Are you ready to show-off your talented middle leaders to Ofsted? Seven suggestions to help…

Middle leaders are firmly on the agenda as we understand more and more about the vital role they play in school improvement. A school-led system has middle leaders at the heart of it. Organisations as diverse as SSAT, Teaching Leaders and NAHT Edge are all focused on their development. The Department for Education is expanding a secondment programme from thirty high-performing middle leaders to a hundred. Even Ofsted now explicitly look at middle leaders as part of the leadership and management of a school.


Middle leadership in the latest Ofsted framework

  • 156: Inspectors should consider the quality of middle leadership in the school and:
    • the extent to which schools are adequately developing their middle leadership
    • the succession planning and development of future leaders in the school

But who are these middle leaders, what qualities do they need and how do we help to grow them in our schools? In my role I have the pleasure of travelling the country each week, visiting schools and meeting both senior and middle leaders – often discussing those exact questions. They’re increasingly pressing issues, as our recent research with more than a thousand school leaders found that recruitment was a growing challenge for all roles, but most of all when it comes to hiring experienced teachers such as those with a Teaching and Learning Responsibility or ‘TLR’. Many schools have to re-advertise or even withdraw such roles – never finding anybody suitable. And this will only store-up trouble later on. You can bet we’ll have a head teacher recruitment crisis in the near future if we don’t get the support and incentives in place now for our middle leaders. As it stands just a third of middle leaders fancy the top job in school and only half of deputies do.

And yet many schools and groups of schools seem to manage it, building up a strong, talented and motivated middle leadership team. Based on my experiences of seeing some such success stories here are seven suggestions for how a school can grow and develop a healthy stream of talented middle leaders, as well as some questions to prompt your thinking. I’m sure many schools are already doing these things or have taken different approaches, in which case do get in touch to share your own good practice. In this era of tight budgets and school-to-school support it’s more important than ever that we share ideas, challenges and solutions.


1) Start by clarifying the school strategy and priorities

Re-examine your vision and strategy documents through the eyes of your middle leaders. Is there a detailed enough articulation of what‘s expected and needed from them, both now and in the future? How are you assessing whether they have sufficient expertise in the right areas to drive things forward? What’s the plan to help them make-up any gaps and have they bought into it?

Start with their teaching and learning capabilities. Are they expert in all the basics of pedagogy, is their knowledge up to date and informed by evidence, and are they spending most of their time in classrooms – both supporting others and teaching themselves? Mill Field Primary School in Leeds was judged outstanding by Ofsted this year, including for leadership and management. Middle leaders were singled out for driving improvement by still being ‘fully involved in the checking of pupils’ progress’.

Next think about their leadership and management duties, what does good look like at your school and do middle leaders understand and agree with what’s expected of them? Mill Field’s middle leaders were praised by Ofsted because the ‘impact of their actions is being felt across the school in the high levels of collaboration amongst staff’. Does everybody at your school understand the approach for evaluating staff performance? This is especially important for middle leaders because they’ll be doing it with other staff. You can make use of regular appraisals, professional standards and other competency-based frameworks. You can also look at what other schools are doing, sending staff to see them in action and discuss strategies with their leaders. A bit of research online will find a wealth of resources too. Are you encouraging questions and ideas from your whole leadership team, enabling them to seek out a range of different sources of advice and support to inform practice at your school. Are different people given clear tasks, such as examining evidence that can help inform the practice of teaching, managing or leading.

  • Do you know how middle leaders support your school strategy?
  • What skills, knowledge and experience do they need?
  • What culture do you have now and what do you want to create?


2) Systematically spot and nurture talented people

Having identified and agreed the qualities that middle leaders need, check that your school’s approach to identifying and supporting potential leaders is systematic and transparent. It should include those who have those qualities now as well as those with the potential to develop them in the future. It’s usually better to be as open as possible about both what those qualities are and the school’s process of identifying and nurturing them. There should be clear roles and responsibilities for those involved, including governors for more senior positions. You can work with other schools on talent spotting, recruitment and CPD too, to encourage impartiality and fresh thinking. Equality and fairness should be baked-in to the whole process, informed by the nine protected characteristics and the community the school serves.

It’s always important (and efficient) to nurture talented people internally. All staff, including middle leaders, should have clear development goals they’re working towards. But do these personal goals align with the wider school strategy and are they supported by a systematic approach to CPD? Again middle leaders can lead on different parts of the CPD offer. External expertise can be valuable but with tight budgets it’s important to evaluate such suppliers thoroughly – middle leaders can ask for evidence of impact, external indicators of quality and speak with others who have worked with them. There’s also a lot that schools can do for themselves. If established properly, mentoring and coaching programmes can help staff to develop each other. Middle leaders can ensure there are clear expectations and guidance for those involved, as well as evaluating how effective it is. Again, connecting with other local schools can be effective, widening the pool of people involved. Middle leaders are often active in professional learning communities, usually around their stronger subjects. Such communities can be a mix of in-person and virtual, but you can ask your middle leaders to bring any learning back in to school to share with others.

  • Does everybody know what a good middle leader at your school looks like?
  • When hiring are you casting the net widely to find the best possible people?
  • Are middle leaders involved in developing a systematic approach to CPD?


3) Think creatively about resources

Schools are having to do more with less, so are having to think holistically and flexibly about resourcing their middle leadership positions. Establishing a wider network of people can allow for sharing talented individuals across schools, either using informal agreements or more structured arrangements, such as secondments. If you think back to the qualities middle leaders at your school need to support the strategy, chances are you may not always need full-time permanent roles to give the school what it needs. Sharing staff across other schools can be one solution. The CfBT Schools Trust is working in this way, building a team of subject specialists, each working across three Trust schools. Such roles can be demanding, requiring both teaching expertise as well as the ability to engage and influence busy colleagues. You can also be flexible about contracting arrangements, but make sure staff are consulted properly and are crystal clear on the relationship. It’s always good practice to have a rigorous documentation process for such discussions, to avoid any confusion in future.

  • How is your school connecting with other local schools?
  • Are your middle leaders visiting and hosting other middle leaders?
  • Does your school have the skills it needs across the whole team?


4) Develop a plan for investing long-term

Often the best way to get the middle leaders your school needs is to grow them from within the school. That takes time and a clear, long-term strategy. Three of the six schools in the Primary Advantage (hard) federation in Hackney form a Teaching School. This combined with their relationship with the UCL Institute of Education (IoE) gives them access to new teachers through the full range of routes into the profession, including Schools Direct. It takes time to build up such relationships and capacities internally, but they can give you more options as well as access to a wider range of teachers and skills. The size of the federation also creates capacity, allowing senior leaders to work in other schools, both within and beyond the six schools. This then allows their middle leaders opportunities to step, from just a few days a week to full-time.

  • Is the school engaging with talented new people from a range of sources?
  • Is there a one, three and five year plan for bringing NQTs to the school?
  • Which partners is the school working with?


5) Build-in spare capacity where you can

Leadership development and succession planning should be continuous processes at your school, rather than isolated episodes. However things don’t always go to plan. That talented middle leader you’ve been developing for years, investing time and resources in, may end up taking a job elsewhere, or go on m/paternity leave at a crucial moment. Try not to put all your eggs in one basket, building a broad team of skilled middle leaders. Again connections with other schools can help.

  • Have you got an annual plan for CPD and different succession scenarios?
  • Do you have a clear sense of each middle leaders’ strengths and ambitions?
  • Can you plan hand-over periods, to get new post-holders up to speed quickly?


6) Give people challenging opportunities

The best way for many middle leaders to develop is by learning on the job. However those I meet often get responsibility quickly without sufficient support to go with it. That’s not really about salary, that’s about creating a process that feels manageable, allowing them to build confidence and experience over time. Not everyone wants to or is able to be either a middle or senior leader. Greater responsibilities don’t have to be permanent but it helps if people understand exactly what they’re signing up for. Often a good ‘leadership’ experience can encourage them to want to step up and take more on. The opposite is also true, so plan carefully. Our members talk about the satisfaction they can get as middle leaders from helping children across the whole school and by working alongside their teachers. Nearly all teachers seem to be perfectionists, wanting to do their best for their children. Becoming a leader is different, as you start to work indirectly, succeeding through others. That requires a degree of letting go, which can be particularly hard for new leaders. The most effective schools seem to give their middle leaders and those they work with a healthy mix of both structure and space.

  • How are middle leaders at your school encouraged to take time for reflection?
  • What can you offer your most talented middle leaders to hold on to them?
  • How are you balancing responsibility and accountability for middle leaders?


7) Make sure they have good role models

The recent ‘workload challenge’ highlighted how much school leaders can influence practices within their schools. Middle leaders are often the ones moderating work, helping colleagues with marking and supporting data collection. Schools can work with their middle leaders to identify efficiencies and avoid practices that don’t support learning. Middle leaders are also role models for staff, setting the culture of the whole team, so it’s important they can access positive role models themselves. Senior leaders can set the tone when it comes to issues such as work-life balance by practicing what they preach. I know one head teacher who insists on always shutting the school gates by 4.30pm on a Friday, going home himself to encourage his team to follow suit. Leaders have a duty to shield colleagues from some of the pressures of the job, sharing only those challenges and responsibilities that people can do something about. But they can also share the joys and satisfaction that only come with leadership, having a positive impact on a wider group of colleagues and students. Middle leaders can influence the whole feel of a school so encourage them to both share insights from colleagues and to be positive.

  • Is the school culture and mood discussed openly and regularly?
  • What positive anecdotes and stories are middle leaders hearing and sharing?
  • Are middle leaders connected with role-models within and beyond the school?

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for the SSAT journal)

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We need to help every SEN Co-ordinator to reach their potential

We can’t underestimate the ongoing impact of recent changes to special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision in schools. It takes time to get teaching assistants, teachers, school leaders, parents, governors and the students themselves all up to speed with the completely new system we are moving to. By the end of the two-year ‘transition period’ every school should have personal Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans and SEN Support in place for SEND students, replacing the former structure of Statements, School Action and School Action Plus. There’s also a new Code of Practice, a new approach to assessment, administration of medicines and much more besides.

It’s not as if this wholesale reform has happened in isolation either, with sweeping changes to curriculum, assessment and the rest all happening concurrently. This is also taking place in an increasingly constrained context, which sadly is something unlikely to change after May’s election, whoever comes out on top. Schools are in a situation where they’re having to do even more, with even less.

Every state-funded school has a SEN Co-ordinator (SENCo) appointed, one person responsible for making sure that each SEND pupil in the school receives tailored support and learning opportunities. This is a hugely diverse role. Among other things it involves making such the school’s SEND policy is being followed, working with different colleagues, role-modelling good practice, and mentoring others to help them refine how they teach SEND students.

They have close contact with parents and carers of SEND pupils too, sometimes in difficult and stressful circumstances. SENCos also interact with a wide range of other external professionals and organisations, often across different domains, disciplines and professional boundaries, often all at the same time.

They will also need to influence others, often without direct line management status. That can be a delicate task with busy colleagues, but it’s a key skill to develop and one that can stand people in good stead throughout their careers. Similarly they’ll often only achieve success through others rather than directly themselves so will need to learn how to celebrate and share the achievements of those around them.

They’ll have to manage resources and their time effectively, juggling their own teaching responsibilities with supporting others. They may also be managing the finances associated with any SEND funding or provision, including liaising with parents and carers who now have a dedicated budget to support their child. Ultimately if they’re to stick with it they’ll need to show plenty of enthusiasm and commitment, as well as hopefully get real enjoyment from helping to support the learning of SEND pupils.

It’s a tough job, requiring some sophisticated leadership and management skills, often on top of other responsibilities. But it’s also an important job, and so we have to help support SENCos to reach their potential – playing a strategic role across their whole school, and sometimes beyond.

Given these extra pressures and responsibilities, this points to the need for tailored, focused and high quality support for these important leaders found in every school. It’s not good enough to only lump them in to generic training alongside others school leaders, they need opportunities to focus on the core skills they need in their role and to meet others doing it in other schools.

I hope we can all focus more on the needs of SENCos, we not only owe it to them and their colleagues, but to our most vulnerable students whose learning they champion.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, in the TES)

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Learning to love the challenge of teaching

If you believe teaching is a cushy career with long holidays, that particular patch of grass might not be as green as you think. Being a teacher can be a tough job at times and if you only looked in the media, you might miss why nearly half a million people around the country get up each morning to work in our schools. For many of them, it’s not only about helping their students or fellow colleagues but also having a positive impact across the whole school and beyond. I spoke to two teachers and looked at research to learn more about what it means to be both a teacher and a leader in a school these days.

Being that unforgettable teacher for some students
You’ll probably have at least one favourite teacher from your own time at school; somebody who inspired or guided you at a key point in your life. It’s that almost magical feeling of opening young peoples’ eyes to the wonders of the world around them and seeing your students throw themselves into learning that can make teaching so rewarding at times. Conor Heaven, a class teacher and maths subject leader at an infant school in Essex, explains how he was inspired by his year three teacher, Mr Brown, and wanted to be that passionate about learning himself, so others could find those light bulb moments as he did. For some teachers, it’s this feeling alone that keeps them doing what they love, with our research showing that teaching children was the most popular aspect of the job. But for others, as they get more experienced and learn how to have a positive impact on their students, they feel a growing responsibility to share their knowledge and this includes helping their colleagues to become better teachers too. Joanne Gray, head of whole school pastoral care at a special school in Northern Ireland for four to 18-year-olds, talks about the mentoring and support she received from senior colleagues and how she now hopes to pass this on to others.

Keeping on learning yourself
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing. As with other professions, you’ll not only have to work hard to qualify but also to stay on top of the latest evidence and teaching practice. This type of lifelong learning is essential nowadays. Nobody wants to be treated by a doctor with out-of-date knowledge, and the same applies to somebody who teaches your child. This ongoing quest to learn is another motivating aspect of the job for many teachers: learning how best to help different children and to pass that knowledge on to other staff. Joanne describes how satisfying it can be to help colleagues teach those children facing the greatest challenges, such as those coming from a poor household who also have a disability. Similarly, Conor talks about his belief that all children can achieve great things if teachers can help them overcome the particular barriers they face. Our research highlights the importance of school leaders creating dedicated time for all school staff to develop themselves, so they can stay on top of the latest thinking and reflect on their own practice. A teacher is an expert in learning; many of the principles that apply to helping children learn can be applied to adults too.

Knowing your community
There’s growing evidence that the best learning is personalised to an individual’s needs. This is something that can usually only happen if the teacher knows the student, the student’s parents, their colleagues and the wider community. It’s this understanding of the unique context and needs that allows the best teachers to respond accordingly. Conor speaks of the deep relationships a teacher can form with those around them and how these relationships focusing on getting each child to succeed can build up trust. For him, this isn’t just about exam results. It’s also about helping the children to develop human qualities, such as independence, tolerance and respect. Teachers and school leaders are key figures in every local community, with the scope to be positive role models for others.

Experiencing a modern school first-hand
If you’ve not been inside a school since you finished your own education, you’d be amazed how much has changed. There’s lots of information online about getting into teaching and the various routes into the profession. But you can’t beat first-hand experience, so ask your teacher friends how they got into it and what they wish they knew before they took up the role, or contact your local school to find out if they’d be willing to let you visit. You may also consider volunteering as a school governor. Teaching is an amazing career. And who knows, you may end up like Conor and Joanne – the next generation of school leaders. You don’t know until you try.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for the Total Jobs site)

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How can we help every student to always be switched on by science?

Any subject taught in schools needs to balance the future needs of that sector with all of the others. So with science we need some students to go on to further study research and employment in clearly science-related fields; as astrophysicists, dieticians, technicians and all the rest. But more than this we also need every single student to go into their lives with at least a basic knowledge about science and a passion for some parts of it; whether that’s about really understanding how your bicycle works, a full appreciation of your 4G smart phone, or green fingered experiments in the garden. I’m not sure we’re achieving those wider goals yet for science.

Compare this to English, where any adult citizen should hopefully leave school with both basic literacy skills and a love of reading for pleasure (for example see the Read on Get on campaign). Sometimes this can be about national strategies and dedicated English lessons, but often it can be about Literacy Coordinators in schools weaving those concepts and techniques into the teaching practices of others. It’s a similar story with maths, where the majority of students choose not to study it further at the earliest opportunity. Many schools are starting to use mathematical concepts in other lessons and subjects, whether it’s practical projects, balancing finances or learning games. The evidence is growing that good quality teaching rests on the teacher having deep knowledge of their subject, being an expert at teaching, and also knowing how to best help colleagues teach elements of their subject too. The first two parts are hard enough and we’ve a long way to go. But that third bit can require the development of quite sophisticated leadership skills.

There are two inter-related areas we can focus on to help improve this situation, one at a national level and the other actually in schools.

Firstly at a national level we need government ministers, officials and other policy-makers to talk about English, Maths and Science, rather than just the first two. Science remains the poor cousin of the three in the national discourse. This is easy to fix and costs nothing.

The second national issue is more difficult. We need the government to invest in our schools, rather than allow a real-terms cut of 12% as the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted. Schools can take on the challenges of rising standards and greater accountability but they need help to grow their capacity.

Thirdly we need government to help make being a teacher and a school leader more attractive, especially to science graduates. We’re facing a perfect storm of a rising economy that offers careers in better-paid professions, a falling number of graduates, and a rising number of school students. Issues such as workload and pay need proper attention.

Fourthly we (finally) need a long-term national STEM strategy. One that has a clear definition of STEM at each education stage, that systematically monitors the ‘pipeline’ of people with STEM skills, identifies any gaps and properly evaluates the solutions. It’s time to go beyond ad-hoc pet schemes and projects.

On a smaller scale and influenced by those four national issues there is also a lot that schools can do, with both middle and senior leaders key players. Science is currently taught in a range of different ways, with dedicated science teachers in most secondaries and a tiny number of primaries. Whereas in most primaries non-specialist class teachers are teaching some science to their own class. But even this picture is by no means universal, I’ve heard of one large secondary without a single science teacher which is unsurprising as this is one of the most challenging roles to recruit for, particularly in some schools and localities.

Whichever model is adopted (or available), it’s important that all those teaching science have access to excellent science teaching expertise. For example the Wellcome Trust is promoting the idea that every primary school should have (or have access to) a Science Leader. This is a rightly ambitious target but is within that challenging context of constrained resources and teacher supply.

Within schools it’s important that they’re make good use of the appropriate evidence, with middle leaders often well placed to explore the options for improving science teaching for their students.

Given the limited supply of new science teachers, good Continuous Professional Development and Learning (CPDL) becomes more important than ever. However, it is hard to judge the impact of CPDL in advance or to prove it afterwards, leaving cash-strapped schools with difficult choices to make. Beyond science teaching there are wider challenges with CPD as too often it is generic rather than truly subject-led. Budget constraints require school leaders to really prioritise CPD, to spend their money wisely, as well as funding release time for CPD and subject leadership. I’ve also heard that the way Performance Related Pay is implemented in some schools it can discourage teachers from spending time away from their own students.

Beyond school it’s not just about science lessons and science teachers. There are a dizzying array of other science resources available. For example STEMNET ambassadors are a network of local experts who use science in their day jobs or studies, and who are passionate about sharing that experience. There are enrichment activities such as CREST the ‘STEM Duke of Edinburgh awards’. There are also new developments such as Q&As with experts online through the I’m a scientist initiative.

Helping students and teachers interact with those who are actively using science in their work can help to engage and enlighten them about the realities of the full range of future careers and industries out there, beyond the simplistic lens of ‘men in white coats’. To that end I hope the £25m funding the government has put into the new Careers Company will include a focus on both primary and science.

Proposals for busy school leaders have to be clear and coherent, which can be challenging given the size and diversity of the STEM community. Many school leaders are looking forward to working with you all though, together we can help every student get switched on by science.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for the Science Association)

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Grow your own school leaders

Schools are spending more of their limited resources on recruitment. Our survey of more than a thousand school leaders found the most challenging roles to fill are those with a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR).

I keep hearing about schools paying vast amounts of money to advertise and re-advertise such posts, sometimes never finding anybody. Many schools are looking further afield, getting creative with social media and competing rather than collaborating to find the best people from an ever limited pool.

This isn’t sustainable and we’re still waiting to hear how government is going to help the situation. In time, the college of teaching will be part of the solution, but this doesn’t help those schools that are missing key staff right now. Threatening announcements about greater accountability, sacking school leaders and forced academisation aren’t helpful. We’re hoping to see a more positive, sophisticated and holistic response from Nicky Morgan and colleagues this parliament. We need to encourage graduates to consider teaching as a career option, entice experienced leavers back to the profession and highlight the benefits and opportunities of leadership responsibilities rather than just the risks and challenges.

So, what can schools do? For many, the answer has been to grow their own school leaders because this can be cost effective and a way to develop people who know the school and have the right skills; however, this takes time and can be particularly challenging in stand-alone or small schools.

Here are three strategies I’m seeing more schools use to grow the next generation of senior teachers and school leaders despite, rather than because of, government intervention.

1. Map out your leadership pipeline

Ofsted is explicitly looking for schools to do succession planning, with clear development plans for their middle leaders. This requires senior leaders to map out different scenarios for who might be able to step up into different roles over time. This not only helps to highlight the development needs of existing high-potential staff but also shows any glaring gaps that require fresh thinking from beyond the school.

Doing a good job with succession planning often relies on strong relationships and an appreciation of what motivates different individuals. If done right, helping colleagues to consider the options available in the future can build trust and increase capacity. School leaders need to take the time to get to know their middle leaders, including what drives them and what’s holding them back.

2. Prioritise and invest in good CPD

Many schools have an experienced member of the team taking the lead on professional development, which in turn can be a good learning opportunity for them. Increasingly, we’re seeing schools and groups of schools with directors of teaching and learning, or research leads.

There’s growing evidence that high-performing schools develop a systematic approach to professional learning, so each member of staff is clear about their learning goals, how they align with the school strategy and what impact they have on students.

Professional development often starts with a phase of examining the available evidence and could involve working with external experts, attending TeachMeets, focused time spent on Twitter, literature reviews, reading groups and relevant training. Insights can be reflected on and shared with colleagues to identify what might work best for a particular group of students. The next phase is about testing those approaches through action research, peer coaching, student-led research and lesson study. The final phase of good CPD is about evaluating the impact for students and colleagues; it’s often better to have clear but modest targets to judge any intervention, so you know what does and doesn’t work in your school.

3. Build deep relationships with other schools

The estimated school budget cut of 12 per cent combined with a c.500m surge in students and the decline in graduates all create a perfect storm for school leaders. For many schools, the answer has to be working closer with a wider range of partners. Stand-alone schools and those with weak links to others are likely to struggle in this tough environment.

Recent research in this area has highlighted the importance of having a clear agreement about values and goals right from the start of any partnership. Successful school-to-school collaboration also requires regular communication between a number of different people on either side. Regular face-to-face meetings and online workspaces can help colleagues to share information, suggest improvements and report back to colleagues.

Partnerships can aid recruitment by offering a wider range of leadership opportunities to promising staff and allowing resources to be shared. Discrete leadership assignments and projects, mentoring, coaching and shadowing can all help connect staff between schools and build capacity. In turn, such projects can improve the working practices and mood within a school, which helps with retention and attracting new staff.

More formal options include secondments and job-sharing. People with an explicit mandate to spread good practice between partner schools can help to make the most of existing knowledge and talents.

It’s an increasingly tough environment for schools, but those that work creatively together for the good of their students can achieve a lot. Hopefully, government will start to help the situation sooner rather than later.

First posted through my former day-job, via Teach Secondary.

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Nine ways middle leaders can reach beyond their own school (and why they should)

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 last role was that I got 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.

  1. Make a plan. Start thinking about what you’re trying to achieve. For example, you could ask yourself which students at your school need the most help and where you might learn from others that have supported similar students. Perhaps one of your colleagues is struggling with something, so how might you find out how to help them? And what do you want to do yourself? Are there parts of your job you particularly enjoy, or are there some areas you’re still unsure of? Once you’ve decided on a problem you’d like to fix, work back from there. Try to be as specific and realistic as possible. How might you address it, who do you need to speak to and what’s a realistic time frame? Share your ideas with your line manager and get their feedback and support
  2. Develop your subject leadership. Middle leaders often have an impressive mix of hand-on teaching experience and deep subject knowledge. They may be local champions for their subject and get involved with communities of practice, TeachMeets and subject associations. The moderation of teaching practices across schools can help those involved to learn from each other
  3. Mentor and be mentored. Middle leaders should proactively seek to develop and practise their coaching skills with others. Such relationships can be powerful with peers, junior colleagues, senior staff or even pupils. Remember, it’s important to ask good questions and not just provide the answers in such situations. This encourages the other person to reflect
  4. Use research, evidence and data to inform practice. Middle leaders should be advocates of evidence, sharing insights with colleagues and keen to learn. Lesson study can be a particularly powerful professional development model
  5. Make continuing professional development your own. Middle leaders are increasingly taking responsibility for owning their professional development – finding and evaluating different sources. This can range from formal training to Twitter chats (#UKEdChat, #MLTChat or #SLTChat), blogs or events (#ResearchEd or TeachMeets). You should reflect on what you’ve learned and document the evidence of that learning, even if it’s just a few notes and the time spent
  6. Find a secondment. School can feel like a small place sometimes, especially if it’s not part of a family, federation or trust. If you want to develop new skills, try a different role or tackle a particular challenge, a secondment opportunity could be a great way to do so without losing touch with your home school
  7. Connect with the community. Schools are doing more with less and middle leaders could build relationships with other local stakeholders through specific projects. For example, working with parents and carers to put in place strategies for the early identification of vulnerable children to prevent long-term problems
  8. Trial a new intervention. Middle leaders are typically the ones testing and evaluating a new teaching practice, supplier or learning technology in their school. By comparing notes with others locally and taking an experimental mindset – with a clear and modest measure to judge success – you can quickly work out what’s effective for your students and what isn’t
  9. Be a governor at another school. Working with the senior leadership team and governors of another school can be an enlightening and rewarding experience. All you need to give is a little of your own time

This blog was written for Challenge Partners.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job)

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