IT was with some trepidation that assistant headteacher Linsay Carmichael set about transforming relations between her secondary school and one of its feeder schools.
This was a task she’d been set as her project for Ambition Institute’s Future Leaders, a programme which aims to prepare ambitious, talented teachers to run schools in challenging circumstances.
Linsay had not worked directly with staff at the primary school before and her initial instinct was to adopt a softly-softly approach.
As part of Future Leaders, participants are given intensive coaching and when Linsay sought her coach’s advice on how to influence softly the primary school’s leaders, her approach was swiftly challenged.
She said: “I realised then that there was nothing wrong with me asserting myself when all I was asking for was us to work together.
“Anyone would be suspicious if they felt like I was hiding something. I realised I could adopt an honest and straight-forward approach.”
Linsay had been at Walker Riverside Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne for many years when she decided to take the plunge and do the Ambition Institute programme.
A geography teacher by trade, she was keen to move into school leadership but wasn’t sure she had the depth of experience required having spent all her career in one school
But she needn’t have worried – Future Leaders was exactly the training she needed.
“Relations between our school and theirs was okay but there was room for improvement. I deliberately chose a challenging task because I wanted to be stretched.
“The course boosted my confidence and made me realise I can go into any school and be confident I have the skills and experiences to help deliver positive change.”
The focus of the Future Leaders project was two-fold: a Pupil Premium Review, which is where someone works with staff at a school to try to ensure the Government money it is given to help poorer pupils is used most effectively; and to ease the transition of pupils from one school to the other.
Her direct approach prompted the schools’ leadership teams to collaborate closely as they realised they had a common goal.
The project involved working closely with the leadership team at Tyneview Primary and one unintended, but hugely beneficial, upshot of the project was that relations between the two school leadership teams are much improved.
Linsay said: “While we weren’t quite ships sailing in different directions, ties between our two schools are now much stronger – so much so that I'm now a governor on the primary school board.”
Much of this was down to the input she got from her coach at the project’s outset.
Linsay, who started the programme last year, said: “The 90-minute coaching sessions every half-term are such a luxury.
“They’re done outside classroom time, so you don’t have to worry about finding a cover teacher or fitting it into your breaks.
“The sessions really encourage you to be reflective and look at things from different perspectives: you never get an answer, that’s left to you to find.”
The sessions also helped her recognise the skills and expertise that were already in her arsenal.
She added: “When I signed up for Future Leaders I was really enjoying teaching, but I was ready to take the next step up in my career.
“Having spent so long at the same school I was worried I might not have the breadth of knowledge and experience to make positive changes for our students, so the opportunity to join Future Leaders was key to my development.
“The worry that I was not as experienced or knowledgeable as other Future Leaders participants was at the front of my mind, but I decided to take the plunge anyway.”
"Having spent so long at the same school I was worried I might not have the breadth of knowledge and experience to make positive changes for our students, so the opportunity to join Future Leaders was key to my development."
Future Leaders programme lead Rachel O’Halleron said: “We’re delighted Linsay got so much from our programme.
“Her experience was exactly what Future Leaders is designed to do – take participants out of their comfort zone in a way that makes them realise they can cope with running schools in challenging circumstances.”
Like all Future Leaders partner schools, Walker Riverside Academy serves a community with its own set of challenges.
Of the 1150 students, around 45.4% of pupils are eligible for Free School Meals – the national average for secondary schools is 12.4%.
Summing up the programme, Linsay said it was “hard and challenging” but that the “rewards – both professional and personal – are more than worth it”.
She said: “Most teachers love teaching otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. A big draw of the programme for me was the direct access to research and researchers, which helped me develop my expertise as a school leader.
“And it’s great for students to see learning is challenging even for teachers – and that learning doesn’t and shouldn’t stop after school.”
The deadline for applications for the final cohort of the Future Leaders programme is midnight on Friday, June 19.