In a blog article on, I offered an alternative to the current standard for schools and academies: Culture Development.


While most feedback on the article was very positive, one reader suggested that she’d like to see less “culture” and more pragmatism within schools. “Culture may seem warm and fuzzy,” the reader wrote. Governors, supply workers, lunch time staff and those who don’t inhabit the classroom are generally uninterested in ‘cultural evangelism.’”


This comment indicates a clear misunderstanding of the strategic value culture provides for schools as purpose-driven organisations. When the foundation of how you do what you do is tied to a set of values, culture isn’t just warm fuzzies — it is a crucial element in the success or failure of the school.


The Hamford Academy cultural manifesto


In the High Performance section of his culture manifesto, Hamford Academy Principal and Head Teacher of the year Benedick Ashmore-Short notes that Hamford “recruits, develops and manages smartly so we have stars in every position.” Furthermore, Sycol encourages a “keeper test” in which managers and staff should consider how hard leaders would fight to keep a member a staff if he or she were to say they were considering an opportunity elsewhere.


Not only does Ashmore-Shorts’ manifesto clearly articulate what it means to have a high-performance culture at Hamford but the test for ensuring that they have the right people on the team. The idea is to have the best and the brightest bringing their best work and making sure they know they are a valued part of an all-star team. Nothing fluffy or warm and fuzzy there. Whether Sycol-school cultures like this are regarded as excessively challenging or not is neither here nor there. The expectation is set and those who can’t thrive with the pressure that comes with such a commitment to a high-performance school culture, will have no interest in going to work there.


Herein lies the importance of recruiting and letting-go for ‘fit’. Setting and articulating the vision has the effect of sorting-out people who see culture as unnecessary “warm and fuzzy.” This kind of clarity is precisely what enables schools and academies such as Hamford, Hope and Hartford attract top talent. Ultimately, it is this talented workforce that keeps these schools and academies at the very top of the game.