Middle leader improvement: one school's journey

July 5, 2017
Naomi Shrimpton

Naomi Shrimpton

Headteacher, Heathlands Primary Academy

Primary headteacher Naomi Shrimpton shares the findings a year into her middle leadership improvement plan, analysing the effect her strategies are having on staff morale, retention and student outcomes.


As headteachers, we may forget that the role of a middle leader is a challenging one. This is why, when I took on the role of headteacher at a small primary in challenging circumstances, I knew that developing leadership at all levels was going to be a priority.

This was particularly relevant at middle leadership level because colleagues were new to the role and inexperienced. I remembered the constant battle between wanting to be the best teacher you can be for your class and the desire to be a good leader and role model for your colleagues.

With this in mind, I developed a middle leadership plan to address the problems faced by my new school. A year into this plan, I now have the chance to reflect on the findings and areas for improvement.

The improvement plan

In order to improve both our middle leaders’ skills and our pupils’ outcomes, I formed a plan to hand the responsibility of target setting, progress reviews and the relevant meetings over to the middle leaders. This began by the SENCo and I modelling the processes involved by chairing initial meetings and demonstrating best practice to provide a basis for the future.

We also worked with the middle leaders to develop the monitoring and evaluation of learning and teaching in our school. Using SLT meeting time, senior and middle leaders collectively monitored children’s books and analysed data. This allowed senior leaders to pose questions to our middle leaders and challenge their thinking in a supportive environment.

Naomi Shrimpton and pupil

Developing new competencies

We then reviewed the progress of every child every six-to-eight weeks. This allowed us to track attainment against progress and identify whether students were moving in the right direction.

If students were not on track, the middle leaders would ask teachers questions such as: are there any intervention plans? What strategies are being used? How is the TA being deployed? We then interrogated the data and asked to see other books to ensure the student wasn’t being analysed in the abstract.

This involved developing the middle leaders’ competency of holding others to account, and it was a completely new skill for some. I used a mentoring approach to question the teachers to see what could be done differently in these conversations, and supply ideas for what we thought might work more effectively. We organised follow up meetings to monitor how middle leaders were developing and amend our plans accordingly.

Collaboration

I learned early on in the Future Leaders programme that it was essential to get ‘buy in’ from the middle leaders. I achieved this through ensuring the middle leaders collaborated with me on the improvement plan, by delegating tasks to them depending on their strengths and areas of expertise, and by focusing on the reason for it: to improve educational outcomes for the pupils.

I mapped out 60-80% of the plan in my mind then took it to the middle leaders, and their ideas and strategies moved it up to 100%. I always ensured I acted on their contributions, so that I didn’t just ask for them in a token way to make them feel included.

The staff felt more energised having been consulted, and took up their tasks with more enthusiasm when they had a stake in the overall decision. They also took part in regular reviews of the plan, so they could voice their opinion on what aspects were going well and which needed more work.

It was also useful to retain the spotlight on why we needed this improvement plan in the first place: to help students learn more. By keeping the ‘why’ in mind, we battled through the problems with extra motivation to achieve our goals.

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Retention

Together with improving student outcomes, our middle leadership improvement plan was also designed to give greater support to staff members and help keep talented teachers in the profession. I immediately made changes that I hoped would make an impact on wellbeing and workload.

We changed the marking policy in September to remove ‘distance marking’. It now focuses on verbal feedback and a dialogue between teacher and pupil or pupil and pupil, allowing them to make instant changes to their work and improve their learning.

We also changed the lesson planning this year so that is focuses on a preparing a project with mini projects and outcomes within it. The minimum expectation is a plan of objectives that will be taught during a two-to-three week period with an outline of learning opportunities. We no longer expect weekly or daily planning. This gives teachers more freedom over their timetabling as well as moving children on more quickly if appropriate.

12 months later…

We are now 12 months into the project and staff have really grown in confidence. When I started, a Key Stage 2 teacher admitted that she was at her wits end and was seriously considering leaving the profession. I spent time working on her priorities and created an individualised plan based on her needs at the time. She now has a much more positive view of her role.

The turnaround in this staff member has been one of the most inspirational aspects of the middle leadership improvement plan. From being on the edge of quitting, this middle leader is now leading on new projects, engaging fully with the plan and has no thought of leaving the profession.

In terms of student outcomes, there has been a 10 percentage point combined increase in reading, writing and maths in year 2 SATs, and a 28 percentage point for the same category for year 6. There have been no exclusions since March 2016, a huge improvement given that 58 days were lost to exclusions in the previous term.

This is inevitably a long process and we haven’t made giant leaps but these results show that the plans are definitely moving in the right direction. We will continue to monitor our work and amend them accordingly as a group of both senior and middle leaders working together to further improve the educational chances of the pupils who need it most.

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This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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