In this series called “Climbing the Mountain”, I will be sharing an account of our journey as a high school in building a culture of innovation and high-performance.

Pete Jones, Les Quennevais School



“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.”
Andy Rooney


It all starts with one decision. What kind of school do we want to be? Sounds so simple doesn’t it? That decision is the birthplace of the culture we strive for. The school vision, mission and values are there to guide every member of staff, every pupil, every member of our community in the direction we have set.


At Les Quennevais School, we have had the opportunity of working with Dr Ioan Rees and his company Sycol to do just that; exploring the kind of school we want to be. It’s easy to talk about raising standards, heightening expectations and aiming for outstanding. It’s harder to realise the strategies which will help us get there. Harder still to realise the impact and influence a shared vision and culture can have on making those strategies feel like ‘it’s just what we do here’.
It was clear from what Ioan was describing that we would be going deep into how to the vision might be realised over time which I was very excited about.


  • The vision of your school is a bit like the top of a mountain; your ultimate destination.
  • The mission is what we all do to help us get there, every step of the way.
  • The values are the way we get there, the approach we take.


For this to be realised, everyone has to work together and for each other, with a clear and shared understanding of the terrain ahead and what will be needed for us all to reach the summit. The analogy of the mountain fits neatly with the core framework model shared with us by Ioan. The mountain cannot be scaled alone. For the culture a school is looking to secure, it has to be done by everyone, for everyone. The culture you create is born out of the vision, mission and values you agree on. This culture is then strengthened out of the stories you tell, as you define the detail and continually reflect and question the values we all share.




We looked at the common hallmarks of great schools;

  1. They have a very clear vision. Everyone knows it, everyone knows what it would look like in their lessons, what it feels like and how it frames the mindset and purpose of those who work there.
  2. They build systems which deliver that vision. This is where the culture of great schools is developed. The systems become a lens to help focus the vision more clearly.
  3. They involve every member of staff. Great schools ensure that everyone is valued (and this isn’t just a arbitrary statement, it genuinely means just that) and ensures we all contribute to the continuous improvement of the school.
  4. ‘They all go to work ON the school, not just IN it.’ I loved this statement. We are not just here to pick up a pay check for teaching. There’s a moral imperative to focus on greatness, together.
  5. There is an overwhelming sense of support and positivity for each other.


I loved this list. To me this is a checklist of what needs to be in place to help build the culture to support greatness. This is not an easy list to ‘tick off’. But there is no doubt that these hallmarks of great schools are what will bring a vision to life. This list is not just common to schools, but to any truly outstanding organisation, whether it’s a hotel or a hospital, a restaurant or a football club. These 5 hallmarks create greatness. Ignore them at your peril!


We spent time in groups discussing and deliberating our core framework. This was pretty intense work, but highly valuable and enabled everyone to have their say and feel valued. (Tick for number 3!) We shared each groups core framework statements with the entire school, which was fascinating. There were many common themes and what was clear is that we are all incredibly ambitious for greatness.


We are currently voting on the most popular statements for each of the aspects of the core framework. There is much fervent discussion in the staff room about this which is great to hear. Then will come the important and hard work of seeing how we realise this.


The next stage for us is to create some ‘Innovation Teams’ to look at particular aspects of the school development plan or explore some of the systems needed to help deliver the vision. (tick for 2, 4 and 5).
These are exciting times. I think we are now starting to climb the mountain, one step at a time, together. This is where the happiness and growth begins.

Tune in for Part 2 of our journey.




Image courtesy of bplanet at