Why middle leadership development is crucial

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Date published 26 November 2018

Middle leaders are the engine room of the school, sitting at the heart of school improvement.

They lead teams of teachers and turn senior leadership strategy into outstanding classroom practice on a daily basis. That's why access to middle leadership development is essential.

Whether it’s the NPQML or Teaching Leaders, putting your middle leaders onto development programmes is a great way to expose them to leadership thinking and theory, challenge their perceptions, and also ensure they do that crucial networking with middle leaders from other schools and colleges.

Having these kind of high-performing middle leaders within your schools can drive consistent teacher quality through curriculum leadership, enable better data analysis to identify pupil under-performance, improve lesson observations, and better capability in holding staff to account and developing them.

As school leaders, we occasionally forget that the role of a middle leader is a challenging one. At The Alliance for Learning, we have seen the impact of professional development like this and genuinely feel that it has transformed many of our middle leaders.

If you're considering how you can further develop the middle leaders within your school or trust, here are a few of the things I’ve learned from doing exactly that.


Some leaders are almost so future-focused, that they don’t ‘nail’ the job-in-hand first.

Whether it’s a department or a pastoral role, ensuring that your middle leaders understand every bit of the role, lead others well, and are able to have difficult conversations is key.

Be fiercely loyal to your team, and champion them, but always put the pupils first. Don’t accept mediocrity even if you are in a challenging school: you create your own weather.

Professional development programmes are a great way for middle leaders to learn how to become a good coach.

I truly believe that coaching gets the best out of people and it certainly isn't just something for middle leaders. I’d recommend having a coach yourself to give yourself time to reflect and refine your ongoing leadership journey.

I’d also recommend reading books that encourage positive voices in your own head and then recommending them to your middle leaders (The Chimp Paradox is a great place to start).

Encourage your middle leaders to show that they are ambitious (acknowledging that sometimes this is harder for women) - this is a positive quality and not something to be ashamed of.

Why shouldn’t you want to get on and get up? Middle leaders should be vocal about where they want to be but also be humble about the support they might need to get there.

Directing them towards stretch projects, such as supporting whole-school initiatives, will expose them to a different world, possibly external stakeholders, and help them to start building new skills.

Finally, I read some great advice from the CEO of Coca Cola who said:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. They are work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.

So, make sure you prioritise the important stuff and achieve a balance.”

If you're considering developing your middle leaders, Teaching Leaders is our flagship development programme and recruitment for the 2019 cohort is now open.

To find out more click here.

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

Lisa Fathers
Lisa Fathers
Director of Teaching School and Partnerships at the Alliance for Learning

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