Knowledge, skills and confidence: The power of CPD

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Date published 11 March 2022

Last updated 21 March 2024

From working with leading clothes designers to teaching students cookery skills that will last a lifetime, we talk to Mary Campbell about her career so far and how the Expert Middle Leaders programme is taking her teaching to another level.

“What next?” was the question at the front of Mary’s mind when she received an email from Susan O’Grady, the CPD lead at Canons High School. The email outlined the Ambition Institute’s Expert Middle Leaders programme – and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I’d just been wondering: ‘What can I do now? What’s my next challenge?’. So I went for it. I applied and was accepted.”


Mary’s journey to this point started with cutting patterns for women’s wear collections. Over 20 years, she climbed the ladder to work with design teams at David and Elizabeth Emanuel, and Claremont manufacture for Marks & Spencer. But when she had her daughter, she knew she’d have to make some changes from the long hours, stressful days, and unpredictable short-term contracts. She said: “In the fashion industry, if your expertise and face fits you could be somewhere for six months. My longest contract as a pattern cutter was eight years – and that was a miracle.”


So in 2001 she turned to teaching. It wasn’t a complete jump. In her previous roles she’d often found herself naturally becoming a mentor for university students who were on placements, and had volunteered for an organisation working with African-Caribbean teenagers in Peckham, south London. She also completed lots of courses, one of which was a BTEC for teaching in college.

She said: “I decided to go for it. I’d been visiting schools and teachers were telling me how textiles was one of the subjects coming back and that there weren’t enough teachers.” Knowing how much her textiles experience and skills were in demand she enrolled for a degree in Design Technology for Secondary Education at Middlesex University.

Mary then completed her NQT training at Canons High School in Harrow and has been there ever since.

"Now I can leave a situation feeling much more in control – and that means I can leave it behind and not worry about it at the end of the day."


Mary started as a textiles teacher, building up the textiles department and being Head of Year for many years. She even found time to complete a teaching and leading MA in Education, with a focus on parental engagement.

The school stopped offering textiles as a subject in around 2014, at which point she took up a new challenge of teaching food, and then leading the Food Department. Three years into that role, she signed up for the Expert Middle Leaders programme. Now in her second year of the two-year programme, she’s already seen changes in her teaching and leadership style.


“My role has been heavily pastoral,” said Mary, “with lots of focus on parental engagement. But forming a structural curriculum was one of my weak spots, so I wanted to strengthen that. Also, Ofsted had recently focused on our curriculum, so the programme was ideal and has helped me lots in understanding how to plan one.”

In the Food Department, there’s only Mary and a part-time member of staff, so it can be a lonely place – especially as food isn’t Mary’s original subject. Having a mentor on the programme who’s an expert in design technology (including food) has helped Mary to fine tune the curriculum she’s created and have more confidence in it.

“My mentor’s feedback was really supportive and non-judgemental. It wasn’t just the feedback itself that was helpful, but the way in which it was given. It came in two formats – written and a recording. I’ve even listened back to it. It really did pep me up.”

“I also turn to a group of food expert teachers whenever I need support with the structure of teaching topics, especially practical lessons which are challenging to plan and run.”



"The programme helped me so much when the whole school had to re-do the curriculum, I was able to use what I had learnt. It’s given me the knowledge, skills and confidence to be able to deliver the curriculum.”

“I’m now focusing on assessment criteria for Key Stage 3 for food and preparation. I’ve been looking at what other schools have done but decided I need to do one the Canons Way – making it relevant for our students. Our school is heavily EAL, so I’m rewording the criteria and making them really concise to make sure students can easily understand what it is that’s being assessed. And it’s also important that it’s accessible to other staff and parents.”


Part of the programme involves a series of coaching sessions, which Mary had with leadership coach, Keith Mallard. One of the areas she found most useful was learning new ways of handling difficult situations, such as how to deal with a challenging member of staff.

“Keith threw lots of questions at me to get me to think about a situation from a different point of view, see the picture from both sides and come up with different ways to respond.”

Mary remembers that in the fashion industry, confrontation was the norm. Now, rather than getting engaged in a confrontational situation, she takes a step back, safe in the knowledge that she knows what she’s doing: “I know what I’m doing is right. Now I can leave a situation feeling much more in control – and that means I can leave it behind and not worry about it at the end of the day.”


Writing her vision for the department was another element of the programme that helped Mary to clarify her focus and inspiration for her work.

“I’ve never had to write a vision before,” says Mary. “Reading it over again, it really does sum up what my department is all about – giving students a good relationship with food, a good understanding of health, and equipping them with the basics for knowing how to cook something out of nothing. As I say to my students, this is the only subject they’ll need for their entire life.

“And it reminds me how much food helps people to connect. We were cooking with polenta the other day. Some of the students didn’t know what that was. In the Caribbean, we call it cornmeal. And the Romanian students call it mamaliga. But talking about food is a real connection across cultures.

“That vision that I’ve written, it’s alive. It reminds me why I do what I do and it inspires me and excites me for the future.”

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