‘craft’. We can, and should, nurture the exercise of leadership and seek to support each other in leading our schools well and developing leadership within our school teams. We want to support our heads when leadership is difficult. Fellowship is at the heart of ISA, as is excellence in school leadership and development.
I encourage you to put down deeper roots into ISA this year. Please participate locally in regional events and meetings, where the input you will receive will enhance your schools, staff and pupils, as well as providing support for you in your role. Send your staff on our courses and conferences, where you can. They quality of courses put on by the Head Office team is remarkable. The professional development will have a positive impact on your teams.
When you have questions, doubts or concerns, we have an excellent team at the office, led by Neil and Peter who are well-placed to answer and advise. Someone is always at the end of the phone, or email. They can, and will, provide support, advice and encouragement, even in the stickiest of situations.
ISA puts its members first. I am honoured to be the Chair this year. I feel hopeful and positive about the future. I do hope to meet as many of you as possible at the Autumn Study Conference and the Annual Conference, and I would urge you to attend if at all possible. It’s definitely worthwhile. I am excited to see what we will be able to achieve as an association this year. I am very much looking forward to working with you to move forward together.
ISA Chair 2019-20