An update from Ambition School Leadership

Written by: James Toop | Published:
James Toop, CEO, Ambition School Leadership

Graduates of the Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders programmes are helping to change lives. James Toop looks at what’s next for the charity behind the programmes

We believe that great school leadership is the first step in school improvement. Great leaders create great schools. Great schools change lives. They are schools where every child achieves, where no child is left behind. But currently, 95,000 children leave school each year without the basic qualifications they need.

And the gaps in pupil outcomes are too large – 88 per cent of the variation in pupil outcomes occurs due to variation within schools.

As CEO of education charity Ambition School Leadership, I’m privileged to see the impact our 200 Future Leaders headteachers are making as they transform schools in our most disadvantaged communities. All our leaders have a clear vision, focus on consistently excellent teaching and create feedback cultures where all staff and pupils are driven to improve.

For them, school improvement is about a relentless, sustained improvement in standards, eliminating gaps and creating life-changing opportunities which raise the aspirations of their pupils.

But the first thing we teach them is that they cannot do this alone. If they are to close the gaps, they need all leaders at every level of the school working together as one team. They have to quickly diagnose where the gaps are, create a clear improvement plan, and then align governors, senior and middle leaders behind that plan.

They put professional development at the heart of school improvement. This takes time, but I always say that once our heads start focusing on developing their middle leaders, you know they are making real progress. And by building this spine of leadership they create a climate which retains staff and enables sustained improvement.

This is why I’m so proud that independent research commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), shows that by investing in developing leaders, our programmes are demonstrating a positive impact where it matters most – in outcomes for disadvantaged children and supporting leaders to remain working in the schools where they are needed most.

The research was conducted by Ipsos MORI, Education Datalab and BMG Research and examined the effectiveness of Teaching Leaders for middle leaders and Future Leaders for aspiring headteachers.

Becky Allen from Education Datalab said that it was very unusual to find a leadership training programme that improves pupil attainment in the way that Teaching Leaders does.

To give you some statistics, the key findings were that our Teaching Leaders participants improve attainment by one-twelfth of a grade, and that after completing Teaching Leaders, 86 per cent of participants remained in teaching, compared to 77 per cent of similar teachers.

For Future Leaders, in the most recent cohort addressed in the research, 41 per cent of participants were in senior leader roles before joining the programme and this rose to 71.8 per cent in the year they joined Future Leaders.

It’s great that we’re having our desired impact, but we are now asking ourselves how can we do even more.

The first way is by doing even more of what we know works – our depth strategy. This year we will grow our Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders programmes, developing our high-potential, accelerated leadership pipeline for schools in our most challenging contexts. Applications opened in November for our 2018 cohorts.

Second, we are committed to supporting schools, MATs and Teaching School Alliances to develop their own leaders – building leadership breadth in the system.

We have built the Ambition Alliance, delivering the new National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) through a partnership with more than 50 schools, eight of the 10 largest MATs, and Teaching School Alliances.

Through the Alliance, we can co-develop the content with partners, train the facilitators using our leadership expertise, and achieve stretching, alliance-wide assessment standards. It means that the NPQ programmes we offer are genuinely school-led with partners also assessing and quality-assuring delivery, following training and calibration sessions.

We’ve put our own stamp on the qualification to stretch our participants even further. We are as ambitious for our leaders and their pupils as our name suggests, and for this reason we set challenging expectations on our leaders. We believe that in challenge lies greater opportunity for development, which leads to better leadership and better outcomes for pupils, both now and in the future.

Finally, we are re-investing in our network of leaders who we have developed through our programmes. Indeed, we held our Headship and Executive Leaders Symposium last month, which brought together 150 heads, executive heads and MAT CEOs. If we can get our network working together, we can spread more of the talent we have in the system, build sustainable and sustained leadership cultures which improve schools for good.

The DfE evaluations prove that our approach to leadership development is working, and our NPQ Alliance is showing how, with the help of academy chains and Teaching Schools, we can increase our reach and further our impact.

In order to achieve all of this, we must concentrate on the people that make the biggest difference, the exceptional leaders in our network, so that together we can achieve our mission to ensure every child in every school fulfils their potential.

  • James Toop is CEO of Ambition School Leadership, which is a charity that runs the Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit


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