Ernest Bevin College welcomed Ms Tracy Dohel as their newly appointed Principal at the beginning of January 2021. However, it was far from a normal start for this highly experienced headteacher, as the majority of EBC staff and students were working from home due to the lockdown.
Tracy was impressed by the way staff and students had adapted to the new challenges of online learning, whilst still maintaining the momentum of school improvement. This success was a credit to the commitment and dedication of all the EBC staff in making the transition to remote learning possible.
Becoming the new Principal of a large college is a challenge at the best of times, but doing this during a global pandemic is highly commendable! It was vital then that Tracy was able to access the professional HR support she needed, to work with her and the senior leadership team.
Thankfully, the Wandsworth Schools HR Service were already established HR partners with EBC, so were able to provide the experienced professional HR support and continuity needed to help manage the wide variety of HR issues that arise within schools.
With regards accessing HR support, what would you say were the key adjustments, if any, when you became Principal at EBC?
In terms of HR support, one of the trickier aspects when I joined EBC, apart from the fact that we were still in lockdown, with a skeleton staff and few students in the College, was the fact that I was so used to having HR services provided as part of an academy, with specialist issues outsourced to Babcock 4S, now Strictly Education, when required. A MAT I worked for had their own central in-house HR team, the same as most of the bigger academy trusts, so there were always ‘go to people’ for advice. When I joined EBC, it took me about a month to familiarise and adjust to the Wandsworth HR provision.
Was the support available from Wandsworth HR when you arrived at EBC?
Yes, once I realised that was where I was supposed to go to for HR support. I had already spoken to Brendan Ryan by phone whilst I was in my previous headship. Brendan was able to help me with a HR issue I had when joining the College, which was immediately dealt with. In fact, that is one thing I will say, the swiftness in terms of the response received from Wandsworth HR has been quite incredible.
The other noticeable thing for me, because I do have a lot of experience working with HR, is the level of consistency in terms of their messaging. Although you can be mistaken for thinking that all aspects of HR is law, there can be some opinions about how you would approach a particular matter. Although Brendan, Lesley and Harwinder might have nuanced opinions about certain issues, the level of consistency between them is really impressive!
So, when you need advice about an HR issue, who are your main contact/s?
It can depend on which time of the day. Brendan will usually get calls early morning, sometimes at 7.00am, because I know he is up and about and will answer. I have never actually met Brendan, although I have invited him to come along to the College. I have met Lesley and Harwinder. I have contacted Lesley at the other end of the day, even at 8.00pm on a Friday night and she has answered. Both Brendan and Lesley have been a constant source of valuable support, which has inspired me with a lot of confidence in what I have to do. The breadth of experience within the Wandsworth HR team really does shine through, especially when you feel you encounter an issue, they are able to help to get things back on track for you. They basically know Wandsworth inside out and the schools, so you are reaping the benefits of their wealth of experience, which is always readily available. Given my experience of working with other HR teams who are able to turn things around, Wandsworth HR team do it really quickly!
Wandsworth HR also have a way of getting the best from you, by coaching you through the different HR issues and asking what you want to do? What do you think would be best? What do you think the consequences might be of a certain action? How might the staff react to that? If there is any doubt, they are always able to provide answers! In addition, the team have also supported the College by attending full governing body meetings, late into the evenings, offering an expert perspective as well as being able to answer more in-depth questions. The Wandsworth HR documentation is also available online and is an extremely useful source of advice and guidance.
Are there any areas of support that you think Wandsworth HR could improve on?
Whilst I can give constructive criticism, I would be hard pressed to offer anything regarding them. I have been in touch with the interim head who was here at EBC before me and when I told her how much support I had received she was overwhelmed and extremely impressed, so no I can’t think of any areas for improvement at this point.
How would you summarise the support received from the Wandsworth HR Team?
In spite of all the current pressures facing heads and schools in Wandsworth, with all the different HR issues, time pressures and staffing shortages, Brendan and his team are always on hand to provide the support you need at the time you need it.