How to create a culture of absolute joy and support on the journey out of special measures

We Are In Beta
Jun 24 · 25 min read

By Niall Alcock — Founder, We Are In Beta

When Linda Emmett, Headteacher of All Saints Catholic College, Cheshire, joined the school “it was broken in all areas. It was deeply, deeply inadequate.”

But since then, she and her team have “created a new vision for what all things could be. Transforming people’s expectations of the school and of themselves”.

“As a result of that and a lot of hard work from the staff, and a lot of hard work from the pupils, the school just started to fly. It completely transformed. It’s very, very different from what it was.”

“A school that’s gone from Special Measures in February 2016 that got just as Good in July 2018”, she said on the We Are In Beta Podcast.

Leading a school out of Special Measures is an impressive feat. Linda has done it by creating a culture of joy and support along the way.

Linda Emmett, Headteacher, All Saints Catholic College. Image credit: Manchester Evening News

But how did she do it?

I’m delighted that I convinced her to share her journey in Episode #9 of the We Are In Beta Podcast.

Listen to her interview in full:

Spotify | iTunes | Stitcher | TuneIn | Lybsyn | Podbean | Newsletter

Listen to Episode 9 of the We Are In Beta Podcast here

(For the full transcript please head to the bottom of this post)

In her interview, Linda shares her thoughts on:

  • Why her job in IT inspired her to teach
  • What she thinks is the most important thing when growing students as individuals
  • The frustrating excuses she encountered when she was training to teach
  • The programme that inspired her to take on headship
  • The organisations she’s worked with that have helped transform All Saints
  • What she considers senior leaders’ main responsibility to be
  • The language her team uses to encourage staff to speak up about their challenges
  • Why she thinks Ofsted has a positive role to play and what schools need to be careful when they are considering how to fulfill their requirements
  • How she is improving teacher retention
  • How she chose the external organisations that supported All Saints’ journey and how she evaluates their success
  • How she secured £60,000 of funding to invest in her staff
  • The two questions she would ask every headteacher in the country if she could
  • The single most impactful thing she and her team have done at All Saints
  • The biggest mistake she has made as a headteacher
  • How she ensures staff morale is at its highest at the time of year it’s typically at its lowest

Listen: Spotify | iTunes | Stitcher | TuneIn | Lybsyn | Podbean | Newsletter

Listen to Episode 9 of the We Are In Beta Podcast here

If you want to access this podcast before anyone else along with the links to the organisatons and resources guests mention, every other Sunday, subscribe here. This week Linda shares her top book recommendation and her ‘leadership non-negotiables’


Who are we?

I’ve been working in partnership Teach First, the Young Foundation and Super Being Labs to build a community of teachers and senior leaders who are solving big challenges in their schools.

You can read more about We Are In Beta and how you can get involved here.

To stay up to date with interviews from the community when we release them, sign up here.


Linda Emmett, Headteacher, All Saints Catholic College. Image credit: Manchester Evening News

Niall Alcock: [00:00:00] Welcome to the podcast, Linda.

Linda Emmett: [00:00:01] Thank you very much.

Niall Alcock: [00:00:03] I’d love to hear a little bit about how you became a teacher, your journey to headship, and the journey that the All Saints has been on.

How did you become a teacher?

Linda Emmett: [00:00:10] Well, I was working in IT when I left university and I felt, at the time, that I wasn’t really making a difference to people in my day-to-day role.

When I was at university, I did a degree in French and I felt when I got to my mid 20s, actually, I wanted to do something with my degree. And, actually, in teaching, I’d be able to make a difference in creating the linguists of the future. So, I decided to go into teaching at that point. And I have not looked back since really.

I’ve gone from a situation where I’m watching the clock all the time to one where I’m really thoroughly enjoying working with young people and changing their lives.

Niall Alcock: [00:00:46] And what is it that you like most about being a teacher?

Linda Emmett: [00:00:50] I like most developing young people, not just through their linguistic ability and languages, but also as a wider person on how to be really decent, good people when they grow up: how to look after each other, how to support each other, how to be happy, how to be positive.

Just growing them as individuals, as well as people who are learning French or Spanish.

I think the most important thing is a sense of knowing that they are individuals, and they don’t have to be clones of each other, that they are each, individually, really special in their own way. And that’s fantastic, and it’s great that we’re all individual, and we’re all very, very different from one another, and that we can celebrate that.

And, also, know that sometimes we’ll get things right. And, sometimes, we’ll get things wrong, and that’s okay. And life’s about learning.

Niall Alcock: [00:01:36] So, how did you become a headteacher? Did you always want to become a headteacher?

Linda Emmett: [00:01:40] I was working in a school from being a newly-qualified teacher, and it was a school that served a really disadvantaged area at the time. There was always a bit of an excuse as to “Well, what do you expect from children around here?”

I got a bit frustrated with that because, in reality, I think if you set very high expectations and set the right culture, and the right tone, and the right structure, then you can change children’s lives. You can change their views of what they can be in the longer term, for the better.

So, I became quite frustrated. I think in reflecting about that, I thought, “Well, what would happen if I actually went to lead my own school?” Then, I saw the Future Leaders Program, with what’s now Ambition Institute. I was the head of the department at the time, and I applied for it, and that was successful.

Niall Alcock: [00:02:33] Nice.

Linda Emmett: [00:02:34] So, I ended up going from Head of Department to Assistant Head in a school in Salford.

Niall Alcock: [00:02:38] And how long had you been teaching at that time when you made that application?

Linda Emmett: [00:02:41] I joined teaching about 2003, and I joined Future Leaders in 2010.

Image credit: All Saints Catholic College

Niall Alcock: [00:02:46] And tell us a little bit about the journey that All Saints has been on.

Linda Emmett: [00:02:52] Well, when I joined All Saints, it was a school that was broken in all areas. It was deeply, deeply inadequate. It was facing so many challenges. The school was placed under financial notice to improve, and then it was placed in special measures. So, it really was in dire circumstances.

But what was positive about All Saints, at the time, was that there were children who were desperate to learn, there were staff who were desperate to teach, but there just hadn’t been enough training put in place for the staff. And there hadn’t been enough rigour and enough high expectations put in place for the children. So, I saw it, really, as a school that had a lot of potential. But it didn’t see that in itself.

So, since then we’ve worked with the staff, and with the parents, with the pupils, and created a new vision for what all things could be. Transforming people’s expectations of the school and of themselves. And as a result of that and a lot of hard work from the staff, and a lot of hard work from the pupils, the school just started to fly. It completely transformed. It’s very, very different from what it was. A school that’s gone from Special Measures in February 2016 that got just as Good in July 2018.

Niall Alcock: [00:04:01] Wow.

Linda Emmett: [00:04:02] So, completely different sides of the coin entirely. A school that you just could not recognise as being from the same place at all.

That’s fascinating because everything we’ve done here at All Saints has been through a real recognition of the challenges that face schools, the workload that teachers face, a recognition that the job is really tough, and that staff morale and staff wellbeing are paramount. And we invest heavily in our staff. It’s at the forefront of everything we do. All of the change we’ve had to make so we are out of special measures have been done with really high staff morale, and a lot of joy, and a lot of happiness. So, it’s a fabulous place to work.

Niall Alcock: [00:04:43] You’ve mentioned staff morale, and wellbeing, and working with staff on training, and expectations, and rigour. Can you tell us about a couple of projects or a particular project that has been especially successful in helping the school make progress, helping it arrive where it is today?

Linda Emmett: [00:04:57] Yeah, we’ve invested in staff training very heavily. We worked with Ambition Institute at many different levels. I applied to become a Talented Leader. So, through that, I got funding for training for myself, my senior leadership team, and for the staff. So, I was able to access training for middle leaders and aspiring middle leaders, so that the rate of improvement increased quite significantly because we weren’t just reliant on the senior leadership team all the time. That the transformation was happening across the school.

We’ve worked with Teach First as well to get really high-quality staff, and it’s been absolutely brilliant. And we’ve empowered staff to access training as the best practice in their subject areas but, also, share the best practices they found works really well with each other.

On top of that, anything like work scrutinies or learning walks, we tend to do as groups or paired up, so people can see the best practices happening around the school and learn from each other so that the momentum then takes off. People can see for themselves what’s working really well for particular pupils or what needs to be improved in their own practice or in the practice of their colleagues. And then, they can give support to one another.

Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching merged to form Ambition Institute

And finally, more recently, we’ve been working with the Institute for Teaching which is now the Ambition Institute to set up a coaching program in the school, where there’s no judgment on lessons. We just find out what strengths the members of staff have got for areas of development they’ve got, an agenda of culture of openness and honesty. So, people aren’t fearful of someone who has been in their classroom. And I’ve got the confidence to ask for help with something.

So, that goes back to the ethos we’ve got. We’re a family of staff, and pupils, and leaders working together with the same aim, and that’s to get the best of the children. So, as a result, it creates momentum within the school which is really positive, and there’s no fear really of getting things wrong because everybody’s got everybody’s back.

Niall Alcock: [00:06:51] I remember, when we first spoke, you spoke about trust quite a lot. And it sounds like it’s such a valuable tool in helping the school get to where it’s got to here today.

How have you gone about developing that trust beyond using the CPD programs?

Linda Emmett: [00:07:03] Well, first of all, with looking at the senior leadership team and how we operate, and we regard ourselves as being in service to the staff and the school. It’s our responsibility to provide an ethos in the school where staff members are able to teach their lessons and are able to allow people to make progress and to flourish.

An example of that is we operate an on-call system. So, that is not to make a judgment about our staff member but to recognise that a child is choosing to misbehave in a particular way in a lesson. So, therefore, we help our members of staff to move that child, and so they can continue to teach their lesson. But we don’t then blame the staff and saying that behaviour incident happened as the result of your teaching. It’s actually a choice that that child made at that point. But it’s really important that we provide our support for staff members.

And if there were any worries or concerns about a class, a staff member has the time, we encourage them to speak up and tell us because we are here, first and foremost, to support them and help them. So, through the language that we have, through the way that we act around school, through being a presence, we are around school all the time, we are there to help staff, to support staff, to act as a guide to them. We are there, in service to them. That’s our main, number one role.

Niall Alcock: [00:08:24] I think having worked in schools and being asked to speak up to help seniors leaders and help my colleagues is often easier said than done. You talked about language. What kind of language do you use that helps your colleagues to speak up and to reach out for help?

Linda Emmett: [00:08:40] Well, through briefings, telling them that they need to tell us what’s going right and what needs to improve. They need to be able to tell us if there’s anything that needs to change in the school. Otherwise, the school wouldn’t have transformed so quickly. If we can tell staff it’s okay to speak up when things aren’t okay, then that’s really, really important.

And I think that’s one key reason why the school has changed so rapidly. And if we get a feeling where staff are feeling or we feel the staff is feeling a little stressed or little unhappy, and they’re not saying something, then we’ll put out an anonymous survey at pinch points and get them to write it down so we find out what’s happening and whether there’s anything that we’re doing wrong, or we need to improve. So, if we get that kind of gut feeling that something’s not okay, then we’ll ask them.

Niall Alcock: [00:09:26] Ofsted, there has been a move away from the single judgment for outcomes and more moving towards judging the overall substance of education and the curriculum.

Do you think this is a good move? If not, what would your message be to Amanda Spielman?

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector. Image credit: DfE

Linda Emmett: [00:09:43] Schools have different demographics that need to be catered for. And it’s the requirement of schools to provide the kind of curriculum that supports all children. A recognition of that will be very, very welcomed. That not all schools are going to be the same, that we need to be bold in what we do for our pupils, and to know our pupils really well, and make provision for them really, really well. So, anything that recognises that is going to be welcomed by schools.

I think that Ofsted, have a really, really positive role potentially in supporting the development of schools and really high-quality education across the country. So, I’d really hope to see them use their expertise and all the skills that they’ve got to support schools and help schools provide a really fantastic education for every single child.

We had a fantastic experience with Ofsted on our journey out of special measures. And we felt that they offered us the most robust support, and help… and challenge! But that, again, is another thing that’s helped us to transform our school. So, seeing that happen as regards to providing children with an appropriate curriculum for them to do what they want in life, whether it be a future linguist or a future scientist, or be the best plasterer that they can be, then that will be most welcome.

@NickGibbUK with @allsaintsccduk Headteacher, Linda Emmett, head girl Rebecca & head boy Patrick. Image credit: DfE

Niall Alcock: [00:11:03] From a practical point of view, what do schools need to do? And what is All Saints College doing to implement these changes to satisfy the requirements of Ofsted?

Linda Emmett: [00:11:15] Well, not necessarily Ofsted requirements, and I think we need to be careful about that. What we need to do is satisfy what’s required for the children in our school and do what’s right for the children that we have on our role here.

So, what we do each year is to look at the different demographics because our demographic changes quite significantly year on year and put the offer in place that is appropriate to them, i.e. lesson or subject-wise.

But it goes wider than that. What we’re looking at as a school is actually: What sequence is our curriculum being taught each year? Are there any missed opportunities where we can make changes to the sequence in which lessons are taught? So, we can make links between subject areas better, so that the children’s knowledge base is growing better as a result. Are we missing any opportunities to do reading — fiction or nonfiction — in subject areas? What opportunities are we creating to help build the children’s long knowledge base that’s going to help them apply that, then, in the exam, or later on in their learning, or in their careers?

It’s a lot wider than satisfying Ofsted we’re going to create the linguists of the future, the scientists of the future, or the plasterers, bricklayers, hairdressers? How are we going to create those people really effectively?

Niall Alcock: [00:12:32] I think it’s a lovely way of looking at it. A little bit on teacher retention now.

What do the schools need to do on a national scale? And what have you found has been particularly successful at your school to address teacher retention?

Linda Emmett: [00:12:44] I mean, if you have a look at All Saints on paper and the challenges that we faced, you could regard it as a school where, you’d have really high staff turnover, but that is actually not the case at all. We’ve got extremely low staff turnover, and it’s very rare that we’ve had a vacancy in our school.

Niall Alcock: [00:13:00] Wow.

Linda Emmett: [00:13:00] And what we put it down to is actually the culture that we’ve created here. The one that we’ve talked about already. We have a culture of absolute support for each other. We have a recognition that the job’s tough. For that, we invest heavily in each of them in support of one another, and then create that ethos of absolute joy, fun, sense of humour because we recognise that it’s tough enough to come to work anyway, so why would you make it more difficult for each other?!

So, our staff speak out very strongly about the joy that they experience when they’re at work. They’re quite vocal about that on social media that they’re really, really happy here, and that is the culture and the ethos that we’ve created as a team together, as a family, that has resulted in such happy staff.

And as a result, we have staff who are very settled and aren’t very minded to move on. A lot of it goes back to how the senior leaders protect staff from the pressures of the job, and how do we support staff to flourish rather than feel threatened or pressured. And I think that’s really critical. And it’s certainly what we’ve focused on here.

Niall Alcock: [00:14:04] To what extent do you think that the investment you’ve made in the professional development of your leaders has helped you and your team to be able to enact the changes that you’ve made?

Linda Emmett: [00:14:15] I think it’s not necessarily the professional development per se, by itself. It’s how you then remind people of the professional development that they’ve had on a day-to-day basis. And it’s the remembering and the recognition all the time about ‘what is it to be a senior leader in the school? And how important it is that we are serving others.’ So, it’s reminding yourselves every day of why you are here and what you are here for. You’re there to change pupils’ lives but also, to enable staff to be successful.

Niall Alcock: [00:14:46] So, we live in an increasingly fragmented education system, the removal of the local education authority, that middle layer of government, the rise in multi-academy trusts. There are lots of organisations that are delivering support services into schools, whether those be student level interventions or teacher level interventions. What’s the secret to commissioning those organisations, finding them, quality sharing, and then brokering their services?

Linda Emmett: [00:15:13] I think what you’ve got to do is find out who is in line with the values that you have in your school. So, at All Saints, you have those absolute values on high expectations, and excellence, and inspiring others. So, working with Teach First and Ambition Institute — they’re two sets of people, two companies who are absolutely in line with the vision and values of this school and are both very highly professional. Both look at exceptionally high-quality provision as well. So, that’s why we’ve chosen to work with them.

What we tend to do is not to get involved with too many things at once because, otherwise, it becomes overcrowded, and you can’t see the wood for the trees. We tend to work with just the ones that we think will have the biggest impact on the children. But in order to have success on things such as this, you need to have high leadership in schools. It’s the actual substantive leadership within the school that make things happen and transforms what’s happening in school and without that, it’s not going to be as successful. So, the leadership in the school, at senior level, or middle level, and within classrooms, needs to be of exceptionally high quality to make things work anyway.

Niall Alcock: [00:16:30] At what stage does the leadership have the biggest impact? Is it the initiation of the projects? Is it the management of them? Is it the follow-up and evaluation? Where do you think the most important part is or the biggest value add is?

Linda Emmett: [00:16:41] I think in the leadership probably and being the catalyst for change. But, actually, making the biggest difference day-to-day goes back to those really high-quality middle leaders and high-quality classroom leaders. They’re the people who have the biggest impact on a day-to-day basis because it’s consistency, consistent high quality that’s going to keep outcomes improving or really high for children.

Niall Alcock: [00:17:06] Commissioning these services isn’t cheap, and the schools are under increasing budgetary pressure. What’s the secret to safeguarding the investments that you can make in staff or reinforcing the budget?

Linda Emmett: [00:17:17] I think we have to look at what’s going to give the best value for money. What’s going to make the biggest impact on the outcomes for children. So, that’s how we make our decision. But then, we continually evaluate the impact that things are having in school. So, if it’s not having impact, we will change. So, that goes back to our staff telling you what is going well and what isn’t going well. And it’s that openness, and honesty there, and that level of trust there that the staff can speak up and say if something isn’t working. So, well, let’s change.

Niall Alcock: [00:17:48] That’s a question I’m continually grappling with is, how do you judge the impact that an organisation can make? And then, how do you evaluate the impacts that it continues to make once a project has begun? How does your school make those decisions about the potential impacts? And how have you gone about evaluating the continued sustained impact these organisations are making?

Linda Emmett: [00:18:06] Wow, okay. I mean, if you looked at the impact of All Saints, it’s very clear at the moment. It’s one of those schools that’s really obvious to see the impact that we’ve had because three years ago, the results were really, really poor. And the school’s graded inadequate in all areas. And within the financial notice to improve. Now, we’re a school that’s good. We’ve got an outstanding for Pastoral Care and Guidance as well. We had a 32% increase on our results over the summer.

Niall Alcock: [00:18:33] Wow.

Linda Emmett: [00:18:33] Staff morale is really high. Staff retention is good. Pupil voice is really strong. Parent voice is really strong. There’s an array of ways in which we can look at how well the school is performing. So, there’s various things such as data, Ofsted judgment, parent voice and pupil voice, but, also, actually, what’s the quality of what’s going on day in and day out. What’s the progression that the children are having onto college and jobs as well.

Niall Alcock: [00:18:58] It such a fantastic story, Linda. I’ve really enjoyed hearing it. You mentioned a couple of times that the financial notice to improve, and it links to how are schools overcoming the challenges around budgets. How they generate income? How are they cutting costs? What pearls of wisdom have you learned in your time at All Saints?

Linda Emmett: [00:19:16] Yes. And that’s a challenge because on all of the journey that we have had, and all the school improvement that we have done, we have had no help and no support. We’ve had to find everything ourselves. For example, I applied for the Talented Leaders Program for support for myself, but also because it gave me £60,000 worth of sustainability fund that we did not have.

So, in order to get the most out of that money, we pooled that within the school. And so, we could get additional training, so that the money went double the distance than it would have done otherwise.

Niall Alcock: [00:19:48] Amazing.

Linda Emmett: [00:19:49] [00:19:49]So, we find different creative ways with other schools, with other headteachers that we work with in order to make money go further. [00:19:58] So, we’ve had to find everything ourselves. So, everything that we can do to be outward-looking and to support or volunteer our time in order to get things back in return, we will do. That’s served us really, really well in getting support into the school and development into the school.

Niall Alcock: [00:20:17] You mentioned a couple of other creative solutions. What other creative solutions have you learned about?

Linda Emmett: [00:20:22] I think just teaming up with other schools, pairing up staff for moderation purposes. So, one of my staff will moderate externally a school’s work in return for them moderating our work. And the vision for that is that you benefit for doing a couple of thousand children rather than just a few hundred. So, it’s that kind of outward-looking peer support network that helps massively.

Niall Alcock: [00:20:47] I ask this question to every guest on the podcast, and that question is, if you had the chance to ask every headteacher in the country one question, what would that question be and why?

Linda Emmett: [00:20:59] I think it could be one or two things. What is your number one piece of best practice that I could learn from in your school? Then, if you had 20 of them, then you’d have some real gifts. I think. But, I think, another one would be, actually, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? And what did you learn from it? I think that will be fascinating.

Niall Alcock: [00:21:18] You know what I’m going to do now, do you?

Linda Emmett: [00:21:19] Go on.

Niall Alcock: [00:21:19] I’m going to ask you your questions back to you.

Linda Emmett: [00:21:23] Okay.

Niall Alcock: [00:21:23] What was the one best piece of practice that you put in place at All Saints?

Linda Emmett: [00:21:27] Wow, that’s an excellent question. The number one piece of practice was re-visioning the school and asking staff, and parents, and pupils, governors what they wanted All Saints to look like in three years’ time. If the wind was blowing in the right direction, the sun was shining on us, what would it look like? And then, opening a window of possibility to them. That was very important.

Niall Alcock: [00:21:51] Wow. How did you go about doing that?

Linda Emmett: [00:21:54] We went out speaking to people individually, and then sharing that information of what people have said back to them. So, people could learn actually that they all wanted the same thing. They all wanted to be excellent. They all wanted to be inspirational. They all wanted everybody to succeed. And so, everybody started to realise that we’re all wanting the same aim here. Staff, pupils, parents, governors, we all want the same thing. And that was the catalyst, I think, to the improvements to start to take place. And then, from that came the culture, and the support, and the ongoing day-to-day leadership that happened in the school to support the stuff to grow and get better.

Niall Alcock: [00:22:33] I visited a number school over the past couple of years and have seen visions put in place to varying degrees of success. How is the vision used on a daily basis to guide what you, the staff do, and what the kids do?

Linda Emmett: [00:22:46] Well, we don’t have it just pasted on a wall. We use it in collective worship. We use it in the language on the lunch queues and day-to-day conversations. We talk about being excellent, and inspiring each other, and being ready to learn every day. We have a mantra at the start of every collective worship and every lesson, which is “Are you ready to be inspired, be excellent, and succeed?” And the pupils have to say, “Ready!” before they sit down. So, they know exactly why they’re at All Saints, and exactly what being in the school means.

Niall Alcock: [00:23:16] And they all say it in unison?

Linda Emmett: [00:23:17] They do indeed.

Niall Alcock: [00:23:19] Amazing. I would love to see that.

Linda Emmett: [00:23:20] You would be more than welcome.

Niall Alcock: [00:23:21] Thank you. The second question you asked was, what’s the biggest mistake that those headteachers have made? Do you mind me asking you that question?

Linda Emmett: [00:23:29] I think, underestimating the power of being regularly in front of large groups of children. There were times quite early on where it sent a dip in the school community, but I wondered why that was taking place. Well, actually, I’ve not been in collective worship for four weeks myself. So, therefore, I don’t have the ability to stand in front of those children and reiterate those messages as to why we are here and why we’re at that school.

And the children really sense that when I’ve not been in front of them for a while. They really, really feel it. So, I think, underestimating that was a key thing to learn from. And so, therefore, as a result, I make sure that I’m in front of those children very regularly, going back to the messages, going back to why we are here, going back to the vision statement of the school, and just making sure we’re living and breathing it as a collective.

So, if anybody came into the school and asked a child, “What do you think of what the headteacher says?” they would be able to say exactly what I think, and repeat it back, and not a problem. It just has a big impact on the culture of the school.

Niall Alcock: [00:24:35] And did that learning come about because you were in front the kids quite regularly, and then you spent a little bit less time in front of them?

Linda Emmett: [00:24:42] Yeah.

Niall Alcock: [00:24:42] Is that what happened?

Linda Emmett: [00:24:42] I think it might have been — It was like weekly. And then, I think it was just before our Christmas break where I thought ‘Wow. Is it just giddy at the moment?” And I thought, “Well, you’ve not been a front of them for about three or four weeks,” and therefore it just took a dip.

But then, it’s really easy to rectify that one, I think. But then, again, it’s about knowing your school. If I hadn’t have been out and about on corridors, and out on lunch duties, and out on queues, I wouldn’t have noticed the dip. But because I’m there, all the time, I can really, really tell when something’s a miss.

Niall Alcock: [00:25:10] The future of education, what does it look like? Why are you optimistic about it. And what do we need to do to make sure it happens?

Linda Emmett: [00:25:21] I think the future of education is to focus on developing every child to succeed at what they want to do. And I think I’ve touched on this already. What excites me the most is the potential to inspire, the potential for pupils to really recognise what it is that they want to be in the future.

Looking into those children’s faces every day, when you’re on the lunch queue and thinking ‘What is it we’ve done to inspire you to be something that you want to be when you’re older?’ So, yeah, I think that’s the most exciting thing about the future of education.

Niall Alcock: [00:25:56] Nice. The funniest thing that’s ever happened to you or the thing that will always make you smile looking back on your career, what will that story be?

Linda Emmett: [00:26:04] It goes back to stuff we do to keep morale high here at All Saints. Every Christmas, we do something called ‘elfing’. And every single member of the staff gets the name of another member of staff that they have to be nice to for two weeks without being found out. So, they have to be that person’s secret elf for two weeks.

Niall Alcock: [00:26:25] Wow, okay.

Linda Emmett: [00:26:26] So, when the nights are drawing, and it’s dark all the time, and people are really, really exhausted just before Christmas. In my school, staff morale is extremely high because the people are decorating other people’s classrooms, or sending each other poems, or cards, or Christmas decorations.

Niall Alcock: [00:26:44] Is it staff and students?

Linda Emmett: [00:26:46] It’s just staff.

Niall Alcock: [00:26:47] Just staff.

Linda Emmett: [00:26:48] Just staff. But again, happy staff creates happy children. So, there’s a real feeling of joy around the school. But the staff is starting to push it a little bit further now because every year, they’re raising money for charity. For me and my deputy had to dress up in fancy dress on the last day of the term.

So, this year, we both stood at the front of school dressed as Christmas trees. So, that was really good, but we raised a thousand pounds for charity doing that. And a year before, we were dressed as elves. So, it’s just that real sense of family and joy, but it’s something that just makes the staff feel so fantastic, and something that you’ll never forget really.

Niall Alcock: [00:27:27] Amazing stuff. Who did you raise the money for?

Linda Emmett: [00:27:30] We raised it for Save the Children this year, and a charity called Zoe’s Place in Liverpool as well. It looks after ill children.

Image credit: @savechildrenuk
Image Credit: Zoe’s Place

Niall Alcock: [00:27:36] Oh wow. Okay, okay.

[00:27:38] Linda it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you. Thank you very much for your time. It’s been very inspiring to hear the project you are undertaking. Great to hear about the considerable investment that you’re making in the development of your staff and the improvement in outcomes. So, thank you for your time. Thanks for joining us.

Linda Emmett: [00:27:52] Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.


Who are we?

I’ve been working in partnership Teach First, the Young Foundation and Super Being Labs to build a community of teachers and senior leaders who are solving big challenges in their schools.

You can read more about We Are In Beta and how you can get involved here.

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If you want to access this podcast before anyone else along with the links to the organisatons and resources guests mention, every other Sunday, subscribe here. This week Linda shares her top book recommendation and her ‘leadership non-negotiables’


If you enjoyed this interview, check out Episode #8 of the We Are In Beta Podcast with Dr, Chris Tomlinson, Director of Harris Secondary (and soon to be CEO of Co-op Academies Trust) on how to keep investing staff

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Listen to Episode 8 of the We Are In Beta Podcast here
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