A Thought Piece by Maxine Lathbury-Cox 23 January 2019

As part of our series focusing on the people who lead our academies,  Maxine Lathbury-Cox, Headteacher at Reedswood E-ACT Academy reflects on the lessons she has learned over the course of her career.

 I loved school, right from when I first started. I ran in! I think it was more likely that my mum was the one crying outside the gates on the first day rather than me. I had that love of learning from a really young age. My parents placed a lot of importance on education and I just loved maths.

My dad would say, “I want you to do better than we did.” I grew up in Dudley, in the West Midlands. My primary school was in a tough area and not much of the curriculum had been covered by the time I moved on to secondary school. But thanks to the support from my family and my own personal drive, I managed to do well. I always wanted to go to school and there wasn’t a day that I didn’t go. I was motivated and determined, and I survived! My results allowed me to go on to study mathematics at university.

My first teaching job gave me such a good foundation early on. I was teaching a Reception class in a local school in Dudley, in a deprived area of high need. If you can teach in an area of high need, with lots of issues around things like crime, it sets you up for your career. Having the opportunity to teach Reception was also incredibly useful: as a teacher, it’s important to understand the level that children are at when they enter school and to see where they go on to from there.

There’s always more you can do, and there’s always more you can learn. I’ve always studied while I worked, completing the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), becoming a member of the Chartered Education Assessors, training with Ofsted and completing a Master’s degree in leadership and management. At the moment, I’m completing the National Professional Qualification for Executive Leadership (NPQEL). Keeping learning alive has been so important for my development, because you bring all of that knowledge to your role and it ensures your work remains current and relevant.

I like being the lead learner, motivating and inspiring others with what I do. Six or seven years into my career, I was lucky to be appointed as a Local Authority consultant for maths in Wolverhampton. My role involved challenging schools to attain high standards by offering support to the whole school team. I was able to influence and drive improvements in hundreds of classrooms with thousands of children across the city. I relished the opportunity to work with a range of schools in various challenging circumstances, and a lot of that work helped me later on in my career.

To be a good leader, you’ve got to be a great role model. You should never ask someone to do something that you’re not prepared to do or that you haven’t done yourself. I say that to my middle leaders: I’ve taught in reception to Year 6, so I know from experience what my expectations are at each level. It’s also so important that you can coach, mentor and support your people. For me, I know I’m doing my job well if my staff feel empowered to take on roles and responsibilities themselves.

I’m drawn to schools in challenging situations. I’m not sure what it is… maybe it’s getting to see that change for the children. Most of my career has involved raising standards and looking at rapid improvement programmes, and very quickly you begin to see the difference you’re making for the pupils. The knowledge you gain from that work is priceless, and it has definitely influenced me as a leader: I’ve learned how to get people working together effectively to move a school forward.

Within 18 months, we managed to take Reedswood from an Ofsted rating of requires improvement to good.  That was super, and I was so pleased that our team was recognised for excellent practice in certain areas too. When I had first come to have a look around Reedswood, it drew me in. The academy had a lovely vibe and it felt like it was the right place to be. Of course, there were significant improvements that needed to be made as it had always been RI or special measures. The context we’re in is one of high deprivation and the percentage of pupils with SEND is above the national average, so it has been challenging – but it’s certainly exciting being here.

It is so important to open a dialogue with the community you serve. When I first started at Reedswood, parents were focused on their issues with the way the academy had been run in the past. But when they could see the improvements we were making, the conversation started to change. I do parent council once a month and everyone is welcome to come along, giving our parents a voice. We talk about developments in the academy and all of the positive things that we’re doing, and the community now really engage with us. It feels like a great place to be, there is a community spirit and we’re all working together.

E-ACT was the first MAT I’d worked with. What I like about being part of E-ACT is that we have lots of opportunities to work with other headteachers in the trust, through leadership group meetings and reference groups.  The work I’m doing for my NPQEL wouldn’t be possible without my current role. I’m able to visit other academies and be part of raising standards across the trust. I feel supported in completing the course, because the trust have allowed me to continue my professional development and made time for me to do that.