Middle leadership – learning by osmosis

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 linda.brown@servicesforeducation.co.uk



When is an assembly not Collective Worship?


No, it’s not the start of a bad joke… Post Trojan Horse and in the climate of renewed compliance regarding Collective Worship… It’s time to reflect on what inspiring Collective Worship is and how this differs from what ‘we call’ (in Miranda’s mother’s style) ‘an assembly’.

Taking a look SACRE’s (The Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) documentation outlining the Principles of Inspiring Collective Worship we find:

‘Collective Worship is Educational:

  • a learning experience of real quality properly planned, prepared, executed and evaluated.
  • challenging but not seeking to convert or indoctrinate, neither of which are appropriate in a school setting.

Collective Worship is Inclusive:

  • affirming diversity and respecting integrity of pupils and teachers whatever their faith or non-faith background.
  • providing an opportunity to worship whilst remaining suitable for the whole school community to listen.

Collective Worship is Spiritual:

  • refreshing the spirit with a time to gather, be still and reflect.
  • creating an opportunity to be uplifted out of the everyday and ordinary and to be aware of what is within and beyond ourselves’. SACRE 2008

But what does this REALLY mean??

‘An assembly’ literally means a gathering of people. We slip into using this language when talking about the legal duty for schools to provide a daily act of Collective Worship. Calling a particular year group together to give them a ‘telling off’ is an assembly… Asking a group of pupils to meet you so that you remind them to bring their games kit the next day is an assembly. This is not Collective Worship.

Collective Worship should be a learning experience and because it involves young people it should be in line with the school’s ‘no platform policy’ and comes under the safeguarding duty; no indoctrination and pupils feel safe and secure. Collective Worship should give the pupils the opportunity to worship but remain suitable for the whole school to listen to the story, prayer or reflection. In the busy course of a normal school day it is a valuable opportunity for pupils to stop and reflect. They may not get this chance at any other point in their week to do this, either at home, after school or during the weekend. Although Collective Worship differs from mindfulness, some of the same benefits could be seen as being no different; in terms of both mental, physical and spiritual health.

As well as the previously stated principles and benefits I believe it is so important to engage pupils with an act of Collective Worship; this means for many teachers delivering Collective Worship as a learning experience and it might well be challenging too.

Reflecting on my own experience of delivering Collective Worship in a number of schools in the city; pupil delivery of stories whilst dressing up; playing Prodigy’s fire starter at the start of an act of Collective Worship on Diwali; using a variety of pupils as props and actors; a competition to build the biggest tower out of Lego… It was terrifying in terms of being in front of the whole school of 800 pupils (plus 40 members of staff who wanted to see too)… but the pupils enjoyed the interaction and spoke about it favourably for quite some time after…

Collective Worship is a chance for you and your pupils to get involved. But that’s another opportunity within an act of collective worship; to expect the unexpected. A chance to take pupils out of their comfort zone (safely) and sometimes it’s good to do that personally too.

For more information on RE and Collective Worship please contact simone.whitehouse@servicesforeducation.co.uk.