COBIS – ‘Heads’ above the rest!

Gerry Hillier-Manolas from Eteach had the pleasure of attending the 31st Annual Conference for COBIS this week at the Park Plaza Hotel in central London.

Heads jetted in from all corners of the world and managed to bring the sun with them. This year’s theme was ‘Unity in Diversity’ and reflected the many different types of schools and heads that make up the COBIS family.

As usual, Colin Bell and the COBIS team put together a challenging and extensive line up of key note speakers and session leaders –  Martin Skelton from Fieldwork Education, Sally Mansell from UCAS, John Coleman from HMI, and Camilla Batmanghelidjh from Kids Company  to name but a few  – to give all the attendees something to really think about. As with all conferences, you find that key themes and features stand out above the rest when you have time to reflect.

Over the past ten years the role of the head has changed drastically from a purely administrative role to becoming personally accountable for every aspect of the school. Job descriptions can run into pages of specific tasks or can be summarised in one line ‘To do whatever is needed to make ensure your pupils and staff achieve their best’.

The majority of successful schools have inspirational heads, but what makes them like this? Steve Munby, CEO from the National College for School Leadership, presented a thought provoking picture and talked about the importance of leading with ‘humility’ and ‘wearing the mantle of headship with care’. It’s a balancing act of leading with confidence, but not so much that you get complacent and can’t accept challenges. Know your own strengths and weaknesses and then build a strong SMT around you to distribute the role. It’s not a case of delegating tasks to them, but delegating responsibility and accountability, and in turn developing their leadership skills. Great leaders create great teams by identifying unused talent within their own organisations. Why go outside for expertise when you may already have the best within? Finally, to be a great head you need to elicit hope amongst those you lead.


If you have been a school leader you will know that there are times when you may lose your self- belief and wonder if the job is for you. Quite often this can appear around school inspection and result times, or a day after an ‘unexpected challenging event’ within school.  Who is there to support you? Headship at these points can be very isolating and lonely. David Porritt, the head at The Junior School Leidschenveen in the Netherlands, led an inspirational session on ‘Effective Mentoring of School Leaders’. Full of practical ideas and laughter, he showed how every head can benefit from a ‘critical friend’ who can challenge and support at times of need. By creating a safe and professional environment where issues can be discussed in complete confidence, heads have an opportunity to share worries and concerns and then create solutions without fear.


Great heads have a passion for their subject and this was evident when listening to Professor Anthony Grayling, Master of the New College of Humanities. The lack of public funding for the humanities led to the creation of this college and the recognition that further education now has to come at a cost to the recipient, rather than the national tax payer. If you have a passion for your subject you will do all you can to promote it and inspire others to love it as much as you do.

Finally, a head’s role is to inspire those around them, staff and pupils, ‘to be the best they can be’. This was the theme of the talk by Dr David Hemmery – CBE and Olympic Gold medallist Hurdles 1968 –   about his current project, ‘21st Century Legacy’.

Over 40,000 students will have undertaken the programme by the end of this year. Linked to the Olympics and Para Olympics, it looks at using current stars to inspire students to become ‘self-aware and take responsibility for themselves, their lives and learning’. You only had to see the video presentation from the students of The Forest School in Woking to see the huge impact it is making.

All of the above shows why COBIS and their members are making the HEAD lines in being HEADS above the rest.

Congratulations to Team COBIS (Guardians of the Flame).


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