Tag Archives: school leaders

Can you spot the difference between deputy heads and middle leaders?

During the summer we carried out a survey to explore how education professionals felt about the challenges they face in schools.

More than a thousand people replied including deputies, assistant heads, heads of department, SENCos and other middle leaders. While examining the data, we looked at how middle leaders and our control group of deputies compared. There were some key differences in their responses, especially in the actual words each group used most often. We ran their responses through tagxedo.com to create these word clouds for a quick, visual overview on two key questions. For anyone unfamiliar with the format, the bigger the word the more often it was used.

What (if anything) currently deters you from applying for promotion?

Middle leaders said…


Deputies said…

This suggests middle leaders’ greatest concerns around promotion are about the lack of time and gaining sufficient experience for the role. The perceived pressures of senior roles and resulting personal concerns, such as work-life balance, are also influential, but stress is perhaps not as big an issue as we would expect.

In contrast, the overriding issue deterring deputies from promotion is pressure, whether it’s in relation to the responsibilities of headship or accountability to Ofsted. Lack of time is still a concern, but there are other greater worries.

On a more positive note we also asked another question of both groups.

What do you enjoy most about your current role? 

Middle leaders said…

 Deputies said…

The most commonly used words to describe what they like about their jobs are reassuringly similar. Both groups (thankfully) enjoy working with children and teaching. It’s interesting to see that leading and developing others are key parts of both types of role, but as you might expect those aspects of work are more commonly mentioned by deputies than middle leaders. Similarly working with colleagues was often mentioned by both groups, but more often by middle leaders.

One of NAHT Edge’s early middle leader adopters (and video star), Tom Griffiths (year five teacher and phase two leader) describes middle leaders as “the great unknown…the group of people in schools who aren’t recognised necessarily specifically for the job that they do”. It’s exactly because of this gap that we’re here to provide the support all middle leaders need – helping them to be better teachers, managers and leaders. If you haven’t already, we hope you decide to join in.

We’d like to hear from you about whether your responses to these questions are different. What deters you from applying for promotion? What do you enjoy (and least)? Members can join the debate now in our discussion forum.

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


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We know Ofsted is more than willing to let us have its views – so what could Ofsted learn from us?

Middle leaders have generally become so good in their own classrooms they’re now leading across the school too. But you don’t have to be a middle leader to know that fundamental to helping students progress and flourish is understanding each of them properly and helping them on their individual ‘learning journey’.

For example, I don’t think an experienced middle leader would dream of ‘surprising’ their students with a high stakes test, especially without the class teacher present. Nor would they only pop up very rarely with long gaps in between. Unfortunately, that’s the current Ofsted approach.

If they manage other teachers, the middle leader wouldn’t threaten a teacher’s career because a handful of children achieved less than their counterparts the previous year, and they’d know not to assess or criticise a teacher without knowledge of their particular area. Plus they wouldn’t dream of using purely quantitative measures or crude data metrics alone.

They’d know that if they did these things each classroom would have a climate of fear and compliance rather than of creative learning.

If middle leaders know these things, why has Ofsted strayed so far from its potentially constructive role without heeding some of these common sense tenets of good education practice?

Who knows, but you’ve got until Friday to share your views on the future direction of Ofsted. This needs to be considered beyond next year’s general election because, whoever ends up in power in May (clear majority or coalition of some form), it’s highly unlikely that the expectations of schools would be reduced.

Submit your views – as individuals or in groups – because you should have the confidence in your expertise to know what’s best for each child in your charge, as well as supporting the senior leaders in school, and the teachers in your teams, to focus on what’s important.

Here’s a link to the consultation:http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/consultations/better-inspection-for-all

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog.

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

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How can we encourage more teachers to step up to become head teachers?

Would you want to be a head teacher? Like most of the heads of year, assistant head teachers and others we asked recently, the answer is probably no. More than 1,000 people completed NAHT’s survey. Of those, only eight per cent felt they could step up within a year, and 69 per cent said they needed at least five years before they could feel confident about taking on headship.

However, the British education system doesn’t have five years. The recruitment and retention of head teachers is increasingly difficult, especially in the most challenging schools which also happen to be those that need the best leaders. Demographics are also against us with a whole swathe of serving heads approaching retirement.

So why do so few teachers today fancy the top job tomorrow? The pressure put on head teachers in terms of their accountability was a recurring theme in our survey. It’s a high stakes job with few guarantees about security. Why would you take on a struggling school only to have it inspected before the changes you’ve made have had the chance to make a difference?

But it’s not just Ofsted. Local authorities, parents, governors, academy chains and many others have an impact on school performance. Yet the buck always stops with the head teacher, no matter what.

The aspiring leaders we consulted felt their personal lives were already suffering as a result of pressures at work, with 95 per cent reporting they commonly exceeded their contracted hours and saw their workload likely to increase if they were to become more senior.

Rising workloads are leading to stress and other health issues among this group, with 55 per cent saying their current job has a negative impact on their health. They talked about the difficulties of switching off from work, and nearly half saw their job affecting their relationships too.

It’s a similar story for those teachers trying to raise a family alongside having a successful career. Even though teaching is one of the few professions in which women regularly rise to the top, 40 per cent of our respondents (72 per cent of whom were women) said they have to choose between caring for their own children and making progress in their career.

Is the government helping the situation? Not really. If anything they’re making it worse. Not only are they walking away from the suite of accredited leadership qualifications by leaving NPQH, NPQSL and NPQML to the market, but they’re also asking schools to cope with an unprecedented volume, velocity and variety of policy changes.

This autumn term teachers are coping with major reforms to assessment, curriculum and special educational needs provision (just three of the bigger changes). This constant policy churn can leave teachers with a sense of frustration and fatigue.

So if, despite all of the above, you decide headship is still for you, how do you get there? Obviously, you don’t go from being a classroom teacher to sitting in the head teacher’s chair overnight. There should be a progression through middle leadership roles, like coordinator or head of subject, and then on to senior leadership roles (deputies and head teachers).

But continuing professional development tends to be ad hoc and reactive with a focus on compliance and information-giving about the latest round of reforms. As so many external sources of support drop away, is the school system ready to support itself fully, or is the scaffolding being removed too quickly?

It’s time we nurtured our middle leaders properly so they can grow into the senior leaders we badly need. Our research has found this new generation of leaders want a blended model of focused support tailored to their particular needs.

This means combining convenient 24/7 online access with top quality face-to-face learning experiences. Sir Michael Wilshaw, HMCI, recently called middle leaders the engine room of the school system. I think of them more as the glue holding everything together. As the cracks start to show, it’s time we give them a bit more TLC.

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

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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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