“They know they can do anything they set their mind to”: How an Early Headship Coaching Offer can inspire culture change

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Date published 06 October 2023

Two years ago, Andy Done returned to Masefield Primary School in Bolton as its new headteacher. He was already familiar with the school through a previous role. However, he inherited an environment with low staff morale in need of a culture change.

“The school had some really good teachers and brilliant kids, but I knew we could get so much more out of it,” Andy says. He was keen to discuss his ideas with someone experienced in creating a culture change. “I wanted some fresh ideas to support me with turning Masefield around.”

Andy had recently completed a National Professional Qualification in Headship (NPQH), and he decided to take up the Early Headship Coaching Offer (EHCO) to get further support to achieve his goal. This programme is available to headteachers within the first five years in their new role who have previously completed or are completing the NPQH. It provides tailored, personalised support to apply knowledge from the NPQH in their context.

He signed up for the EHCO with Forward as One, a multi academy trust that partners with Ambition Institute to lead and deliver high quality professional development programmes to teachers and leaders in schools across Greater Manchester.

Connecting new headteachers with expert coaches

“I was excited to work with Lynn Williams, who is head at St Peter’s Church of England Primary School in Farnworth,” explains Andy. “I’d followed her on Twitter for a long time; she’s a beacon of success and very well respected. I’d seen what she’d created at her school and thought, ‘That’s where I want to take Masefield’.”

Lynn, who began her career as a headteacher in a job share as a co-head, is a passionate advocate for the power of two minds working together to develop something brilliant. “The co-headship structure brought many advantages,” she says. “The combined minds led to the extension of thoughts and ideas. These balanced discussions allowed me to develop as a leader and ultimately led to increasingly effective leadership.”

It is this experience that sparked Lynn’s interest in offering her coaching skills to local school leaders. The opportunity came through Forward as One and Ambition’s partnership to deliver the EHCO.

Two teachers offering peer support

Over three terms, new headteachers are offered expert guidance from an experienced, serving headteacher who works in a similar setting or phase, as well as access to a community of peers in similar positions. The course is designed to help new heads apply expertise gained from the NPQH to address the challenges and complex problems they might face in their day-to-day role.

“As soon as I met Lynn, she inspired me,” enthuses Andy. “I knew this was exactly the journey I wanted to go on. I truly believe she's had an impact on me and my school – culturally and even in the way it looks. She got me in the right mindset – stepping back and creating space for the staff to flourish, but always holding them to account. Everything she does is centred on the belief that every child is entitled to a good education and an expert teacher.”

Andy says that the coaching has had a positive impact on him as a new head teacher. “Before, I’d just see a to-do list and challenges, but Lynn helped me flip that around to concentrate on what I was doing well. I feel proud now.”

Lynn believes Andy is an outstanding headteacher who knows his school well. She was just providing “an alternative pair of eyes”, she says. “It wasn’t a hierarchical relationship. We were on an equal level, sharing and developing ideas together. It was about the synergy that two people can create through the power of conversation. I probably gained as much from it as he did.”

The impact of culture change on the pupil experience

The EHCO gives participants the opportunity to identify three issues they would like support with. It also includes a coaching session and shadowing work to build participants' expertise around the issues raised and discuss potential solutions linked to learning from the NPQH. The duo broadly followed this schedule but also developed their own system of working together.

They are still in contact. Andy beams with enthusiasm as he talks about visits to Lynn’s school. “To be able to see the real-life version of the school that I'd seen on Twitter was superb and powerful for me. It made me start to reflect on where I was, what I wanted to do, and what I wanted for the school,” he says. “I realised that our ethos and culture, what we stood for and what we wanted our children to be, wasn't clear. Staff didn't know it. Children didn't know it. I probably didn't know it.

“We have a motto which is: Believe, Achieve, Succeed. Lynn asked ‘What does that mean?’ But to be honest, none of us knew.”

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This prompted Andy and Lynn to do a lot of work around the values and ethos of Masefield. “She made it clear that I should get the children and stakeholders involved and that is what I did. I think that is why the values and ethos are even more powerful now,” says Andy. “Because the children effectively created them. So they know what they are now. They know they can do anything they set their mind to, to achieve what they want; to develop the wisdom, skill and knowledge to succeed. They have that aspiration to be a future citizen that can contribute to society.”

Following these changes, with Lynn’s guidance, Andy went through a similar process exploring teaching and behaviour. He says he’s worked on behaviour with those teachers who didn’t find it an easy aspect of their job and supports them through this. “We're all working together on this. It’s my job to help them flourish – and if they can flourish, the children most certainly will as well.”

Thanks to the learning he has gained through the EHCO, Andy says the school is in a much more positive place these days. “Visually it looks different and there’s a calmness when you walk into classrooms.”

“I think Masefield has become a nicer place to work. I think the children are proud to be at our school. I think we are a lot more popular,” Andy says happily. “We're oversubscribed for the first time ever and I think the children now feel they belong here.”

Although the EHCO has given Andy plenty of insights to instigate positive culture change, Lynn notes that the EHCO offers a collaborative relationship that adapts to the school and its context, rather than a prescriptive one. “People might think they're entering into early headship coaching for somebody to tell them what to do. But it really isn't like that. It's a very balanced, equal relationship where you do share and gain benefits from each other.”

The Early Headship Coaching Offer helps new headteachers solve problems relevant to their school context. Discover more on the programme page.

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