Flexibility can be considered to have two meanings; a ‘physical measure of suppleness’ or ‘to be adaptable’. Being supple is about being lithe, elastic and springy; being adaptable is about being accommodating, open and variable. Arguably, being flexible is a desirable quality for both people and organisations – especially in times of great change and uncertainty.
Flexibility is a style of thinking that focuses on your ability to adapt to new situations, improvise, and shift strategies to meet different types of challenges
The perfect storm
How is thinking about flexibility useful or even relevant to a school setting in the 21st century? Most schools currently face a series of major challenges in a number of areas – curriculum changes, funding reductions, new competitors, local authority actions, a sector shortage of teachers, rising sick leave levels, changing stakeholder expectations, rising legislative compliance penalties and, of course, rising costs – what some might label a, ‘perfect storm’.
These challenges, arguably, also contribute to the creation of a ‘VUCA environment’ – an acronym which describes or reflects the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations – creating a need to manage uncertainty, manage change, manage risks and solve problems.
Given the perfect storm and VUCA environment, if new approaches are needed, flexibility thinking and flexibility creation may be able to help.
What are some examples of flexibility thinking and using flexibility as a deliberate tool?
If, for example, dealing with DfE curriculum changes, applying flexibility thinking to the speed of those changes being imposed can help alleviate stresses.
Three avenues to pursue are:
- Using a set of compelling arguments to negotiate a one-year deferment with the DfE re. adopting the curriculum changes;
- Embracing the curriculum changes by entering a partnership arrangement for one year with a peer school nearby to provide these for referred students, or;
- Simply ceasing to offer the changed curriculum for a year in order to ensure a more successful changeover.
The point is to plan early, control the implementation rate and create interim arrangements to preserve flexibility.
What about handling EFA and local authority per-student funding reductions?
Use flexibility thinking to clarify the funding changes early; then make rapid changes to preserve operating and strategic flexibility also.