Uniting our city via a school leader network [Interview]

Simon Bush

Simon Bush is headteacher at The Green Way Academy in Hull. He is also chair of the Hull Association of Primary Headteachers (HAPH). The Green Way Academy is part of Academies Enterprise Trust, a national network of 64 Primary, Special and Secondary academies.

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Image credit: The Green Way Academy. Image credit: The Green Way Academy.

Simon Bush is headteacher at The Green Way Academy in Hull. We sat down with him to discuss his work as chair of the Hull Association of Primary Headteachers (HAPH), as well as what the organisation is achieving for schools in the city.

Tell us about the Hull Association of Primary Headteachers (HAPH), and how you fit in.

I’ve been working as the chair of HAPH for a year now, just starting my second year of office. We are independent of the local authority (LA), though we do of course work alongside them. HAPH started up as a head’s association, so that we could communicate and feed into the LA meetings. We are able to take part in LA sessions and be part of their agendas, discussing matters such as child protection, assessment, coordination and Ofsted. We quickly found, as expected, that this led to us having more of a voice to feed into the LA’s operations.

How do you liaise with the local authority?

When they set their agenda for the next meeting, HAPH is invited to take part. We get that invitation and agenda in advance, so that we can discuss at our own meeting, which takes place one week before the local authority’s. This way, we can ensure that the views of all members are fed into the LA’s discussion.

Each school buys into HAPH, paying an annual fee. For this, they come along to our big meeting, where we pay for hotel conference room in Hull, once every half term. All members come together, from about 70 schools in total, and we have an uptake of about 40-50 of these headteachers for each meeting. HAPH pays for the venue and lunch.

We’ve been working through a time of real change in Hull recently, as a lot of our Primary schools are now becoming academies. Our school, The Green Way Academy, was one of the first in Hull to become an academy - an international one, in fact. We’re also a member of the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET).

The educational makeup of Hull has changed considerably over the last few years. The role of the LA has become smaller and smaller, and of course the schools have become academies. At the moment, HAPH has 16 official representatives from 16 different collaborations across the 70 schools in Hull, and they’re kept fairly busy in this capacity.

Has this affected how HAPH operates as a group?

It hasn’t, thankfully. Because we’re so passionate about the children in Hull, and because it’s a headteacher group, we’ve always felt quite joined-up in our thinking. We think it’s more important than ever, with the move to academisation, for HAPH to exist. We need to ensure that we’ve got a representative from each of the different schools come to our half-termly meeting. Some schools are part of national chains, but a lot of them are local ones.

There aren’t many schools in Hull that haven’t made the jump - all but a few have become academies. With or without the local authority, which used to have many more education-specialist roles, we’d still meet on a regular basis. There are some schools in the city who are getting great results by themselves, but we do all feel the need to come together and work towards a common purpose, across all schools. We can’t have small, isolated islands in what is really quite a small city.

What is HAPH’s vision for this school year, and what are your plans as chair?

Well, the main goal is to further strengthen this community. One of the reasons I was glad to become chair was down to the fact that AET doesn’t have much of a presence in Hull - this big, national chain has only three schools in Hull Therefore, HAPH allowed me to communicate and collaborate with heads throughout the city. We’re not in it to take over schools or have our own agendas - HAPH is all about coming together for the pupils, and working with the other headteachers has broadened our school’s horizons. I think everyone agrees with this vision.

Keeping up a friendly, collaborative community is often about the little things. For example, I love sending out a group “Happy New Year, I look forward to representing you” email at the beginning of each school year. That kind of informal contact goes a long way. And we throw them a great lunch, which always helps!

I’m also part of the The Hull Safeguarding Children Board, so I can stay updated on LA matters when it comes to safeguarding, which is ideal for HAPH. Last year there were issues around neglect, for example, and HAPH’s voice in the LA helped to address that.

We’re also independently organising a behaviour conference, which will take place on 12th February. This will be a fabulous chance to work with some of the key professionals in the city, as well as to pull together pockets of best practice and guest speakers. Tickets will costs £35, but for the most part the event is being paid for by HAPH, and we’ve been able to secure some amazing speakers. We’re hoping it will be a really high-profile event, similar to the speed dating event we did with you! It will be a day of speakers, workshops and a free lunch, with each delegate coming away with best practice to use in their schools.

Any tips for cluster chairs?

For me, I think it’s all about staying impartial and keeping everything about the children. You’re here for one purpose! The pupils need to be your top priority, your singular purpose. Everything we discuss, everything we’re involved in, comes back to the children of Hull. If you stick to that clear, simplistic vision, I think you’ll be fine. I also think it’s good to be transparent, as well as representative of all the different academic makeups of your area: MATs, collaborative trusts, and so on. We make sure that all of the groups in Hull have a voice, and we ensure that they’re all invited to meetings. You also need a good secretary who’s good at keeping in touch with everybody, to make sure all contacts are up-to-date - particularly important in an ever-changing city like Hull.

What’s your greatest success?

I think our greatest success has been operating successfully as HAPH in the light of the many LA changes, the changing agendas, the shifting structures. We’ve been able to remain passionate and efficient!

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