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.
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
In an age of accountability and pressures on time and money, the idea of schools putting resources into teacher research might seem counter-intuitive.
But a teaching school alliance in Stockport is doing just that for the second year running. And they’re doing it not because of the results of the research itself, but because of the beneficial effects on staff members and their professional development, particularly among middle leaders.
“They all came out saying they had learned a tremendous amount about themselves and their practice, and that’s the key thing. This is really powerful CPD for teachers,” says Dr Linda Hammersley-Fletcher. (She’s the Manchester University educational leadership expert who worked with the Gatley Teaching School Alliance on the project, which for the first year had teachers using randomised control trial research methodology to investigate school priorities, but it’s now using a variety of methods.)
She adds: “The research method isn’t particularly important. It’s the enthusiasm and excitement. It’s turning teachers into learners in a much more obvious way and opening them up to new ideas, so they feel less defensive and more engaged with the idea that learning is exciting.”
She believes the assessment and accountability agenda has meant teachers have lost the confidence to think about different ways of doing things and the possibility of discovering powerful new ways to work with colleagues. They were also forced to communicate with each other in wider ways than during a normal school day.
“That’s the strength of this programme: it develops people who think; it develops people who challenge; and it develops people who are prepared to take risks, try things out and realise that even if it goes wrong, it’s not a disaster. You’ll learn something from it, and it will enhance what we’re doing. That’s the bit that sells it to me – it’s more powerful than any CPD I’ve come across.”
Vanessa McManus, Associate Head at Gatley who led the research across the group of schools and will be presenting it with Linda at the BELMAS International Conference in July, agrees and says the project has been helpful for recruitment and retention, with several teachers getting promotions as a result and a wider group of staff being keen to take part in the second round.
Much of this was down to the challenge of attempting randomised controlled trial research in schools, “which goes against every moral code we teachers work to… so it was really new and they were initially quite shocked by it all. It was a very steep learning curve for them in terms of adjusting their leadership styles, having to engage others, and getting them to buy into the project and carry out little pieces of work. But, when participants reflected on it, they saw those difficulties as simply part of the journey towards becoming better leaders. And at the end of it, one was appointed as a specialist leader in education.”
Linda notes that staff had to communicate with colleagues in their own and other schools. Initially, they found it tricky to deal with unpredictable results “because they’re used to having control of the classroom and planning out every day to the Nth degree.” Each time they felt out of their depth, a session with Vanessa would help them to see this was part of the learning process. “They started seeing this as CPD, and how it was enlivening their practice and making them think and question what they were doing. That excitement was growing. It was a complete step change in what they were feeling about themselves and their jobs, and it started feeding back to the head teachers - and then the schools that hadn’t got involved started to think they should have.”
While there were small improvements in pupil achievement, Linda thinks this might have been more to do with the excitement and enthusiasm of their teachers. She noticed staff communications improving, people being more honest and learning to critique in a positive and supportive way. “That’s a powerful tool. Since schools are constantly managing change, having staff up for and good at managing change is a good way forward.”
For Vanessa, it was important that the leaders of each school in the alliance took an interest but no active role in the research, and teachers and middle leaders were encouraged to think about how lessons and approaches did or didn't work. Considering how to align the research with school priorities “so they’ve got those in the back of their minds all the time, so they’re evaluating their teaching not just based on the children in front of them but also on how it would work across the school… that’s what you want your middle leaders doing, don’t you? You want them to be thinking ‘actually phonics is an issue at this school’, unpicking some of the strategies and building their capacity to understand the school’s issues while analysing their class practice.”
She says the sense of empowerment has been huge, with staff given the confidence to say what they did for a group of children and how they know it worked. “Always as a leader, you want to say ‘how do you know? And how do you know it wasn’t something else?’
“It’s really empowering teachers in classrooms to dig deeper and really unpick what’s working and why is it working, and have that confidence to say ‘actually, I know what’s best for my kids in this room, so you know and the head teacher listens to what I have got to say.’ That’s what it’s doing to middle leaders, isn’t it? It’s allowing them to bring something to the senior table, to say ‘here’s what works, here’s what I think we should adopt as a school and here’s why you should listen to me.’ That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But that’s what I want my middle leaders to do.”
Both Vanessa and Linda would encourage other schools to try similar research projects themselves.
They say the crucial elements are as follows:
Developing professional confidence in teacher-leaders will be presented by Linda Hammersley-Fletcher and Vanessa McManus at the annual conference of the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) from 8 to 18 July 2016. BELMAS is an educational leadership research association that’s 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
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.
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.
Many of the middle leaders I’ve spoken to recently are uncertain about what’s happening with the college of teaching, what it means for them and how they might get involved. There have been various announcements by government, including some start-up funding and a front-runner group to set it up. There’s also a lively debate happening via blogs, Twitter and beyond.
NAHT Edge is publishing a series of blogs to share a range of views about the college of teaching and engage middle leaders in this important national debate. Feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below or including the #EdGen hashtag in your tweets. Alternatively, get in touch if you’re interested in doing a short blog or video post about it. It’s important the voices of different middle leaders are part of the discussion, beyond the usual suspects.
Both NAHT and NAHT Edge want to be supportive of the college, but we don’t see it as our role to try to be directive or dominant, rather to keep an appropriate distance and make sure our members are informed and engaged with its development. To set the scene and encourage discussion, I’ve listed 10 questions below for you to answer about what the college of teaching may look like in time and the benefits it could bring to the profession.
Next week, SSAT shares the #ClaimYourCollege coalition’s proposal and what it means for middle leaders.
Mental health and the mental health of children are becoming, rightly so, more and more prominent in today’s society. Successive governments are trying to put in place measures to ensure a child’s mental health is considered at the same level of importance as their physical health. This is at a time when there’s more pressure on local services and other mental health support, with an increasing number of children requiring help and ever-tightening budgets.
As highlighted in a recent report from the CentreForum, one in 10 children suffer from mental health issues. This means there are almost three-quarters of a million children in the UK with mental health issues. The number of children being diagnosed with these complex issues is likely to increase. The Mental Health Foundation has highlighted that 70 per cent of those children who have been identified with mental health issues didn’t receive the appropriate level of support at the right time.
A survey by Young Minds found two-thirds of local authorities had cut their child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) budget since 2010. And a freedom of information request by the children’s mental health charity showed £35 million has been cut from the budget for these vital services since 2013/14.
Even if children do get referred to access the right support, they’re increasingly more likely to get turned away. According to new research from the CentreForum, 23 per cent of referrals were rejected because the students’ conditions weren’t deemed to be serious enough or suitable for specialist mental health treatment. It also revealed disparities in funding across different regions of the country, with £103 per child being spent in northern England compared with just £64 in the Thames Valley area.
Research by the Centre for Social Justice demonstrated the link between child poverty and mental health problems, with its study revealing that 20 per cent of those from the most deprived families were three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than those from the wealthiest areas. The independent think tank’s study is supported by more recent research from the Children’s Society. The national charity’s findings revealed that children from deprived backgrounds were more likely to suffer from mental health issues than their more advantaged peers. Almost a third of 16 to 19-year-olds growing up in poverty said they didn’t feel optimistic about the future compared with around one fifth of their more affluent peers (29 per cent vs. 22 per cent). And a similar gap was found in the proportion of poor students who said they felt like failures (20 per cent vs. 14 per cent). They were also slightly more likely to say they didn’t feel useful (22 per cent vs. 18 per cent). With the cost of living ever increasing, more children are likely to fall into this vulnerable group.
So with these growing pressures mentioned above, more reliance on spotting the signs of concern and supporting children is being placed on teachers and school leaders. A recent survey by NAHT for Place2be revealed that 84 per cent of schools were using the pupil premium to fund their school counsellors. Nearly 80 per cent of respondents said financial constraints were a barrier to them putting in place mental health services for young people; more than half reported a lack of services or qualified professionals locally as the hurdle they were trying to overcome to provide their pupils with the support they needed.
Discover what opportunities NAHT Edge has called for to help schools support pupils with mental health needs. Share your concerns on supporting these vulnerable pupils with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll continue to bring these issues to the attention of the government.
The launch of a new venture in teacher trade unionism is a big deal. The recognition of the need for a distinctive voice for middle leaders, the staunch stokers of the engine rooms of successful modern schools, is even bigger. In a movement characterised by the conviction that the strength of our common endeavour is greater than our individual capacity, how do we explain why a separate unit needs to exist for those who have acquired some greater responsibility, but are not yet sat in the big chair?
To illustrate the value of marking out a space for middle leaders alone, I’d like to focus on perhaps one of the biggest issues handicapping our profession: teacher workload. Everyone recognises this, from the Secretary of State down. There is, however, often precious little we seem to be able to do about it. We could plan and mark less, of course, but the evidence is clear that (done well) those things are vital contributions to the quality of our teaching. We could rip out entirely the inspection and accountability regime and bin the league tables, but Wales did and, by some measures, it didn’t work out very well. We could ignore the possibilities of developing extensive data and never enter anything into a spreadsheet again, but that would be to stand against a (potentially very valuable) tide.
Instead of thinking on the big scale of abolishing Ofsted or forcibly uninstalling Microsoft Excel from every staff room computer, what if we came up with much, much smaller and perhaps more effective changes? One area I think we could do small but vital work in reducing the load is in an area I’m sure many middle leaders will shudder to think of: school management and information systems (MIS). The advent of networked computing in schools opened the door to integrated databases which ought to make overseeing attendance, punctuality, behaviour and academic interventions more straightforward. Far too often, however, the systems purchased by schools to do this are unwieldy binary behemoths which need hours more work to operate as required. To give an example, one system I’ve previously worked with provided breakdowns of behaviour incidents which occurred in school on a daily, weekly, termly and annual basis. It was possible to further examine this data by year group but not by subject, so collecting reports of disruptive behaviour in my department (a requirement of our school behaviour management policy) became an elaborate process of additional emails, in-system messages and fly-by conversations. This left chains of evidence in a mess which often took more time to clear up than the original problem.
Why would a bigger voice for middle leaders assist here? In almost all cases, it’s middle leaders who end up filling the gaps in MIS because as either academic or pastoral managers they’re the first responders to school policies. Although they’re often the primary users of the nuts and bolts of MIS, the product isn’t marketed to them. Only senior leaders can decide to implement a new MIS, and only they’ve the budget-holding responsibilities to pay for it. Often the functions of the system chosen are those most appealing to the customer sat in the IT providers’ sales pitch even if they mostly examine the outputs of the system and are less concerned with the inner workings. This is not a criticism of senior leaders: of course it’s right the system should work for them, and the purpose of having senior leaders is that they take a more strategic look at the operation of the school. But, technocratic and even dull as such conversations might be, a louder, more confident and better trained voice asking precisely how these systems will work day-to-day could be a useful addition to school discussions in the name of efficiency, effectiveness and workload.
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