Susan Young looks at what makes an outstanding school leader.
Susan Young talks to Early Years teacher, Jane Flood about becoming part of a Research Learning Community.
James Ashmore writes on the importance of staying optimistic as a middle leader.
How can school leaders use PE, physical activity and sport to tackle issues of childhood obesity and mental well-being and to drive whole school performance?
Jean Gross outlines the provision and support for children with SLCN.
In the UK today, there are areas where a staggering one in six children are currently living in poverty (Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission).
The charity, Speakers for Schools, gives access to top quality speakers for free
Within a school context it is essential to ensure a level of consistency; a common approach to coaching sessions is important.
Exploring video CPD: developing a supportive culture and establishing a solid programme.
Christophe Mullings, Head of Education at IRIS Connect, explores video CPD and practical strategies for getting started.
The BELMAS Reflective Practice Award for innovation and critical reflection in education is now open for entries
Guest blogger James Ashmore asks: As a middle leader, what could you do to raise your team’s happiness quotient?
How does an autistic person get heard and understood? How do they find their voice? How do we hear their voice? And are we giving space to hear the autistic voice?
You may feel that your work/life balance is seriously out of kilter and that moving into middle leadership has done nothing to redress this, in fact it’s made it worse.
In the short term a dedicated middle leader can make sacrifices, willing to take on more because they are not only ambitious for themselves but committed to high quality education for pupils within their school. But is this sustainable asks Lara Ginn?
Teacher workload is among one of the greatest issues schools face nowadays. Over recent years this has become a source of wide scale discussion within the profession and in the media. The government has, through recent independent reviews, endeavoured to identify some of the primary factors causing the heavy workload faced by teaching staff and means by which all stakeholders can redress this.
By the age of 16 at least one child in every classroom (1 in 29) will have experienced the death of a parent or sibling (Penny & Stubbs, 2015).
Middle leaders are increasingly recognised for their pivotal role in developing the quality of practice. So how is this being achieved, and how can you plan for this?
Running successful meetings is an often overlooked skill but one that will almost certainly be required of you as a middle leader. The times you have together with your team can be critical to your success and so it is vitally important that they go well.
It is becoming more and more widely understood that there may well be as many girls and women with autism as there are boys and men, but their needs are not always being identified.
If you could peer into a middle leader’s brain, what would you see?
At The Key for School Leaders, we’ve looked at the share of article views across the five main areas of our website to find out how much time middle leaders spend thinking about each area of school leadership: staff, school evaluation and improvement, curriculum and learning, administration and management, and pupils and parents.
Previously we’ve looked at the articles viewed by head teachers and deputy heads, which seemed to suggest that staffing and administrative tasks occupied the largest amount of time when senior leaders used The Key. Now we’ve turned our attention to the 20,000 or so middle leaders who have used The Key to see how their focus differs.
Of all the roles we've taken our analytical scalpel to, middle leaders have the most even spread of attention across the five areas of support available on The Key for School Leaders. As might be expected for roles closer to the coalface of teaching, a higher proportion of their viewed articles concern pupils and parents when compared to articles viewed by head teachers or deputies.
Looking at SENCOs separately, we can see a very strong focus on pupils and parents.
However, the majority of The Key’s articles that deal with SEN management are within the pupils and parents area of the website. This helps to explain why SENCOs appear to spend such a large proportion of their time on The Key browsing this particular area. But that’s not to say issues surrounding SEN are only popular with SENCOs because a list of the most popular questions across other middle leader roles shows.
The above list contains the 10 questions most popular with middle leaders on The Key for School Leaders during the 2014 autumn term. We’ve excluded SENCOs, but you can see that questions concerning SEN are still popular across the rest of the middle leadership spectrum. In addition to these reforms, other topics which were most popular with middle leaders included inspection, lesson observation and assessment without levels.
On most occasions when middle leaders use the Key for School Leaders, they’re accessing information and guidance directly applicable to their current role. Previously on this blog, we saw which topics on the Key had been viewed the most by middle leaders during 2014 and how much time they spent thinking about each area of school leadership. But when middle leaders are thinking about career progression and stepping up to senior leadership, this is also reflected in how they use the Key.
For every hundred middle leaders who used the Key during 2014/15, on average they viewed more than fifty articles on topics such as leadership group pay and progression, leadership roles or recruitment interviews for senior leaders. I wanted to find out if this interest was the same throughout the country, or if there were regional differences. For the map of England below, I’ve coloured the nine regions according to the level of interest in articles about recruitment interviews (measured by articles viewed per one hundred middle leaders using the Key).
London’s middle leaders lead the way by a long margin, with more than double the level of interest in senior leadership recruitment interviews than that shown by middle leaders in the south west or east of England. Taking London out of the picture, there was also a clear distinction between the north and south of England. Articles about interview tasks or in-tray exercises were among the most popular across all regions, as well as possible interview questions for a head teacher or deputy role, or questions on the topic of safeguarding.
Are there more senior leadership job opportunities closer to hand for London-based middle leaders? There are probably a great many more positions available to apply for before they would have to think about significantly changing their commute to work, or relocating entirely. I wonder if this is driving the additional time they spend looking at articles about recruitment interviews.
A different pattern is seen when we look at interest in pay and progression. This time it’s middle leaders in the north west and west Midlands that view the most articles.
This paints a much more varied picture, but again the most popular topics within each area are consistent across the board. Information on leadership pay dominates, as well as progression within the upper pay range (or applying to join it). Although generally they didn’t show much interest in information about senior leadership, middle leaders in the east of England did show the most interest in our article comparing the deputy head teacher and assistant head teacher roles.
When the DfE released its new national standards of excellence for head teachers (aimed at head teachers, governing boards and aspiring head teachers), more than one in six of the Key’s members who accessed our need-to-know alert were middle leaders. While there are some very clear differences in the information about career progression accessed by middle leaders in different parts of the country, there doesn’t seem to be an overriding theme emerging from this data. It’ll be interesting to see how this changes in the next few years as the head teacher shortage continues to bite and more middle leaders think about stepping up to senior leadership.
Members of the Key can access all of the articles mentioned above here.
Do you know, or are you, a good middle leader? The likely answer is yes. There are good middle leaders in schools up and down the country, but the skills they demonstrate and practice are different depending on their role, the phase in which they work, their school and their experience. There will be different skills that distinguish a good head of science in a large secondary from an early years lead in a primary. One might involve a strong focus on marking and assessment policies whereas the other may involve stronger parental engagement and holistic development.
However, the leadership competencies that differentiate a good head of science from a great head of science and a good early years lead from a great early years lead are the same. There’s a common set of accelerated leadership competencies that apply across all roles that make the difference between good and great. It’s these leadership competencies that determine leadership potential.
Leadership skills such as curriculum planning, running effective meetings and literacy strategies can be taught and are extremely visible. Leadership competencies such as resilience and self-awareness are much less visible and much harder to teach. However, if we can identify those leadership competencies in ourselves and develop them, they’ll be the factors that make the difference between a good and a great leader.
Teaching Leaders assesses applicants on 11 leadership competencies, developed through research by Hay Group and the National College of Teaching and Leadership, which demonstrate leadership potential and identify growth factors. They underpin your ability to perform well in future roles and your capacity to learn and implement new skills. They’re used to assess potential on other programmes such as NPQH and Future Leaders.
Below is a list of these competencies along with some questions you might ask yourself to assess your leadership potential or find out why certain situations are more challenging. See how you get on below, and identify those you feel are strengths and those where you need to develop further.
Resilience and emotional maturity
Holding to account
Curiosity and eagerness to learn
Relating to others
Applications for Teaching Leaders (primary) open on 27 January. Applications for the Teaching Leaders Fellows (secondary) programme are open now. If you think you have the potential to be a great middle leader, can demonstrate the leadership competencies above, have a middle leadership role in a school in challenging contexts and want to develop, we want to hear from you. Visit our website for more information on our programmes.
Within the latest guidance from Ofsted is the following new requirement.
"Inspectors should consider the quality of middle leadership in the school and:
But what does this actually mean for your school? And how might you demonstrate the above to inspectors? I suggest asking the following four questions.
Is it clear who the middle leadership team at your school is?
Middle leadership can be a slightly slippery term, with the definition varying between schools and phases. However, each school should be able to clearly and simple describe whom they consider to be middle leaders and, importantly, why. Does this group have the opportunity to meet regularly, including occasions without senior leaders or classroom teachers present? It’s also worth considering what links they have with other teachers who are in the same position as them outside of the school whether that’s through the local authority, subject association, union or other network.
Do middle leaders at your school know what is and isn’t their responsibility?
Again this will vary between schools, but there should be clarity about the tasks and responsibilities this group should be leading on. All staff should have been involved in creating and owning the vision for their school, including their own particular priorities. This is especially important for this group of staff as they’ll be translating the vision to their teams on a daily basis, helping each teacher to own it for themselves. Consulting and embedding the values, objectives and processes of a school with middle leaders is time well-spent. It might be an idea to document the priorities and tasks common to different groups of staff within a school, identifying those clearly owned by one group and any that may be shared. For example, you’d expect every staff member to understand their role in relation to Ofsted, but exactly what that means for them will vary depending on their role.
Is there an evidence-based development programme in place for middle leaders?
In a climate of limited funding and resources, it’s vital both schools and school leaders are proactive about developing themselves and their peers. This can be about working smarter, not harder. Prioritising time and funds for developing your middle leaders is crucial, but it’s not enough alone. You also need a school-wide approach for professional development which is developed and owned by staff. A rigorous approach to using evidence to test and then refine different approaches to staff learning is the key here. This isn’t always about expensive external provision. Much can be done in-school and often expertise can be bought in for specific purposes within the framework established by the school. There’s much value in accredited leadership programmes such as NPQML and NPQSL, but these need to be part of a mixed economy available to middle leaders within a coherent programme. This should allow for a number of different career pathways, within and beyond the school.
Does your school systematically spot talent?
High performing organisations in any sector - whether that’s public services, business or charities - have a common organisational trait: they know how to spot and nurture high performers. You’d never treat a class of individuals in the same way so use this philosophy with your colleagues. What are the particular talents and areas of development for each of them as well as for you? Your school probably has a clear description of what good teaching looks like, but does it have something similar to describe good middle leadership? Middle leaders should be involved in defining the behaviours, skills, values and characteristics those in their roles might possess. This should be backed up by systematic processes across the school to develop, assess and reward those qualities. There should be a direct link with the school vision and the personal performance plan of staff.
If you’ve got answers to these four questions, your school is well on the way to satisfying Ofsted’s requirements. But more importantly, you’re taking advantage of one of the most valuable resources at your disposal. By helping middle leaders reach their potential, they’ll be able to have a huge positive impact on students both in their own classrooms and their teams’ classrooms.
There’s growing evidence about the link between strong middle leadership and school improvement. There’s also a huge demand out there from middle leaders for more support. Just more than a year ago NAHT members unanimously voted to set up NAHT Edge, a new section of NAHT designed solely with middle leaders in mind. Senior leaders have a duty to nurture the next generation of leaders, and NAHT Edge has been set up to help to do just that. Find out more on our website, or drop me an email.
Newly appointed middle leaders could benefit from some tailored training in their new roles, according to a new research project.
Paul Irvine, who interviewed twenty-five middle leaders in an independent boys’ school for his doctoral research - and was himself a middle leader until this summer - says this group of professionals face a range of challenges when they take up the role.
“It became apparent just how much of a step change the participants experienced in moving from leading and managing children to leading and managing adults. It was clear that, whilst teachers have developed leadership and management skills within their classroom practice, this did not prepare them for leading their peers…”says Irvine’s paper, Middle leadership and its challenges: a case study in the secondary independent sector.
In other recurring themes from his research, middle leaders spoke of how they found difficulty in identifying the bounds of the role, felt constrained by the school’s culture, and suffered from lack of time. Accountability was a challenge, while many participants said managing staff was the hardest element of the job, because different people had different opinions, and because they were frequently managing colleagues at varying stages of their own careers.
The middle leaders interviewed also felt “sandwiched” between senior leadership and those they lead - some of whom had priorities in other departments. They found the job was often reactive, and complained of a lack of preparation. “It’s one of the steepest learning curves I have been through,” said one.
Irvine would like to see more support for those taking up middle leadership.
“For me I’d start by explaining to them that there are specific challenges that they are likely face - and the wider literature suggests that it doesn’t matter what type of school you’re in, the problems are likely to be similar. I’d say, you are not alone in finding that leading and managing adults is difficult, or that you are a piggy in the middle - but there’s nothing you can do about that, so there’s no point fretting over it. However, I’d then move on to discussing the enabling factors in your job - things you can actually do to change or overcome the difficulties you face.”
Irvine, who presented his work at the BELMAS international conference in July, said his research had suggested “clear, identifiable factors that make the role of the middle leader possible.”
These included having a clear aim, or as one participant put it, “setting out your market stall at the beginning of the year…so they know expectations and can respond accordingly.”
Another important factor was being “the dominant practitioner,” a finding Irvine says isn’t widely acknowledged in the existing research into the role. But as one of his subjects said, “It’s very important as a head of department that your department think well of you, and look up to you for having some experience that they haven’t got.” Having some space to reflect on what they were doing was important, particularly if it helped them understand their own leadership style, he found. Several of his subjects said part of this was about being “true to themselves”.
Another important theme that emerged was knowing and understanding departmental members well. This included building trust and respect, and creating emotional ground because, as one participant explained, knowing staff well “made sure that you’re using their strengths rather than putting them into a situation where it’s their weaknesses that come out.”
The paper said the step change from classroom teaching to leading and managing adults required the middle leaders to draw on experience “and it was interesting to see where this came from.”
The research suggested that experience at previous schools, such as running trips or writing schemes of work, was useful. Participants also called on transferrable skills, such as from being a member of a band and performing together. The third method was asking the advice of people who had done a similar role. “Experience was expressed as a key enabler by many of the participants. It gave them previous scripts on which they could draw, thus allowing them to make swift intuitive decisions,” says the paper.
Irvine, a design and technology specialist who has just retired from teaching, thinks research needs to be undertaken around middle leaders because the empirical evidence into their role is currently sparse.
Irvine would encourage others to pursue academic research whilst teaching, as he has done. “Yes, it’s been pretty full-on for the last four years, but I did a Master’s in coaching and mentoring and enjoyed applying sound research techniques to school practice. Combining 36 years of classroom experience with doctoral level research is already opening new doors for me, which is fantastic.”
Middle leadership and its challenges: a case study in the secondary independent sector was presented at the annual conference of the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) by doctoral student Paul Irvine (P.A.Irvine@2012.ljmu.ac.uk).
BELMAS is an educational leadership research association open to school and college leaders as well as academics, and encourages members to generate and share ideas and good practice. BELMAS is an independent voice supporting quality education from effective leadership and management, and membership is free for the first year. Find out more at www.BELMAS.org.uk
Make no mistake, being a middle leader in a school these days is a tough job. You’re probably spending most of your time teaching and trying to fit leadership and management responsibilities around it. There’s a good chance you proved your abilities teaching your own class and then got given additional responsibilities across the whole school. It’s likely you’ve had little to no training for all that other stuff; instead, you learned most things on the job. Your school probably has a senior leadership team, but no clear group of middle leaders that meets regularly. You’re probably juggling 101 different things, so it doesn’t feel like you have any time to take a step back and lift your head beyond your own school.
One of the privileges of my role is that I get to visit schools across the country and meet lots of different middle leaders. If any of the concerns mentioned above sound familiar, believe me you’re not alone. In our schools, there are about 200,000 middle leaders and each of whom is teaching on top of their school-wide responsibilities. Given tight budgets and rising expectations of schools, it’s more important than ever before that every middle leader is motivated, supported and satisfied. Increasingly, we need our middle leaders to not only have a positive impact in their own school but also to be excited by the challenges that come with helping colleagues and students further afield. Working beyond your own school could help to improve outcomes for students, and it may also bring you greater satisfaction and a more rewarding career.
Here are nine suggestions for how middle leaders can broaden their horizons beyond their own school.
This blog was written for Challenge Partners.
It’s a slightly odd phrase 'middle leader', but it does seem to be used more and more these days in schools. Only recently Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector, referred to them as the 'engine room' of the education system. Several senior leaders have told me that the first people they turn to when they’ve to respond to a new policy or change are their middle leaders. In this first blog I’m going to explore just who these people are that we’ve started NAHT Edge for.
In a nutshell we think middle leaders are those who both teach in the classroom and manage other people, often taking the lead across the school in a particular area. This practice is increasing as more collaborative and distributed leadership models become common in education as in other sectors such as healthcare. As schooling becomes an increasingly professional and sophisticated activity, there is growing evidence of a link between school improvement and leadership that involves many more people, each taking a lead in an area. This allows teachers to develop their skills and frees up senior leaders to do long-term and strategic thinking.
One way to define middle leaders is by job title, such as 'coordinator' and 'head of…', but given the sheer variety between schools this only gets you so far. We’ve found that the best way to identify a middle leader is by their pay scale, with those who’ve been granted teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) always being middle leaders.
There have been dedicated training courses for middle leaders from the National College for Teaching and Leadership for a number of years, initially with one called 'leading from the middle' and now with the somewhat less snappily titled 'national professional qualification for middle leadership' (NPQML). These and other similar courses are designed to help teachers prepare for more senior roles with management and leadership responsibilities on top of teaching. However we think the take-up of such courses has been pretty low so far, with frequent changes to the courses (another round is on the way) causing confusion and with the vast majority of our c. 200,000 middle leaders finding little time to spare for such formal professional development. Instead, typically too much of the time spent on such continuing professional development is concerned with one-way information-giving and compliance as schools respond to multiple changes, including assessment, curriculum and special educational needs and disabilities.
NAHT Edge is focussed on serving this group of people, giving them opportunities to connect with each other and to build the unique skills needed at this point of their career. We hope that by building their capabilities the benefits will not only come to them personally but to their schools, colleagues and pupils too.
Although, to the public, 'middle managers' are often associated with bureaucracy and red tape, we know that all teachers can identify the middle leaders in their school and understand the growing importance of them being well trained, ambitious and effective. We’d love to hear from you about who you think the middle leaders you know are, how they can be supported and what’s holding them back.
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