Graham Cooper, Head of Product Strategy at Capita SIMS, looks at how data can help middle leaders.
It could be argued that a good middle leader needs to be all things to all people. They are at the centre of the chain of command – which means they not only need to support the senior leadership team (SLT), they must also inspire their colleagues and lead their teams. Middle leaders see the big picture for their school, while ensuring they get the tiniest details right.
It is a challenging, yet rewarding role. One where you have the opportunity to turn high level strategy into outstanding classroom practice and have a direct impact on school improvement.
To achieve all this successfully, middle leaders need a thorough understanding of how data can help them in each of these key aspects of the job. So, whether you are a department head, SENCo or pastoral leader, or a primary school middle leader, here is how data can help.
1. Supporting senior leadership
An effective middle leader keeps a finger on the pulse of their school so they can provide vital support to the SLT, head and board of governors who are held to account for the school’s performance.
Most schools collect and store a wealth of data, but what really matters is how well middle leaders use this data to track the success of their school’s objectives and KPIs.
For a Year 5 teacher, attainment data can provide the insight they need to see how different groups of pupils are performing. If one of the school’s priorities is to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children, the teacher can put interventions in place for these pupils, monitor how well these are working and report back to the SLT on this specific objective.
Similarly, a SENCo can use data not only to measure the attainment and behaviour of children in the school who are identified as having SEN status, but also to provide evidence to senior leaders of the impact of the people who have contact with these pupils, such as teaching assistants, support staff and external agencies.
2. Leading and managing a team
Good middle leaders know how to bring out the best in their teams, by making the most of the skills of their staff. Some department heads in larger secondary schools may be responsible for a whole range of people from NQTs to highly experienced teaching staff, while a class teacher in a small village primary might have a single teaching assistant to oversee.
Either way, data is a middle leader’s friend when it comes to staff performance management.
By looking at the attainment data for each class and pupil group, and identifying teachers whose pupils are performing above target, a middle leader can start to build a picture of where their team’s strengths lie.
If Mrs Green is getting good results in lower set maths classes, or Mr Brown is good at managing Year 9 behaviour, the department head should be asking these teachers to share any tips or best practice with their colleagues.
3. Achieving consistency
Consistency is absolutely key to reliable, informed decision-making, so middle leaders need to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to capturing, analysing and interpreting data.
A sure-fire way for middle leaders to make this happen is to hold regular standardisation meetings to make sure everyone in the team is recording marks in the same way, and analysing performance at the same intervals. Consistency in entering attendance data and keeping track of parental details gives a school a much firmer grasp on safeguarding too.
Another priority is to set clear guidelines for marking homework and providing feedback, so pupils understand how they are performing and what they need to do to get better at a task. In turn, this gives the SLT better quality data on pupil performance.
For pastoral leaders, consistency can make or break a behaviour policy. If you have one teacher who awards several merits in each lesson, and another who only gives out two or three a term, it sends out a confusing message to pupils, parents and the SLT.
One way to combat inconsistency is to enter sanctions and rewards into the school’s management information system, so you can establish a school-wide approach to behaviour management.
4. Boosting achievement
To get a clear view of which pupils are achieving well in each class, and which groups are falling behind, middle leaders need to work closely with other teachers to identify where these gaps are and what interventions are needed to address them.
If middle leaders have the data they need to hand, it becomes much easier to shine the spotlight on specific areas of concern, such as a drop in performance of Year 10 pupil premium students in a particular curriculum strand.
It can sometimes be a good idea for a middle leader to look outside their own department and see how their pupils are doing in different subjects. If one group is underperforming in English but doing well in geography, perhaps there is scope to adapt some of the approaches used in the geography department to help these pupils improve.
Understanding a school’s data makes it possible for middle leaders to see the direction of travel for their school, and to identify what needs doing at every step of the journey.
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