So who are middle leaders in schools?

It’s a slightly odd phrase ‘middle leader’, but it does seem to be used more and more these days in schools. Only recently Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector, referred to them as the ‘engine room’ of the education system. Several senior leaders have told me that the first people they turn to when they’ve to respond to a new policy or change are their middle leaders. In this first blog I’m going to explore just who these people are that we’ve started NAHT Edge for.

In a nutshell we think middle leaders are those who both teach in the classroom and manage other people, often taking the lead across the school in a particular area. This practice is increasing as more collaborative and distributed leadership models become common in education as in other sectors such as healthcare. As schooling becomes an increasingly professional and sophisticated activity, there is growing evidence of a link between school improvement and leadership that involves many more people, each taking a lead in an area. This allows teachers to develop their skills and frees up senior leaders to do long-term and strategic thinking.

One way to define middle leaders is by job title, such as ‘coordinator’ and ‘head of…’, but given the sheer variety between schools this only gets you so far. We’ve found that the best way to identify a middle leader is by their pay scale, with those who’ve been granted teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) always being middle leaders.

There have been dedicated training courses for middle leaders from the National College for Teaching and Leadership for a number of years, initially with one called ‘leading from the middle’ and now with the somewhat less snappily titled ‘national professional qualification for middle leadership’ (NPQML). These and other similar courses are designed to help teachers prepare for more senior roles with management and leadership responsibilities on top of teaching. However we think the take-up of such courses has been pretty low so far, with frequent changes to the courses (another round is on the way) causing confusion and with the vast majority of our c. 200,000 middle leaders finding little time to spare for such formal professional development. Instead, typically too much of the time spent on such continuing professional development is concerned with one-way information-giving and compliance as schools respond to multiple changes, including assessment, curriculum and special educational needs and disabilities.

NAHT Edge is focussed on serving this group of people, giving them opportunities to connect with each other and to build the unique skills needed at this point of their career. We hope that by building their capabilities the benefits will not only come to them personally but to their schools, colleagues and pupils too.

Although, to the public, ‘middle managers’ are often associated with bureaucracy and red tape, we know that all teachers can identify the middle leaders in their school and understand the growing importance of them being well trained, ambitious and effective. We’d love to hear from you about who you think the middle leaders you know are, how they can be supported and what’s holding them back.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job at NAHT Edge)


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