Nurturing tomorrow’s school leaders

Written by: Jason Wing | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Good leadership development practice is crucial – both for the education system as a whole and for the retention of teachers. Jason Wing explains his approach

As we know, we are in the midst of a teacher retention crisis. The statistics and research are well-known: discontent with workload, pay and accountability have led to nearly a third of teachers who qualified in 2011 leaving the profession within their first five years, and one in five who qualified in 2014 leaving within just two.

Workload, pay and accountability are clearly key issues in this discussion, but of equal importance are clear and accessible pathways for career progression, and a visible route to school leadership.

When I took on the headship at Neale-Wade Academy, the first of my career and the school that I attended as a child, outcomes for students were low and, within months, we were put into special measures.

Neale-Wade is now judged to be good for the first time, and is a designated National Support School. There are many factors behind the transformation of Neale-Wade, but I do not believe that any have been more important than the emphasis we place on developing leadership qualities within our staff.

Our intention is for all teachers – irrespective of experience – to see themselves as leaders. Our class teachers are “leaders of learning” and are encouraged from day one to develop their own leadership style.

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough

I subscribe to the adage that you are never too young to be promoted – or to be listened to. School leaders must encourage staff of all ages and all levels of experience to be forthright with suggestions for improvement and with the sharing of best practice.

One of my highlights of last term was seeing a NQT deliver a whole-school CPD session at our weekly “Nugget of CPD” session. I was delighted to see a colleague who was just two months into her career pass on knowledge to more experienced staff. To me, her ability to do this highlighted her leadership potential and this is something we will be looking to nurture over the coming months and years.

Succession planning

All of our NQTs are supported by a team of lead practitioners whose role, in part, is to develop the confidence of those NQTs to become leaders. It is important though to ensure that the middle leaders are themselves receiving the support necessary to give them the knowledge and the confidence to make that next step.

It is a source of great pride that four of my previous vice-principals have progressed to become headteachers of their own schools. I believe that this is in part down to the fact that they were seen as leaders in their own right throughout their time at Neale-Wade.

Our middle leaders are given the opportunity to attend weekly senior leadership team meetings, and not just to observe, but to contribute. This gives those individuals a taste of what senior leadership entails, it builds their confidence in their own abilities and it makes the process less daunting if – or when – they make the step up permanently. Inviting middle leaders to these meetings also ensures that the senior leadership remain grounded and in-touch with the school.

Trust collaboration

Our focus in developing leaders is mirrored by our sponsor, the Active Learning Trust (ALT). The ALT has an in-house CPD programme, Leading Active Learning, designed to develop leadership skills in school staff of all roles and all

levels of experience.
Staff undertake a relevant work-based project – and by relevant, I mean something that also contributes to the broader progression of the school. For example a recent study focused on SMSC across the curriculum, starting with mapping across subjects and finally strategies to deliver this key work.

The focus of the programme is not the activity itself – without wishing to detract from the importance of SMSC – but becoming an expert leader and the skills and confidence gained as a result of that.

During the course of the programme, participants from across the ALT schools meet to discuss their progress and share ideas. Towards the end of the programme, staff will deliver a presentation on their project to the whole group.

The significance of this cannot be overlooked. Presenting in front of adults, particularly senior colleagues, is a challenge that for some can be quite daunting. This experience is invaluable and provides excellent preparation and confidence for roles in senior leadership.

Such is the success of Leading Active Learning, the Trust is now developing an equivalent, advanced programme for staff members with clear – and potentially imminent – senior leadership aspirations. The programme will prepare colleagues for the rigours of leadership, and hopefully lead to a new wave of principals and vice-principals.

Be seen

As an executive principal, I believe it is vital for me to be as visible as possible across all three of the schools for which I am responsible. It is crucial that I know the schools well enough to be an effective leader and a positive role-model for the heads of school and other staff members. Similarly, I place a high importance on staff feeling comfortable in approaching me with queries – and with me approaching them – and feel that maintaining a regular presence around the schools goes some way to achieving that.

Support for leaders

One of the subsets of the national recruitment and retention issues schools are currently facing, is a shortage of leaders. This is a whole other topic, but it is important to remember that leaders themselves need support in their roles and a visible pathway of progression.

We hold weekly executive leadership team (ELT) meetings, where we discuss the various issues arising across the three schools and share best practice. Each head of school leads on a specific area of interest and will deliver updates on said area and hold relevant activities within their school. This is intended to build confidence within the team, allowing each leader to take responsibility for key areas.

What underpins everything in this article is opportunity. Staff must have opportunities to lead; in turn, self-confidence will increase and the desire not only to stay in the profession, but to progress, will be present. Developing a culture where everyone leads can at times make you realise what a wonderful job senior leadership is, and I take great pleasure in seeing others develop and act as the glue that brings our talented staff together.

We so often say that there’s nothing more rewarding than watching a child’s progression first-hand. If we can transfer that sentiment to staff development, we will be one step closer to solving our retention crisis.

  • Jason Wing is executive principal of Neale-Wade Academy, Littleport and East Cambs Academy and Burrowmoor Primary School – part of the Active Learning Trust. He is also a National Leader of Education and sits on the steering group for the government’s Opportunity Areas policy.


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