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A map of UK higher education providers

Is there a better map of UK higher education providers than this 2005 one from the University of Wolverhampton?

That question prompted much debate on Twitter among HE data experts about what counts as a provider, where they are, and which dataset to use. Two people even created their own alternative maps on the spot. Some think we should crowdsource data into an open Google Doc that then feeds a map. Others don’t think we need a map at all.

What’s a higher education provider?

This is a surprisingly complex question and one that’s foxed many people over the years. The (in)famous Regulatory Partnership Group pretty-much gave up on the question in its 2014 Corporate Forms project, concluding that whatever entity it is that the student registers with it must have some kind of governing body that is legally accountable – language that carries forward into the Higher Education and Research Act and the Office for Students regulatory framework.

But are we talking about a single institution, its registered address, or all of its campuses? Is it a location, a physical thing such as a building, or an organisation? What about non-UK parent companies setting up providers over here? And what about college HE?

For the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), an institution is something you can apply to. But for the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) an institution is something the funding council/regulator has defined as an institution. Yet even these two organisations define institution differently at different points. And in the National Student Survey, there is a distinction between place of tuition and place of registration. Things like joint medical schools are rarely legal entities but exist as separate institutions in UCAS, but not in HESA. UK Provider Reference Numbers (UKPRNs) define institutions as legal entities.

In data terms, HE in FE is a real mess. “Franchised” HE courses with FE colleges are found in HESA data but often listed as a separate institution by UCAS. If the students are actually registered as students of the college (sometimes referred to as “directly funded”) then all their data is collected by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (in England – or equivalent, if different collections in the rest of the UK). In fact, there is no equivalent in Wales as the directly-funded colleges are on HESA and subscribe to it. Much data is collected through the FE funding bodies using different definitions and colleges don’t have to pay in the way that HEIs and alternative providers have to subscribe to HESA. There’s quite a discrepancy in the subscriptions paid by the two sectors. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator deals with franchises in a particular way, and the rules for this are different to those of the Student Loans Company (SLC) for example. Franchise providers can’t be regulated in Wales – they only get student support through a university partner.

Student support regulations also vary according to the data used, with complexities around the types of institutions and how they are designated. Definitions can be different based on where a provider is located and the mode of study.

And where are they?

Once you’ve – sort of – decided what a provider is, how do you know where they are? By their postcode, or grid reference (Northing and Easting or longitude and latitude)? It can be useful for an institution to decide on a single reference point, such as the University of Southampton’s SO17 1BJ postcode. For a building, it could be the middle or the main entrance.

There’s a rumour that David Willetts’ driver’s satnav once took them to a sorting office on an industrial estate somewhere in the Midlands when he visited the University of Reading, ending up at the PO Box where the institution’s postcode is set. And if you take the average coordinates from institutions with multiple campuses, such as the University of Nottingham which has a presence in China and Malaysia, you’ll end up in the sea. Universities teach, research and examine in a huge range of locations, from local music venues to parks, to the Marianas Trench.

The formerly Jisc-funded project has learning provider data. As part of that, is an unfunded project at the University of Southampton built with basic metadata from the UK Register of Learning Providers (UKRLP), linked to other datasets such as HESA, GatewayToResearch, DBPedia, and Unistats. It also features an unofficial dataset linking universities to their consortia. However, it only provides a postcode and the latitude/longitude of that postcode, rather than geographic information system (GIS) mapping data. HESA data on campuses lists Eastings and Northings for each campus of each institution, but not for alternative providers (yet). Provider information meta-data including coding frames, geoinformation and groups are all on the HESA Open Data Strategy but haven’t been released yet.

Which dataset is best?

In addition to Wolverhampton’s classic map, UCAS have one from last summer for applicants in PDF, @Dan_HE_man has a map of where he’s visited, and Push has this one from 2010. HESA’s Heidi Plus service can visualise institutions, but only using HESA data and privately to subscribers. Wales has a map of (some) providers here.

Possible datasets to use include:

  1. The Office for Students register (266 providers and counting)
  2. UK Register of Learning Providers (UKRLP)
  4. Unistats (for the full dataset, see the Unistats page on the HESA website)
  5. HESA campuses data lists Eastings and Northings (grid references) and postcodes for each campus of each institution (currently charged for)
  6. UCAS data with postcodes of the main campuses of all providers who are registered with UCAS for the 2019 cycle which you can apply to (not always legal entities)
  7. Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) data
  8. Each devolved government publishes a recognised and listed bodies list
  9. HEFCW list of directly-funded providers of higher education in Wales
  10. Scottish Funding Council institution campuses, via HESA data
  11. Universities Scotland members who provided their address details
  12. SLC’s private database of institutions (1,041 primary and secondary campuses) paid in the 2017/18 academic year for full-time tuition fee loans (obtained via FOI)
  13. The Home Office’s Tier 4 register of licensed sponsors

It turns out not one of these sources is definitive, meaning an up-to-date map will remain a policy purist’s dream. And maybe that doesn’t matter, close enough is good enough for most uses.

HESA used to have a list of the institutions it collects data from (the INSTID field) but the list is so fluid now, especially since the inclusion of alternative providers, that the list of institutions changes while the data is being collected.

A better map

With special thanks to top data gurus Hamish McAlpine, Emma Rączka, Andy Youell, Dan Cook, David Best and Christopher Gutteridge, here’s an updated map using the latest data from nine of those datasets (each of which you can filter for). You can see all the underlying data and even copy it to have fun with your own map.

I STRONGLY recommend clicking here to open in a new tab full-size so you can have a proper play

Unfortunately, it will quickly be out of date as OfS has yet to show any ambition of providing an API or similar real-time data stream (although I hear might be freely available to a loving home).

Data politics

With the sector’s regulators, funders and designated bodies currently going through a process of (hopefully creative) destruction, there are big decisions being made about data. The belated OfS data strategy could mark a significant milestone in this process and I hear that HESA’s data futures programme is racing ahead, though perhaps not taking everyone with it.

There’s a growing need for standard identifiers such as UKPRNs, and general naming consistency. The sector is (mostly) quite good at using identifiers, but the real world is messy, so maybe we just have to accept no definitive list of providers can exist. More data should also be open and editable, rather than locked away in PDFs.

And what about research data, could Research England map institutions’ funding, institutional engagement managers and grant tables in one place? And what about the potential to link HE datasets with other external sources to increase their usefulness e.g. the Smart Specialisation Hub’s map of England’s innovation system.

Another potential issue is data integration, could we produce a single source of research and teaching-related data? HESA doesn’t currently capture all research institutions. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has great potential to bring together data from the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England (and the OfS under its collaboration agreement with UKRI). But what should this look like?

So data are important, but does a map even matter? Some use cases could be argued, for instance when looking at social mobility coldspots, or for travelling politicians/journalists/minstrels. Sometimes it’s nice to just be a bit creative about communicating multiple bewildering datasets in a more accessible manner, and who doesn’t like pretty pictures?

As a visualisation of a dataset, a map (and the underlying data) can only be useful for certain uses. Multiple datasets (and the maps they create) may be correct, but the needs of an anxious 17-year old are (probably) different to a 42-year old minister. Which in turn are different to a civil servant’s exacting requirements, or a commercial property firm’s interests, or a university regulator’s needs.

However, barring the minister, the powers that be certainly don’t seem to think maps matter. Neither funding bodies nor HESA ever did an official map, and don’t pin any hopes on OfS.

Hopefully, some of the above questions, rather than just the pretty poster, will be attracting the English minister’s eye.


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London Callings

By Jack Worth and Louis Coiffait

Although the proportions of teachers joining and leaving the profession in London is largely balanced, as in the rest of the country, both occur at higher levels in the capital. New NFER analysis finds that, relative to the rest of England, London faces the greatest challenges retaining its school teachers and leaders. A higher share of working-age staff are leaving to teach elsewhere in England or in other London education jobs, or are becoming unemployed.

Recruitment and retention tops the agenda

The teaching workforce is the biggest issue currently facing the education system according to sources as diverse as ATL, Teaching Leaders, Surrey Headteachers and the National Audit Office. The issue is particularly worrying given the rise in new school places that will be needed as pupil numbers increase.

Last November, NFER published ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ an analysis of teaching staff (including school leaders and all education phases) joining and leaving the profession in England, including where they go. The analysis was based on Labour Force Survey (LFS) data for 2001–14 and attracted attention, including from the Education Select Committee. In September of this year, the DfE published regional school workforce data for 2010–15 and NFER published follow-up research on retention: Engaging Teachers.

As NFER is providing evidence to the GLA, we looked at what these three sources together might tell us about teachers in one region, London. There is only a sample of 75 London teachers in the LFS who left the profession in that time, so results should be treated as indicative only.

Understanding London’s teacher workforce

The DfE data shows that London schools are relatively well staffed, with some of the lowest pupil-teacher ratios, especially in primary schools, which saw the biggest fall nationwide from 2010 to 2015. It also shows there are more than twice as many unqualified teachers in London primary schools (seven per cent) than England (three per cent) as a whole, and eight per cent versus six per cent in secondaries.

Our earlier research already highlighted the overall rate of teachers leaving the profession (ten per cent), but inner London has the highest rate (over 12 per cent). Combined with London having the smallest proportion of teachers retiring, this finding means more working-age teachers are leaving. Although our follow-up research on retention had no region-specific analysis, it did find some worrying national trends, with a recent increase in teachers considering leaving (from 17 to 23 per cent).

Recruitment is also a challenge for London, especially for primaries, where there are more than twice as many schools with vacancies or temporary staff (15 per cent) compared to England (seven per cent). However, more teachers join the profession in London (14 per cent) than the rest of the country (11 per cent), a smaller proportion of whom are former teachers returning. London is also a net exporter of teachers to the rest of the country, with  ten per cent of London teachers leaving the capital for other schools and eight per cent coming in to London.

This finding suggests London is particularly attractive to new teachers but that many then drift away to teach elsewhere, or away from teaching all together. The Chief Executive of the Ark Academy chain described this in her evidence to the GLA: “We find that we are getting the young teachers who are prepared to come and live like sardines in flat shares and tiny spaces. We can keep those, and they come drawn by the magnet that is London. Our problem is retention”.

The GLA’s ‘Getting Ahead’ programme develops new school leaders and is poised to start its second year. Our research found that nationwide, school leaders are less likely to consider leaving, whereas experienced male teachers are more likely to leave. It also explored the factors that help to retain staff – such as engagement.


We looked at the LFS, to see what London teachers who leave do next. We found that those who left teaching (excluding retirees) were ten percentage points more likely to get a job in the wider London education sector compared to the rest of England, in particular in non-teaching roles, at private schools and as teaching assistants.

By contrast, a smaller proportion took jobs outside education, which is surprising given such a large, lucrative and diverse job market. Although similar proportions of leavers became economically inactive overall, London teachers were more than three times as likely to be unemployed, at 19 per cent versus six per cent nationally.


At the other end of the teacher career journey, we found that new joiners in London (excluding students) were more likely to come from outside education. Again, a similar proportion were economically inactive, but more than twice as many were previously unemployed (14 per cent vs six per cent). This might suggest unemployment is higher in the capital, yet it is currently 1.5 per cent below the national average. This requires further research over the periods in question.

If they leave, teachers work fewer hours but get paid less

When trying to understand why teachers leave, it seems to be about reducing the hours they work rather than getting more money. On average, teachers reduced their hours by 13 per cent compared to those who stayed in the profession. We found a ten per cent drop in wages overall for teachers leaving the profession both in London and the nation, even when accounting for characteristics such as salary, responsibilities, education phase and age.

So what does this initial analysis tell us about the London workforce? That the London workforce has unique features, that the flow of staff joining and leaving the profession in the capital  is higher, that London exports staff elsewhere, and that the leavers who do stay in town tend to stay within the sector. It also highlights some potential risks, with lower retention in London and more leavers becoming unemployed. It’s clear that if London schools are to continue to be international success story, they have to both attract and to retain the staff they need.

First published on the NFER blog November 17 2016

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2017’s education movers and shakers

2017 is already shaping up to be just as eventful as 2016, here’s a list of ten key people in education that are going to be making big decisions, influencing opinion and delivering on some big changes.

It’s clear that since Theresa May took the reins in July her premiership will be defined by one thing, working out the details of what ‘the B word’ will actually mean for the UK. In education her commitment to making ‘Britain a country that works for everyone … not just the privileged few’ seems to translate into one thing – more grammar schools. With £200m already earmarked for their expansion in the last ever Autumn Statement, it’s also clear that the Government seems unlikely to heed any evidence from all those that responded to the consultation, that selective schools might not be the best way to achieve social mobility in a context of -8% real term cuts to school budgets. We can expect a new White Paper and ongoing controversy by the summer.

The SoS Justine Greening will be responsible for driving through the expansion of grammars, but she also has some promising ideas of her own, looking at defining families that are ‘just about managing’, going beyond the increasingly creaky FSM proxy for poverty, and identifying the ‘opportunity areas’ that need focused support. The other big issues on her plate include school budgets, with ongoing concerns about scrutiny of academies and the second stage of the national funding formula consultation – closing 22 March. High needs, early years and special schools are three areas that will need particular attention. With FE and HE back in DfE we can also expect further changes in apprenticeships, area reviews and the next REF. The consultation on the latter (closing 17 March) is likely to result in new approaches to both open access research and impact. Careers is likely to receive ongoing attention too, with mounting criticisms of the current approach and hints at a greater focus on vocational and technical routes. The school workforce will remain another priority for Greening, with an ageing workforce, missed recruitment targets and planned programmes not delivering. It may not have been her policy, but you can also expect the SoS to have to deal with some strong reactions in September when the new 9-1 grades replace A*-G in Maths and English GCSEs, with ‘interim’ 8.5-1 grades for other subjects. For me the white elephant in the room is a long overdue wholesale reassessment of school admissions, though I doubt it will be high on the busy 2017 agenda, beyond some selection-focused quick-fixes.

In opposition Angela Rayner and her predecessor Lucy Powell are likely to continue to be a vocal double-act in opposition to the Government’s plans, especially on grammar schools.

Natalie Perera seems to be gearing up to be the de-facto Liberal Democrat education spokesperson (sorry John Pugh MP), with the power of EPI behind her and many years of experience in the DfE, it’s safe to say she and the team will continue to be vocal scrutinisers of Government plans.

At Ofsted we can expect a new, more conciliatory tone from Amanda Spielman and her new team, who will be looking at the impact of inspections on staff. Hopefully this will help teachers to prioritise and so address workload issues such as marking (an area where EEF and NCTL are working to improve the evidence base about good practice). The wellbeing and mental health of both children and staff are likely to be priorities for Ofsted in 2017, with a Select Committee inquiry underway in this area.

In January Dame Alison Peacock will officially start as CEO of the emerging Chartered College of Teaching. Tasked with making education evidence more relevant and practical to busy staff, she is likely to help look at the issue of marking too. Hopes are high for the College but it will take time to build momentum across the profession. Watch out for Founding Membership on 18 Jan.

At the helm of SchoolsWeek we can also expect Laura MacInerney to be a powerful voice for ‘the fourth estate’. Her team’s data and FOI–driven investigations are likely to keep the Government on its toes, especially around free schools, academies and grammar schools.

At Education Datalab, Dr Becky Allen and team have made a huge impact in their first year, combining academic rigour with a slick press operation. We predict some particularly powerful infographics and stats on 19th January when the annual performance and results datasets are published.

Last but by no means least; Professor Becky Francis is likely to help lead the considerable weight of the UCL IoE to spar in the policy ring more than ever, bringing a pragmatic and values-driven approach.

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ICYMI: 2016 in brief

It’s been another busy year in education, before everybody switches off for the holiday season and starts thinking about 2017, I thought it was worth a quick recap of the key events that happened in education over the past year…


  1. Overall education spending drops as a proportion of GDP from 5.3% in 2011-12 to 4.4% in 2015-16
  2. Education Select Committee publishes report on Regional School Commissioners


  1. Select Committee launches an inquiry into apprenticeships
  2. £4.3m Troops to Teachers scheme delivers … 28 new teachers
  3. Prof. Becky Francis appointed as next Director of UCL Institute of Education (IoE), taking over from Professor Chris Husbands in July


  1. George Osborne and Nicky Morgan announce all schools would become academies, then quickly rowed back, with the final death knell for the plans coming in October
  2. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs)


  1. DfE announces that the three remaining ‘approved’ baseline assessments will no longer be an accountability measure, due to lack of comparability
  2. KS1 SAT spelling and grammar test stopped at short notice


  1. Queen’s speech includes new statutory duty for schools to promote the National Citizen Service
  2. Eight new deputy directors appointed to lead RSC offices


  1. Despite poll predictions, 52% of the UK voted for #BrExit, it’s still not quite clear what this means
  2. Centre Forum is reincarnated as the Education Policy Institute (EPI) – with a deep war chest, a crack team and a sceptical take on Government policy
  3. Education charities Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust announce they will merge, becoming Ambition School Leadership in November


  1. After an aborted leadership election David Cameron steps down and Theresa May walks into Number 10, replacing Nicky Morgan with Justine Greening as SoS for education
  2. National Governors’ Association (NGA), The Future Leaders Trust (TFLT) and NFER publish research on Executive Headteachers
  3. Amanda Spielman the Chair of Ofqual is confirmed as the next Ofsted Chief Inspector, taking over from Sir Michael Wilshaw in January 2017
  4. Another critical Select Committee inquiry on careers, expect the much anticipated ‘careers strategy’ before summer 2017…


  1. Dame Alison Peacock of the Wroxham School announced as new CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, starting in January 2017
  2. Early years foundation stage profile reinstated as statutory


  1. Theresa May’s joint Chief of Staff Nick Timothy credited with masterminding the rather controversial (grammar) Schools that work for everyone ‘consultation’
  2. NFER publish a follow-up report on teacher retention
  3. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘primary assessment’


  1. On Halloween the Select Committee launches an inquiry into selective education


  1. A familiar feeling as the nation wakes up to another unexpected result, Trump for President.
  2. £200m earmarked for grammar schools in the last ever Autumn Statement
  3. NFER published ‘a tale of eight regions’, a follow up report about RSCs
  4. Two ASCL leadership candidates are announced, Chris Kirk and Geoff Barton, with members ‘going to the polls’ in January, and results out 10 February 2017
  5. Social Mobility Commission (SMC) publishes annual State of the Nation report
  6. Select Committee launches an inquiry into ‘Children and young people’s mental health’
  7. Five Select Committees lobby the SoS for statutory PSHE education, some for a second time
  8. Select Committee writes to the DfE with concerns about the transparency and accountability of academy finances
  9. TIMSS and PISA report within a week of each other. NFER publish 20 years of TIMSS in England, TIMSS 2015 in Northern Ireland (full results and key insights), PISA 2015 in Scotland, PISA 2015 for all four UK nations


  1. NAO publish report showing a £3bn hole in school finances, with 8% real term cuts and 60.6% of secondary academies in the red
  2. ‘Schools national funding formula – stage 2’ consultation launches, deadline 22 March 2017
  3. NFER publish research on the maths performance of disadvantaged students in England
  4. Primary schools achieve strong KS2 SATs results, despite assessment changes
  5. The National Teaching Service is scrapped
  6. The higher education REF consultation opens

Download a two-page Word version (with clickable URLs) here

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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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