Thursday 29 August 2013

Working Independently

This is the unabridged (unedited) version of my article in "Improvement" August 2013, the magazine of the Association of Professionals in Education and Children's Trusts.

As the ASPECT group assimilates into PROSPECT union it is a great time to review how we support the many Independent Education Consultants in the association.   Maybe we haven’t been as well served as we might have been in the past but this is not all the fault of ASPECT.  I was disappointed a few years ago when we offered an “Independents’ Day” briefing and sharing materials day and only 7 people expressed an interest!  Perhaps we should be relabelled interdependent consultants, then we might collaborate more.  This article is another attempt to gauge interest in a service, within Aspect-Prospect, to support colleagues who want to work interdependently and network.

After running over 300 of ASPECT’s  “Thinking of Going Independent?” courses, in the last eight years, I have lost count of the number of colleagues setting up as sole traders, or Limited Companies.  Some TOGI courses were provided nationally and others in specific Local Authorities, for colleagues facing redundancy.  There is still a demand for the day course, although I meet colleagues who didn’t know the course existed.  (For more detail see the CPD section of IMPROVEMENT)

Yes, there are a lot of we “freelancers” out here, wanting and perhaps needing further support as we plough our lonely furrows.  Indeed, I think we are the true backbone of the Aspect Group within Prospect , now so many have crossed the Rubicon from Local Authority salaried posts into the less defined but equally important independent market.

In Summer 2011, I wrote an article in IMPROVEMENT magazine[1] Click here 1 about the danger of a lack of direction in the newly “atomised education services” and a need for a renewed commitment to common moral purposes across the plethora of bodies and individuals working in Public Services.    This is especially true amongst independent consultants who, by definition, work mostly alone.  Following that article, in October 2012, the Wakefield and Kirklees Network of freelance education consultants commissioned me to run a workshop to, “Clarify the values and moral purpose within the work of Education Improvement Professionals[2].  The Wakefield and Kirklees Network is a lively collection of like minded professionals who meet on a termly basis to discuss key issues, share ideas and keep each other up to date.  Are there any similar groups out there? Would you like advice about running one? For information about their programme of events contact John Smith    or Julie Bowdidge

I had already written a Pedagogical Oath for teachers Click here 2  to mirror the Hippocratic Oath for Doctors and we used it in the workshop, together with a set of real life Case Studies facing freelance advisers, inspectors and consultants.  That workshop led to me drafting a first “Consultants’ Oath” setting out the values and consequent behaviours that underpin the best of our work.  I circulated that draft and in a follow up discussion, with the Wakefield and Kirklees Network, they liked it, changes were made and the latest draft, below, incorporates suggestions from other colleagues, after the day.

I know that colleagues are now using it as part of their introductory contracting. Several are using it to market their approach on websites - see mine Click here 3  I have found it does attract comment and it’s a useful reference point during initial discussions with clients.  It’s also a great starter for discussion amongst those working on school improvement because not all agree with the implicit values.  I’d love to discuss this approach to school improvement with Sir Michael Wilshaw and Michael Gove!

In parallel to the process above, the Aspect Group of PROSPECT Negotiating Officers asked me to collaborate on working up this “Oath” or “Values Statement” as part of an “offer” to support independent consultants during 2013 and beyond.  We hope this will sit alongside legal advice and networking opportunities as part of the newly thought through support in PROSPECT.  I was happy to offer this document as part of that process. 

So, what next? Do you feel the need for such support within Aspect-Prospect?  What are your thoughts on this “Independents’ Oath”?  Maybe it ought to be called the Interdependents’ Oath?  It would be really helpful if colleagues commented on the draft below.  I am happy to collate relies. 

In the meantime, feel free to use this version in your literature, as we work on it. You can share thoughts and send ideas to me at

John Pearce is a Senior Associate with ASPECT-PROSPECT who writes and delivers a wide range of CPD programmes including, “Thinking of Going Independent”.

The Independents’ Oath - our commitment to you   

As independent education improvement professionals our values inform our behaviour.
As we work alongside you to identify, clarify and respond to your development need we will:

Develop a shared moral purpose

We believe in integrity, trust, accountability and honesty.  We are fair and ethical in our dealings.  We show respect and earn it by building effective relationships, the foundation of all sustained improvement.
We promote simplicity, clarity, innovation and reflective practice.

What will HELP
What will HINDER
Discussing the proposal and contract openly and honestly
Hiding elements of our intentions,
Creating an agreed, written, programme of work and providing a specific contract with you
Unclear or non-negotiable contractual arrangements
Having measurable and meaningful outcomes for both content and process
Unrealistic expectations, or vague aims, leading to unintended consequences
Being explicit about principles and ethics
(Clarifying  WHY? prior to WHAT and HOW)
Over-emphasising ends to the detriment of means
Communicating a transparent approach to fees and charges     
Hidden costs and unexpected charges at the invoicing stage
Offering simple guarantees
Complicated contractual arrangements

Work alongside you

We know our best work will be collaborative and tailored to your needs. We recognise we are not a permanent part of your workplace and that you know your circumstance and culture best.  We will bring our experience, knowledge and understanding of leadership and learning to support and challenge you as you develop, or sustain improvement and progress.

What will HELP
What might HINDER
Our inclusive and cooperative mindset
Only responding to individual perspectives
Listening to you and your colleagues first
Offering solutions that work elsewhere
Being role models for those we work with
A mismatch between what we say and do
Selecting bespoke and appropriate interventions
Using “one size fits all” and “off the shelf” approaches

leadership and learning

We believe the best leaders are learners who look at what they do with a view to doing it better next time. We also know that the best learners are leaders too, because they are willing and able to collaborate and inspire others in their endeavours. We thrive in working interdependently, making connections, networking and openly sharing ideas, materials and strategies.

What will HELP
What might HINDER
Picturing the whole workplace as a learning environment (having a systems thinking approach)
Only working in one area, or, focusing on one piece of the jig-saw, to the detriment , or exclusion of others.
Building a community of practice where success is celebrated and failure studied
Looking to champion and emulate success and denying, or ignoring, lessons from failure
Seeing everyone linked, or involved with the workplace as learners and potential leaders
Working only with individuals or the willing and motivated, thereby missing key perceptions.
Working interdependently
Working independently
Building in monitoring and self-evaluation
Just doing the task at hand

long term

Whilst our work with you will be limited, our focus will always be on the long term for you and your workplace. We are practical, imaginative and energetic about ways to build your and your colleagues’ capacity to make and sustain improvement.  We will look for short and midterm gains but will always keep your overall vision and purpose in focus.

What will HELP
What might HINDER
Helping you clarify your long term vision
Concentrating on the urgent, not the important
Keeping the bigger picture in mind
Focusing only on the here and now
Being persistent in identifying need
Jumping to conclusions
Looking to develop existing strengths
Seeking change for the sake of change
Seeking strategic and capacity building approaches that sustain improvement
Looking only for quick fixes, or short term remedies – treating symptoms not causes

[1] “What you believe is what you get” IMPROVEMENT Summer 2011 click here[2]  All working to support school improvement - some prefer the title “School Improvement Advisers”