“Middle leaders have an essential role in translating the school’s vision into practice and are often described as the ‘engine room’ of school improvement” – SSAT
In my last article, I wrote about establishing a vision and culture for Torquay Academy; this was built upon the core beliefs of everyone succeeds and that every student who attends Torquay Academy has the ability to go on to university. This article I will outline the importance of developing the school’s senior and middle leaders to ensure our vision and culture is fully embedded at every level.
Our 3 year plan to become an excellent school is prominently displayed in the heart of the school to ensure all members of the school community are aware of our priorities for the year. This transparency has led to wide ranging conversations with staff, students, parents and governors; it ensures there is an absolute clarity of our goals for the year. Our WIG (wildly important goal) for Leadership and Management was for “Leaders to own and have absolute responsibility for monitoring their areas”.
To ensure leaders could exercise effectively that absolute responsibility I would have to ensure three things. Firstly, there were systems and processes in place that would enable them to do so; this was achieved last year as we established a culture in the school where clear lines of sight were established and systems were overhauled or rewritten. Secondly, I would have to ensure that there was true distribution of leadership and effective delegation of responsibility and tasks. Thirdly, leaders at all levels would have the skills to lead their areas.
As a school we take responsibility for our own development. At a teaching level that meant having colleagues trained to deliver Teach Like a Champion workshops. For leadership training I wanted to secure the best possible person who could work with us. I am fortunate to be coached by Andy Buck and I was able to persuade him to come down from London to work with us on a regular basis.
We set up four additional twilight sessions for all senior and middle leaders and an overnight seminar on a Friday going into Saturday. Going forwards this group became known as our SMLT (Senior and Middle Leadership Team). There was a common theme in each of the sessions as we reviewed the key areas of leadership that Andy and I wanted to embed with our leaders, but there would also be a focus on something they could use the next day, for example, difficult conversations and explaining your strengths with evidence.
We held the SMLT Leadership Seminar in December and one of the tasks was to look for different areas that we could look at to improve the school further, the list of areas were:
It was clear to me that there was great power and ability in our leaders and it was my responsibility to find a way of harnessing it better.
A key part of the solution was to change how our senior team met. At the time we met weekly for two hours every Monday after school (in addition to a daily 20 minute briefing). My plan was to bring in a new rota of meetings:
The SMLT Focus Groups was an open invitation to all senior and middle leaders and they would form teams to look at some of the areas highlighted at our Leadership Seminar.
During the next session with Andy in January we used Armit Varma’s tool to rank each of the identified areas based upon the size of impact and the ease of implementation. This would enable us to have a clear rationale of the areas that the SMLT focus groups would be working on.
The results of the prioritizing task were as follows:
|Key Stage 3 and Ofsted’s wasted years report||10||3||PLAN|
|Use of student work to gain a better understanding of exam success||8||9||DO|
|Ofsted’s most able report||7||6||DO|
|Use of PLCs / Covey Scoreboards / QLAs||9||6||DO|
|Literacy across the curriculum||9||4||PLAN|
|Raising outcomes in Y11||8||4||PLAN|
|How to increase the numbers going to university||7||4||PLAN|
|Homework – quality of, setting, collecting and consequences||7||8||DO|
|Growth Mindsets. How to engender a love of learning?||8||3||PLAN|
|Identifying and reducing gaps (excluding PP)||8||6||DO|
|Reducing the PP gap||6||5||PLAN|
|Working smarter and solving the time conundrum including marking smarter||6||5||PLAN|
|Joint practice development of T&L cycles||6||6||DO|
|Curriculum Enrichment Week||4||8||CONSIDER|
This provided a useful framework for the discussion about which areas the SMLT focus groups could work on. Some areas had already been picked up, therefore there was no need to replicate that work. We eventually decided upon five areas for work:
Each SMLT focus group is led by a non-SLT member and they are responsible for assigning outcomes. The SMLT meetings start with us all together before breaking into the focus groups. Having only had SMLT meetings formally for two terms I have been delighted with the impact they have had; there has already been great change leveraged. In May the leads for each group presented their plans for the following year to whole staff to ensure they were aware of the changes that were to be implemented, which include:
I have also tried to provide leaders at all levels with the opportunity to undertake new experiences and work with other schools. We signed up to Challenge Partners and four members of SLT have trained to undertake reviews. During our own review all senior and academic middle leaders undertook paired observations.
By joining the South West Teaching School Alliance (SWTSA) this year our leaders have access to networks of colleagues from partner schools. Exposing our leaders to this best practice is also having a visible impact.
Two middle leaders have become Leadership Fellows this year. This is a two year programme, with a highly competitive application process, that is an offshoot of the highly successful Teach First team.
Underpinning all of these processes is our coaching programme. Every member of teaching staff is coached weekly (apart from SLT who have biweekly coaching) to leverage a positive change in their teaching practice. Leaders also have leadership coaching during this session.