Retaining and recruiting the right staff ensures that the school’s ethos is firmly established from the offset, an important first step in paving its success. It also means that it has a strong basis on which to grow leadership talent from within, including key middle leader (ML) posts, such as heads of department and, further down the road, Senior Leadership (SL).
Increasingly, schools are devolving more responsibility for raising standards in schools to MLs. This carries with it a high level of accountability that has grown substantially in recent years due to the focus of inspections, performance tables and other accountability measures now in place. Middle leaders have an increasingly important role to play in influencing what happens across the school to improve teaching and learning. They directly impact young people’s lives, and make a massive difference to their life chances. While this is a big responsibility, it also is what makes them incredibly satisfying posts.
ASCL members have reported that it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit to senior leader posts, especially in schools located in the most disadvantaged and challenging areas. However, if schools are shown how to effectively nurture good MLs within their own walls and promote these people accordingly to senior posts, they are able to sidestep some of these recruitment issues.
In fact, that’s the rationale behind ASCL’s Ahead Network for Middle Leaders. It is in everyone’s interest to make sure that enthusiastic, ambitious MLs have the skills and confidence to move to the next level. We want to help schools prepare and support middle leaders so they can confidently and capably step into senior leadership posts. And membership of the network is free to all MLs who want to develop their knowledge and skills in order to lead their teams more effectively and develop their careers.
Middle leaders have a challenging role in that they still have their everyday frontline teaching responsibilities, but also have leadership and management responsibilities. Interestingly, however, this dual role means that they have more influence on the outcomes of their students then previously, because they have a broader impact.
In addition, they will develop a profile around the school; a good head of department, for example, will not only be active in her own immediate area but will be a well known figure throughout the school and will be contributing to its development. This is essential preparation for becoming a SL.
Middle leaders will have a very wide range of training needs as they progress their careers towards becoming Sls.
Middle leaders have to master people management, performance management, an understanding of capability or disciplinary issues, analysis of data and pupil progress, an understanding of all different interventions, leading assessment and the methodology of each department to list but a few.
To progress to senior leadership they will need to have an in-depth understanding of, for example, whole school curriculum planning, timetabling, and school finances. In addition, they’ll need to be confident and comfortable working closely with school governors and the external community at large. And while they may or may not have this experience already, they certainly will need to develop it before moving to this next level. Ultimately, we want to give them an insight into what those SL roles entail as they move towards them, and what skills and experience they need to develop in order to secure them.
A sound investment
When it comes to attracting the right kind of staff, the message that a school invests in its staff is certainly a positive one, which would not go unnoticed by enthusiastic potential candidates. And for staff thinking about applying for a job in a challenging school, it’s important that they know they will be supported by their peers and senior leadership team.
To support this, ASCL’s Professional Development arm is working with schools that want to offer a series of bespoke Continuous Professional Development (CPD) sessions for groups of middle leaders that take place in the school or with a group of schools. This is tailored for the specific middle leader group, designed to meet their exact needs. One of the key aspects that makes ASCL professional development very successful and popular is that the people delivering the content are senior leaders themselves, or have recently served as such; their field experience means that the sessions are practical as opposed to purely theoretical.
Schools can spend vast amounts of money sending people on courses, where they hear experts pontificating about different things but without having actual practical experience. The strength of our network comes from the fact that it provides a varied and invaluable pool of mentors, who have ‘been there, bought the t-shirt’ so to speak, for aspiring middle leaders members to draw on.
As senior leaders in schools, we have a responsibility to the system as a whole to do everything we can to prepare the next generation of people for middle leadership posts. Ensuring that potential middle leaders are nurtured within their schools to take on these leadership responsibilities is crucial; not only does it raise student attainment, but it also helps to develop a culture where people are doing so much more than just a ‘day job’ – they are taking a shared responsibility for improving the school as a whole, and making it successful.
Learning to lead
Recently promoted middle leader, Brandon Hughes, Hall Mead School, Upminster, participated in eight Twilight Sessions. “As teachers, the biggest thing we tend to focus on is what is going on in our own classrooms and there is often a lack of opportunities to look beyond that and see the bigger picture of what is happening elsewhere within the school,” he explains. “Each session of the programme focused on different aspects of leadership and gave an insight into the types of situation that might come up in the role of middle leader. It really was like a new world opening up that you don’t normally see. I found the experience incredibly worthwhile, and felt like I was progressing all the time, and building up my self-confidence and belief that I could do the job.
“Education is in a constant change and flux and this was another thing that the course prepared me for. I feel ready to take one whatever comes down and can handle it. I now need to look at where I go from here and what the options are in terms of my own progress.”
What Makes A Great Leader
1. Lead by example (be visible, approachable and credible)
2. Think beyond the classroom (make the transition from being a colleague and teacher to a leader)
3. Have the difficult conversations (learn to hold colleagues to account in positive ways)
4. Develop negotiation and influencing skills (make your vision a reality, not just in your own team but more widely)
5. Identify and use your leadership style (understand different leadership styles and when you might need to operate outside your comfort zone)
6. Work as a team (draw on expertise of your team and share responsibility)
7. Continuously work to improve teaching and learning (stay focused on the core purpose of education)
8. Keep abreast of current educational issues (scan the horizon, understand the wider educational landscape).
About the Author
Brian Lightman is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)