On 16th and 17th January 2023, PaJeS held its seventh annual Headteacher conference, welcoming 52 leaders from 41 Jewish schools around the country for a two-day event held at The Grove Hotel. For the first time, on day one of the conference, new and experienced Heads were joined by aspiring Headteachers currently undertaking a National Professional Qualification in Headship through the PaJeS partnership with Ambition Institute. The event was generously supported by UJIA Ashdown Fellowships, UnitEd, The Pincus Fund, and The Wohl Foundation.
This annual conference provides an excellent opportunity for Heads to meet, share ideas, speak to colleagues about the similar issues they face, and is a forum for professional development, networking, and reflection.
The conference started with Craig Kacev, Director of Education at the Pincus Fund and former Director of Education at UnitEd, on ‘Leading Jewish Schools: Developing Core Values in an ever more complex and changing school environment’. New and aspiring Heads found this invaluable in thinking about how to navigate the many forces pulling in different directions within the school environment, by developing core values and guiding principles grounded in educational thought and Jewish values. Craig tackled these complex issues using live examples, workshops, and Jewish sources, leaving participants engaging in lively debate following the session.
PaJeS CEO, Rabbi David Meyer, then picked up to challenge participants to think about the conflicting priorities within Jewish schools in a session titled ‘Who is the customer and how do we meet their needs?’
In the afternoon, we welcomed John Tomsett, a nationally renowned school leader supporting schools to improve the quality of teaching and learning, who delivered a session on ‘Truly great teaching, truly great teams’. Headteachers found that he gave them a plethora of ideas and tools and challenged their thinking which they look forward to implementing in their own schools to review teaching and learning in different curriculum areas and think about staff development.
Keynote speakers Dame Christine Ryan DBE, FRSB, Chair of Ofsted, and Mr Daniel Levy, Chair of Immanuel College and Businessman, concluded the day with a dinner and closed room conversation about the importance of all types of education and challenges to leading in education today. We are grateful to both of them for sharing personal experiences and engaging so dynamically with the group.
Craig Kacev began day two challenging Heads to focus on the tensions inherent in leadership. His session ‘Leading Through Tension: Navigating Conflicting Values’ demonstrated that navigating conflict in schools can be an opportunity for tremendous creativity in leadership. Using a range of Jewish sources, optical illusions and philosophy around conflict, Heads considered the power of AND as opposed to either/or decision making. They discovered that it is this very conflict that assists in determining school culture and differentiates high quality leaders from their peers.
The afternoon sessions focused on the work within PaJeS to support schools across Mental Health and Wellbeing initiatives as well as an overview of specific Public Affairs work. PaJeS Wellbeing leads, Julia Alberga and Jessica Overlander-Kaye, spoke about the PaJeS supported programme embedding Wellbeing practitioners in seven pilot schools, delivering Wellbeing programmes and initiatives for staff, pupils, and parents. Their work has been independently monitored and evaluated by The Anna Freud Centre and outcomes have contributed to a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. The ‘Wellbeing and Us, Wellbeing and Me’, session considered future provision for pupils, staff, and parents and encouraged Headteachers to think about what they need to do to ensure that they remain robust and resilient to lead their schools and how PaJeS can play a part in this.
The day concluded with a public affairs update by Assistant Director Raisel Freedman, examining how Jewish schools have been impacted by Ofsted’s plan to inspect all schools in the country and what has been observed through the Jewish school lens as Ofsted are poised to meet their inspection targets.
Rabbi David Meyer concluded that “at a time of shifting priorities and increased challenges, there are exceptional pressures on school leaders. The PaJeS Headteacher conference is an opportunity to learn, share, and strategize. Through the continued development of a collaborative network, our Headteachers are better prepared and able to ensure the best provision for our children.”
Samantha Benson added, “Bringing together new, aspiring and experienced Headteachers is part of PaJeS’ aim to develop a community of senior school leaders with the ability to thrive in leading our Jewish schools now and in the future.”