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Unprecedented with Keith Hobbs

Published 4th August 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to speak to Keith Hobbs, Headteacher of Stephenson Studio School. He spoke to us about his role models, his leadership legacy and the way his school had to adapt to government direction during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

A background into you and your business? 

I am a father above all else but also a teacher, coach and leader. I feel that I have the best job in the world; being a dad and also the second-best job in the world; being a headteacher.

My school is one of a kind and the three most notable aspects of our unique selling point are:

  1. Personalisation of learning is achieved through; an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for every student, maximum class sizes of 18 and a stage not age approach to learning and qualifications.

  2. Accelerated development of employability skills is achieved through; a bespoke employability readiness programme, extended work placements (up to supported by work placement mentors), and our ‘CREATE’ employability skills framework (co-constructed with employer partners).

  3. Seamless transition and a Pathway to vocational and technical careers is achieved through a suite of 5 potential vocational options, delivered by experts in industry-standard workshops with progression routes to T-Levels and Apprenticeships.

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you.

I think leadership means following one’s moral compass always but especially in the most difficult of circumstances. In short, prioritising ‘doing the right thing’ over ‘doing the thing right’. Also, to not only be visionary and to be able to share a vision but be able to create and inspire a culture of shared vision across the organisation.  

Being a leader means supporting and influencing others to be the best version of themselves whilst simultaneously making progress towards organisational priorities. Through effective horizon scanning, anticipating change (or required change) I continue to use Kotter’s change management model to secure effective change for improvement.

Coaching colleagues to be able to recognise opportunities and solve problems, particularly referring back to the simplistic message that “you are only going to eat this elephant if you eat it one chunk at a time”.

Who are your leadership role models/inspirations?

As a mathematician, it’s only right that I look to Albert Einstein. However, as a teacher and a leader I often requote Albert Einstein who stated: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Too often passivity in learning and passivity in leadership prevails and as such learning, progress and improvement can plateau or stagnate.

Our School specialism, centred around ‘Business, Enterprise and Employability’ recognises many leadership role models. But for me, Steve Jobs who I like to quote said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living somebody else’s life”.

In my profession, I see countless young people and early career teachers trying to mimic the behaviour, style and approach of others. In supporting an individual to be the best versions of themselves, I always attempt to reiterate that we can all learn from others but maintain that we have the most potential when we embrace who we are.

Finally, when we needed one final push I took inspiration from Henry V having reflected on how he rallied his nobles with the famous St Crispin’s Day speech. This was a pivotal moment for Stephenson Studio School and using as many levers as were available to tap into the emotional connection between my staff, their job and the learners, I secured an unwavering commitment from my team.

I maintained this commitment from colleagues because they believed in the plan, believed in the students and knew that the systems and structures that our plan built would mean that next year would see the fruits of our labour. Because they believed me to be credible (due to previous improvements secured in teaching and Ofsted rating) they accepted the promise of ‘Jam tomorrow’.

Having achieved this, the importance of taking responsibility for the welfare of staff was paramount. I took responsibility for the welfare of staff and utilising feedback regarding staff welfare from strategically but stealthily placed colleagues. I could ensure that my team could be fully optimised without compromising their health/wellbeing. As a consequence, we go into Summer 2021 fully staffed with a team of excellent and committed staff and student recruitment at capacity.

What would you like your Leadership Legacy to be?

I want to be remembered as a leader who shaped futures and influenced change in a way that improved the life chances of numerous young people. To the extent that the vision, values and culture of the organisation continue to develop long after my tenure.

The school has a goal to become “Outstanding”. In order to achieve this status, there are three goals:

  1. Be the best at Business, Enterprise and Employability.

  2. Be the best at personalisation of learning.

  3. Be the best at providing a vocational pathway to employment.

What impact has Covid-19 had on you?  

The pandemic actually prompted reflection which supported me to reconsider what is important. Every day we are faced with issues and potential leadership activities that could easily be classified as both urgent and important.

Over several years I had let work negatively impact other important aspects of my life; particularly around family, health and relationships. We were forced as a result of Covid to approach work differently and I have maintained many working practices that were only introduced as a direct result of the pandemic. These include; only travelling when necessary, supporting colleagues with more flexible approaches to working and dedicating sufficient time to life and family.

What impact has Covid had on your business?

Like all schools, we had to respond to government direction on partial closure, digital learning, lateral flow testing, centre assessed grades, teacher assessed grades, Covid risk assessments and a recovery curriculum. 

However, our ‘business’ is supporting young people to become the best version of themselves. As such we have invested in bereavement, trauma, mental health and wellbeing training for staff to empower them to support the changing needs of a cohort of students for whom their life and childhood experiences are very different as a result of Covid.

Pupils made smooth transitions between on-site and remote learning during periods of COVID-19 restrictions but this was only possible because of the support from parents and unwavering commitment from the whole team.

Are there any people within your support network who made a big positive impact on you as a Business Leader during the early weeks/months of Covid-19?

My leadership team was fantastic. In fact, I’d suffered a nasty concussion playing rugby over Easter and as such, my deputy took on primary decision making for the first few days as I recovered.

My Chair of Trustees supported, empowered and encouraged me to react timely whilst remaining measured and prioritise safety without compromising quality. Clusters of schools were formed with a common purpose and it was refreshing to see how school leaders were actively collaborating, sharing and ‘being vulnerable’.

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook.

We initiated live remote video lessons at the start of lockdown 1.0. We led by example by modelling this to staff whilst simultaneously working through the glitches having never taught using zoom/teams before.

We were concerned about student welfare and as such tutors called students/parents weekly to ensure that students were not only safe but could still thriving despite ‘lockdown’. We decided that given that we are a small school, we had to continue to personalise provision for our students. As such this regular tutor contact to review individual education plans has continued fortnightly despite students physically returning to school. We also paused our school development plan and devised an interim development plan to enable us to tackle issues that had not been foreseen when the initial plan had been written.

“Embrace technology and don’t just continue to do something a certain way because that is the way it has always been done.”

Looking back to March 2020. If you could change one decision that you made, what would it be?

I think that if we had the IT infrastructure in place that we have now, staff had already developed robust learning platforms for each subject and we had previously invested in staff training around remote education then the early months would have been significantly less challenging. However, lessons were learnt and steps were taken to develop a blended approach to education within several months that had originally been planned over 5 years.

The Pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In what ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals.  

The Pandemic has made me realise that in life family and health have to trump all else. It’s as simple as that. Similarly, that in work, anything is possible with a shared vision, aligned values and a common goal.

If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about Keith, or his School, you can visit the Stephenson Studio School website, here. Alternatively, you can browse some of our other blogs, here.

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