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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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What might your school say to Ofsted about its middle leaders?

Within the latest guidance from Ofsted is the following new requirement.

“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 what does this actually mean for your school? And how might you demonstrate the above to inspectors? I suggest asking the following four questions.

Is it clear who the middle leadership team at your school is?

Middle leadership can be a slightly slippery term, with the definition varying between schools and phases. However, each school should be able to clearly and simple describe whom they consider to be middle leaders and, importantly, why. Does this group have the opportunity to meet regularly, including occasions without senior leaders or classroom teachers present? It’s also worth considering what links they have with other teachers who are in the same position as them outside of the school whether that’s through the local authority, subject association, union or other network.

Do middle leaders at your school know what is and isn’t their responsibility?

Again this will vary between schools, but there should be clarity about the tasks and responsibilities this group should be leading on. All staff should have been involved in creating and owning the vision for their school, including their own particular priorities. This is especially important for this group of staff as they’ll be translating the vision to their teams on a daily basis, helping each teacher to own it for themselves. Consulting and embedding the values, objectives and processes of a school with middle leaders is time well-spent. It might be an idea to document the priorities and tasks common to different groups of staff within a school, identifying those clearly owned by one group and any that may be shared. For example, you’d expect every staff member to understand their role in relation to Ofsted, but exactly what that means for them will vary depending on their role.

Is there an evidence-based development programme in place for middle leaders?

In a climate of limited funding and resources, it’s vital both schools and school leaders are proactive about developing themselves and their peers. This can be about working smarter, not harder. Prioritising time and funds for developing your middle leaders is crucial, but it’s not enough alone. You also need a school-wide approach for professional development which is developed and owned by staff. A rigorous approach to using evidence to test and then refine different approaches to staff learning is the key here. This isn’t always about expensive external provision. Much can be done in-school and often expertise can be bought in for specific purposes within the framework established by the school. There’s much value in accredited leadership programmes such as NPQML and NPQSL, but these need to be part of a mixed economy available to middle leaders within a coherent programme. This should allow for a number of different career pathways, within and beyond the school.

Does your school systematically spot talent?

High performing organisations in any sector – whether that’s public services, business or charities – have a common organisational trait: they know how to spot and nurture high performers. You’d never treat a class of individuals in the same way so use this philosophy with your colleagues. What are the particular talents and areas of development for each of them as well as for you? Your school probably has a clear description of what good teaching looks like, but does it have something similar to describe good middle leadership? Middle leaders should be involved in defining the behaviours, skills, values and characteristics those in their roles might possess. This should be backed up by systematic processes across the school to develop, assess and reward those qualities. There should be a direct link with the school vision and the personal performance plan of staff.

If you’ve got answers to these four questions, your school is well on the way to satisfying Ofsted’s requirements. But more importantly, you’re taking advantage of one of the most valuable resources at your disposal. By helping middle leaders reach their potential, they’ll be able to have a huge positive impact on students both in their own classrooms and their teams’ classrooms.

There’s growing evidence about the link between strong middle leadership and school improvement. There’s also a huge demand out there from middle leaders for more support. Just more than a year ago NAHT members unanimously voted to set up NAHT Edge, a new section of NAHT designed solely with middle leaders in mind. Senior leaders have a duty to nurture the next generation of leaders, and NAHT Edge has been set up to help to do just that. Find out more on our website, or drop me an email.

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

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Life after levels – presenting some ideas on primary testing

Some of the team recently gave a presentation about the challenges (and potential opportunity) of recent changes to primary school assessment, with press coverage in the Independent. This is a tricky topic and one where feelings are running high amongst the profession. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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

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