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Is Your School Using Its Middle Leaders Effectively?

Let your phase leaders take centre stage, with these lessons from teaching schools that are making the most of theirs, says Lloyd Burgess...

  • Is Your School Using Its Middle Leaders Effectively?

Jane Robinson

Director, Wickford Teaching School Alliance
At our teaching school alliance we put a lot of stock into leadership training, including the National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership (NPQML). But perhaps one of the easiest, most popular and successful means of training leaders and sharing great practice has been our Teach Meets.

Schools can send as many staff as they like (they can send them all if they like), and I expect each school to provide at least one person to present. About six or seven people will deliver in total (I also share their PowerPoint presentations or reading on our website), and obviously we want as varied a programme as possible. So we’ll have some pedagogical delivery followed by wider issues. For example, we recently had one teacher who discussed how to run a residential and another talking about the benefits of having a school dog. It’s that varied.

Each input should be seven minutes long – though really short ones are only two minutes – and if they go over I throw a camel at them. A stuffed toy, obviously. I’ve no idea why. This is an American practice, remember. But having lots of short presentations means everyone is sure to get something out of it.

Rebecca Dwyer

Assistant Head and English Subject Leader, Ashmole Primary School
As we’re a small school, one of the main things joining Lambeth Teaching Schools’ Alliance is that it has given us is a much-increased capacity. Subject leaders can get new ideas and ways of doing things from colleagues in a similar context who are just around the corner. So they can share ideas, and share workload.

In particular, when the new curriculum came in we realised that we needed to respond to its requirements – particularly the GaPS test at the end of Years 2 and 6. But, obviously, that’s a really big and time-consuming job. So three of us who were subject leaders in English across schools in the alliance got together, and set out what we wanted to do based on what our schools really needed.

Each school was slightly different, but together we came up with this document that’s in place across all three schools, which sets out what’s to be taught on a weekly basis. It’s given our teachers a framework to follow, and also it’s importing them with the subject knowledge that they might not necessarily have.

Katie Pope

Numeracy Subject Leader and Upper Key Stage 2 Leader, Wyvil Primary School
We are a two-and-a-half form entry school in Central London, and being part of Lambeth Teaching Schools’ Alliance has allowed me to take part in, and deliver, a number of training courses, as well as the opportunity to work in schools outside of London, which has been great for professional development.

It allows you to see how different schools are run, and to learn from their coaching and mentoring techniques. It can be handy for them too. We share a lot of our practice, and they can then adapt some of those things to suit their school.

I think it’s a real help sharing things that are being created, because the way the new curriculum has been developed, it means we’re still waiting for everything to be finalised. So, once a school in the alliance has designed something, they can share those resources with the other schools.

I developed a new maths curriculum which I shared with subject leaders in about five other schools in and outside of London, and there’s been definite improvement within that subject area in those settings. I also designed the curriculum to help improve subject knowledge for teachers. It helps with planning potential units of work, so rather than them spending a lot of time breaking down what it is they’re teaching, it’s already done for them. It definitely reduces workload.

Jennie Matthews

Assistant Head Foundation Stage, Horton Grange
Being a middle leader is a challenging role and you need to be able to be flexible and resilient. It can sometimes feel like everyone wants a piece of you as you try to juggle your everyday teaching with wider school responsibilities.

The best support I have at Horton Grange is the trust I receive from the Senior Leadership Team. I feel I have a lot of autonomy in leading the Early Years Foundation Stage, and that I’m respected in my specialised area. I have been given the freedom to identify where my learning needs are, and organise training to address this.

Some of the best training I’ve had was on how to write an action plan. It alleviated a lot of stress around time frames, and allowed me to map out a more structured and thorough approach to what I wanted to achieve. It also gave me the confidence to be flexible, and to change things around when looking at interventions, schemes and plans that crossed over several years. At our school, we review our action plans midway through, and at the end of, the academic year. Not only does it help you to refocus, but it gives you the opportunity to celebrate all that you have achieved to date.

What makes a good middle leader?

Jane Robinson
“In my opinion it’s about maturity. You can be a very good teacher, but if you haven’t got the maturity to deal with people who are quite often stressed, and the ability to understand the way people work, then you won’t make a good middle leader. That’s what we do a lot on the NPQML, thinking about how you react as a person, and how you deal with a wide variety of people.”

Rebecca Dwyer
“One of the biggest things is leading by example. Setting high expectations for yourself and living up to them, then demonstrating that to those around you can be really powerful. It can inspire your colleagues to aim for those same high expectations.”

Nicola Pope
“People need to be confident in you and the advice you’re offering, so it’s important to be approachable and support people, rather than dictate leadership. A high level of subject knowledge is also a must.”

Jennie Matthews
“For me, it’s the ability to see the bigger picture. It’s important to look beyond the academic year and your own classroom, and begin see how your role will impact on the whole school over a variety of different time periods.”

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