Making the most of middle leaders to drive change in schools

James Toop, the CEO of Teaching Leaders, believes developing outstanding middle leaders with skills to address within-school variation is critical to closing the achievement gap. This is an extract from the Guardian…

A relentless focus on the quality of teaching and leadership has raised standards and improved pupil achievement over the past decade in schools in the most challenging contexts, but the achievement gap at GCSE is still too wide.

Improving bad schools alone will not be sufficient to close the gap. Most of the variation in pupil performance occurs within our schools – even schools rated outstanding have a large achievement gap. What matters most is improving the quality of teaching inside each school.

Middle leaders, the engine room of the school, sit at the heart of this drive. They lead teams of teachers – turning senior leadership’s strategy into outstanding classroom practice on a daily basis. They are closer to the action than senior leaders. High-performing middle leaders drive consistent teacher quality in their areas of responsibility through curriculum leadership, data analysis to identify pupil underperformance, lesson observations, holding staff to account and developing staff. They also ensure consistency across the school by collaborating and challenging their fellow middle leaders, influencing whole school behaviours through sharing, coaching and mentoring.

A policy focused on developing a cadre of outstanding middle leaders with the skills to address within-school variation is critical to closing the achievement gap.

To reduce within-school variation, middle leaders must do two things: firstly, drive consistently outstanding teaching within departments on a daily basis. Secondly, they must work collaboratively across the school to ensure consistency between departments. Teaching Leaders, a national charity specifically focused on developing outstanding middle leaders, which was launched in 2008, is addressing this priority.

Teaching Leaders Fellows focuses on addressing variation within departments. The two-year programme invests intensively in high potential individual middle leaders to achieve significant change in their areas of responsibility. Each of the three graduating cohorts has raised GCSE A*-C achievement in their departments by more than 15 percentage points over the two years of the programme, and narrowed gaps between poorer pupils and their wealthier counterparts.

Teaching Leaders Teams focuses on addressing variation between departments. It delivers training to groups of 15 middle leaders across a school. It is non-selective, less intensive and does not contain coaching, but brings middle leaders together to focus on mission, high expectations and belief that all children can achieve, before focusing on practical issues such as performance management, lesson observation, analysing data and having challenging conversations. Together, they instil a shared belief and sense of purpose across the middle leadership team, which leads to greater collaboration and sharing…

The full version of James Toop’s chapter Reducing within-school variation and the role of middle-leadershipcan be downloaded for free from IPPR.

James Toop is CEO of Teaching Leaders, a leadership development programme for middle leaders in schools in challenging contexts.

More at:  Making the most of middle leaders to drive change in schools

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