We are looking for a new headteacher for School 21 and the following is the kind of school you will be joining. Please get in touch if you are interested and we can have a chat.
Co-Founder, School 21 and Co-Director, Big Education
Co-Director, Big Education
On a good day School 21 is an extraordinary place.
Walking around this 4 to 18 school that opened in East London in 2012, you will feel a spirit of creativity and the buzz of exciting learning. With oracy woven into our DNA, there is talk going on – talk in interactive assemblies, exploratory talk in the classrooms to deepen understanding, coaching conversations in which young people share dilemmas or wrestle with ethical issues, Harkness discussions or Socratic seminars teasing out scientific concepts or the causes of great historical events. You might see young children honing their story-telling skills, learning musical instruments, developing maths mastery or building a go-kart using a blend of physics, technology, maths and design skills inspired by our new Makerspace. In the Sixth form great A level teaching sits alongside students setting up a social enterprise to deal with homelessness in the local community.
It is that spirit of community that has kept us strong during Covid – staff, driven by strong values, have repeatedly gone above and beyond: from opening up a food bank in the school to providing a nuanced, lockdown experience of projects, creativity and academic learning for students. At all times – on site and online – valuing the diversity and the different voices of our community and supporting those most vulnerable and in need.
Behind all these activities is a thoughtfulness from staff – no fixed way of doing things, no micro-managing from the top, but a set of values shaped by the school community and a menu of teaching and learning strategies that provide a powerful guide. It is a place where teachers are empowered to get back in touch with what brought them into the profession – a spirit of enquiry, a sense of collaboration, a joy of working with young people, a belief in developing the whole child – knowledge, skills, qualities and values. It is a place where teachers enjoy sharing what they are reading, exploring big ideas, wrestling with the craft of the classroom.
In the last few weeks of each term something magical happens. The energy increases and students prepare themselves, often with painstaking focus, occasionally with a jolt, for: the Festival of Light (our 4 to 18 musical extravaganza); our Ignite speeches (similar to TED talks from children of all ages); our exhibition of beautiful work (showcasing the projects and products created by every class in the school that term); or our digital portfolio presentations (in which students narrate their story of learning in front of their coaches and external partners)
Festival of Light
Exhibition of Beautiful Work
We call our approach, an education of head, heart and hand. It’s aim: for young people to find their voice and change the world. And when this trio is in balance there is a kind of chemical reaction:
deep thinking + emotional intelligence + creativity = powerful learning
Not everyday is like this, of course. The staff body, to a person, is reflective and humble. There is a restless desire to improve, to get better at everything we do. In some areas we are just at the foothills of our understanding and the depth of practice we desire, in others we have growing expertise and the need to deepen the impact.
We know, for example, that we need to be more joined up – the four small schools within School 21 (primary, middle, secondary and Sixth) are distinct and have developed their own culture but the through line between them, the common threads could be stronger – particularly for the teachers who teach across more than one school and for the students on their journey with us. We know too that the expectations on teachers to teach ‘head, heart and hand’ – are often daunting and hard to do well. The leadership challenge has always been to bring together experienced and new teachers, a range of creative ideas and programmes, and the strong opinions of passionate staff into a powerful sense of direction.
We know there are new avenues to explore – for example, students taking more control of their learning, having more choices, and opportunities to lead.
We resist compliance cultures with a passion because we know how they can suppress the imagination and curiosity of children. The task for us is how we continue to get the right balance between a precious freedom to express oneself and knowing when to hold back.
School 21 is, and always will be, a dance between innovation and rigour. Between fresh waves of new thinking and embedding and strengthening existing practice. That dance means not choosing between either strong academic results as a passport to future opportunities or developing the whole child. Nor choosing between old cliches of progressive and traditional: we are unashamedly traditional in our belief in the foundations of literacy and numeracy and our expectations for professionalism, kindness and generous conduct. Yet, progressive in helping every child to find their voice, to be confident in their identity, and to start to find a sense of purpose in their life.
So, the role of the new headteacher in this exciting environment is to be the conductor, the strategist, and the coach.
Nurturing, catalysing and bringing coherence to the school’s creativity and innovation and constantly looking outward to our rich partnerships to enhance everything that we do.
Open to new ideas, thinking ahead, courageous in taking the next steps towards a more expansive education and able to shape a vision for the school going forward and also a fresh role for School 21 within Big Education and the new schools we are opening soon in the area.
Skilled at developing people, building strong teams; leadership that empowers.