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.
Middle leaders have on more than one occasion been described as 'the engine room of the school'. If we take this at face value, the analogy suggests a school simply couldn't function without its middle leaders just as an ocean liner couldn't sail without its engine. Therefore, it seems wise to consider what some of the features of successful middle management may be. After considering my own practice and what I’ve seen in the schools I’ve worked at or visited, I've condensed my thoughts into the following list.
1. To raise standards
A lot of jargon is spoken and reams of data generated, but I think there are a couple of good starting points for success. Middle leaders should be up-to-date with the latest guidance and try to ensure their staff are too. Middle leaders should ensure staff have access to high-quality continuing professional development that’s useful and, preferably, chosen by them. A team that’s informed and educated in its own subject is (arguably) the key to higher standards of pupil work.
2. Observing teachers and quality assurance
These are closely linked to the above. Middle leaders should ensure the observation and scrutiny process is as non-threatening as possible. Feedback and advice given should be genuinely constructive. This can be achieved by ensuring positive features are highlighted, shared and built upon, and areas for improvement are discussed. Individual teaching styles, lesson planning and structure should be at the teacher’s discretion. I hope it goes without saying there should be no grading of individual lessons.
3. Building strong teams
A good middle leader will know where the strengths and weaknesses lie in their team. In addition to offering opportunities for training and feedback, middle leaders should encourage sharing of skills between their own team of teachers. While valuing and promoting teacher autonomy, opportunities to see each other teach and share ideas and good practice should be given. Teachers should be offered the chance to plan together and team teach. Where appropriate, middle leaders should seek to involve and engage staff in the department decision-making process.
A good middle leader can be crucial in ensuring consistency of behaviour management across their department. Middle leaders should help staff to enforce school discipline policy while never undermining individual teachers. They should be prepared to chase up detentions and generally back staff in any way needed. It's wise not to underestimate the importance of strong behaviour management in the overall success of a department.
5. The middle (wo)man
As a buffer between senior leadership and teaching staff, middle leaders are on the receiving end of an awful lot of information. However, they should be careful not to throw all the stress down the line. A good middle leader will know there are some tasks which should be undertaken by them and some information which should be held back. Teaching staff shouldn't be given unnecessary tasks to complete or paperwork to trawl through. In addition to this, I would urge middle leaders to think very carefully before implementing any new scheme or incentive - especially if costly. Consider foremost, if it's really as good as it first seems? And (crucially) will it raise standards?
An engine room, by definition, exists behind a closed door. It’s isolated from the rest of the ship. It's here where this post must diverge from the engine room analogy. Middle leaders must be visible to both pupils and staff; they should be seen in corridors, greet people, smile and say hello. Middle leaders should enquire how people are (and genuinely care about the response). They should certainly not exist behind a closed door, but instead offer an open-door policy where they welcome everyday news and chit-chat as well as the inevitable crises and bad news.
Finally, middle leaders should have a teaching commitment. Even the smoothest, slickest of engines can be prone to rust after all.
(This list is far from exhaustive. Comments and opinions are welcome. Share your thoughts in the comment box below.)
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.
I’m a senior middle manager in a large secondary school and hardly a week goes by without reference to one or more of a raft of targets, progress measures or monitoring systems. I’m currently working through appraisal discussions with members of my department, hoping to help stimulate reflection and focus priorities on the tasks ahead.
At the same time, I’m also in the process of ‘being appraised’ by my own line manager. Having a well-established system of regular meetings, the opportunity to check details with each other and share interim feedback means nothing in my appraisal discussion should come as a surprise. We have a strong working relationship, so I know I have nothing to fear on a professional level and the idea of this being a passive process is actually far from the truth.
So, how do you get the most out of appraisal?
The appraisal system, as part of a broader performance management strategy, is ultimately a trade-off between autonomy and control: ideally you should feel like you’re securely at the helm, with both the reassurance of guidance from others when needed and also the challenges brought about by responsibility for your craft. It’s a delicate balance, at times, but one to relish if you can.
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
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.
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.
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.
I really enjoyed this blog. I am in my first term in charge of Maths in a 2 form infant school. I have really enjoyed my work so far but find the theory of middle management to be very long and hard to simplify. This blog has helped me focus on my key tasks and I think should be printed out and put on my desk as a mantra!
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