Middle leadership has always been a thorny issue and continues to be. In fact if you look at a range of both recent and historic inspection reports, there is normally a reference to the effectiveness of middle leaders, and how they are often not fulfilling their roles and responsibilities. But the questions which need to be asked are why is this so? and why hasn’t there been a shift in this judgement over time?
Does it relate to the adage ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’? Maybe.
Evidence suggests that as we progress through the teaching profession, very often the level of support declines. As trainee teachers we have mentors, tutors and regular guidance to ensure we grow and develop. Action points for improvement are habitually identified and, if we are fortunate, through support from colleagues, we are coached and mentored, and ultimately signed off as proficient newly qualified teachers with the potential to make a difference.
Following this, we are guided and tutored during our induction year, including the dreaded half termly observations, as well as methodical, periodic target setting, evidence gathering and open, professional dialogue. Where good practice exists if we are unsure of how to do something, action is taken to remedy this through conversation, observation of exemplar colleagues, attending a course or working alongside those more experienced. More often than not, this high quality provision stalls and dwindles over time, especially at middle leadership level, on the assumption that we know what to do and have the necessary skills and capabilities to do what needs to be done; whilst this may apply to many, sometimes ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and need to be supported in order to increase productivity and effectiveness.
Typical examples are writing an action plan. Very often middle and subject leads are given this first, significant responsibility as a way of contributing to the school improvement plan (SIP), but no one ever really shows them how to do it or reference key elements such as the strands of ‘success criteria’ – namely process and performance indicators, timelines and quality assurance etc. Most are expected to learn almost by osmosis on the assumption if you work with an experienced leader you will learn how to do these key tasks automatically; I’m not convinced however.
From my own experience, it was only when someone sat down with me to explore common tasks such as effective action planning and analysing my core subject, maths, within ‘Raise On Line’, that I became more proficient and effective. Some of the best training I ever received was over 10 years ago when I attended Ofsted training, and recall asking why some of the skills learnt hadn’t been offered almost as a universal package for aspiring senior leaders. New skills and processes learnt proved to be invaluable and I still routinely use these to this day and share these methodologies and strategies in training I provide through our Leadership and Management courses and consultancy.
Also, with the best of intentions, having someone tell you how to do it is only one part of a much bigger process. The real learning takes place when we are taken out of our comfort zone and have to actually immerse ourselves in the process with a guiding hand. We need to be questioned about our responses and approaches in order to quality assure our understanding and application of new skills. Only by doing this can we become adept in functioning at a high level and have the confidence to use our new found skills in the context of our own setting to ultimately, impact positively upon outcomes for learners and secure continuous school improvement.
I truly believe as professionals we need support, guidance, coaching and mentoring throughout the whole of our career, not just at middle leadership level, but from when we first qualify to support in headship and beyond.
At Services for Education we provide this. We have a team of accomplished advisers who support school teams at all levels, including governors and our commitment to this is resolute.
Whether you need generic training, or would benefit from bespoke support, we are here to help.
Linda Brown is a Senior Adviser with Services for Education. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org