Middle Leadership Matters

Middle Leadership Development Programme unveiled at Trust conference “Middle Leadership Matters” 

An inspiration and uplifting day of development and making connections with peers took place on Monday 8 January, when ALET’s Executive Team, Senior Leaders and Middle Leaders from both teaching and business support got together to examine their working styles and how they can improve their work practices for the benefit of themselves, their teams and ultimately the students.  

The conference was the launchpad for ALET’s new Middle Leadership Development Programme (MLDP), which has been put together to harness the incredible talent we have within the Trust, and to support those workers in their roles as middle leaders.   

Middle leaders – someone who takes on extra responsibilities in a specific area of school life – play an essential role in the discussion of school improvement, leading teams of teachers and turning senior leadership strategy into outstanding classroom practice on a daily basis. The are often referred to as the ‘engine room of successful schools’.  

It is therefore surprising that very few trusts invest in comprehensive programmes of development for these middle leaders, so ALET is very proud of the work that has been done thus far to bring the MLDP to fruition.  

Mark Blackman, Director of Secondary Education, explains: “For any school the quality of middle leadership is the thing that drives the experience of young people. It’s really important that as middle leaders we develop the skills of the staff we’re working with, that we clearly see how we’re moving people and teams forward because that development of our middle leader cohort is an inherent part of ensuring that when our young people are in class they experience staff who are well supported, who do their job fantastically well and are able to reflect on their practice.”  

With that in mind, a face well known at ALET – Theale Green School’s former Executive Principal Jo Halliday  – has written (in collaboration with others across the Trust) a middle leader development pathway. The Middle Leader Development Programme (MLDP) has been designed along two strands – the Development Pathway for early middle leaders, and a Growth Pathway for more established middle leaders. All middle leaders will now have  access to many resources through a new middle leader website. 

The pathway itself includes the Middle Leader Standards which incorporate seven modules to support leadership development, such as Managing Self, Win:Win with Stakeholders and Setting the Culture. Middle Leaders can self-assess against the standards and use this to direct their own development. 

An additional part of the MLDP is a Trust-wide commitment to provide all staff with high-quality line management, as well as for middle leaders, access to the MLDP section on the ALET website, completing a DISC profile, or shadowing other leaders.    

Monday’s conference laid out the MDLP’s aims and objectives to groups of senior leaders and middle leaders. Beginning with a Rise’n’shine breakfast meet (for those who made it through the terrible traffic!) and a welcome from ALET CEO Jo Harper who said: “Our MLDP will support and extend your practice by helping you look both inwards and learn about you, and outwards to learn how to get the best from your team.”  

Staff took part in two sessions; one around understanding your personal baseline and another on instructional leadership.   

A highlight was a keynote speech by education leadership expert Andy Buck, a former headteacher and director at National College, now the CEO of Leadership Matters and creator of the BASIC coaching method. Andy praised those he met at the conference, saying it was: “A privilege to work with this inspiring group of leaders. Such a shared sense of mission”.  

Closing the conference Jo Halliday thanked all attendees, and those who have put a lot of work into developing the MLDP. She said: “It’s been an absolute privilege to work with so many middle leaders on the development of the middle leaders pathway. The most important thing now is how we collaborate. The growth of the pathway relies on the collective expertise of all of the middle and senior leaders in the Trust to contribute to it and take part in it and I really look forward to working with everyone in doing so.”  

Initial feedback shows that almost three quarters of those attending enjoyed the conference ‘a lot’, with 95% finding it useful to their work, with line management and access to the Leadership Matters platform being the two most useful themes.   

Some of the attendees we spoke to said the following:   

Thom Trayers; Director of English and Social Sciences at UTC Reading:  

“I really appreciated the opportunity to discuss the courses we deliver, and the wider field of pedagogy, with the other ALET middle leaders. I’m excited to see how their different approaches and ideas will work in our context.”  

Nicci Gisby, Events and Marketing Administrator and PA to the Principal,  UTC Oxfordshire and UTC Swindon:   

“I feel really empowered and am looking forward to putting all this into practice. I feel privileged to be involved and will be more comfortable pushing myself to come up with new ideas and speak out a little more knowing I have the support to do so.” 

Sarah Donovan, Head of Year at UTC Oxfordshire:  

“Today has been really useful because we have collaboratively talked about how we can reach the SEND pupils in the classroom more effectively. The discussions we had elevated our excitement and our need to think about how we can support those students who are finding it difficult to come to lessons regularly; those students who have got SEN needs – how do we scoop them up early to keep them interested?”  

Stephanie Mitchell, Assistant Head of School at UTC Reading:  

“I think the MLDP will be beneficial in helping me line manage the middle leaders at UTC Reading, particularly in my role as a senior leader. It’s going to really help me develop my team and make sure that I’m working the best way that I can with them.”   

“There aren’t many trusts that do programmes like this, so I think it’s really valuable. It’s really important that as ALET we are investing in our middle leaders as they are at the forefront of schools so it’s really important to develop them.”  

Heledd Walker, Head of Governance and Compliance:  

“It’s been a great start to the new year and great to meet colleagues from across the Trust. It shows with the right tools and support in place anyone can develop into a good leader. I’m excited to use the templates we talked about around difficult conversations and see how that can help in my role.”  

Mark Blackman, ALET Director of Secondary Education:  

“This particular event is unique in that it’s giving the opportunity of our middle leaders the space to think about their own practice, to learn from each other, to collaborate, to be learning in an experiential way and listening to subject experts, but also to think about what’s the best practice that’s out there, from high-quality programmes that are in the wider domain and the high-quality work that is going on in our own schools.”   

Andy Buck, keynote speaker:  

“I’m really excited to have been asked to speak. It marks the start of an exciting phase for the organisation. Middle leadership is the engine room of successful  schools. Seeing the Trust invest in middle leaders in this way – it’s just wonderful to be involved at the beginning and be a part of the next phase.   

“One of things that’s really impressed me here is the work that’s going on with the MLDP. The entitlement that’s been given to all the middle leaders across the Trust, whatever their role, to high-quality, professional learning, and together as colleagues. It sits alongside the competency framework that ALET has been developing for middle leaders which gives people real clarity about the depth and breadth of the role, and the areas that people want to celebrate, that they’re good at, and the areas that they might say, ‘I might be a little bit better at having a difficult conversation or holding people to account’ and that there are resource there on the website that are going to be able to help them.’  

Mandy Wilton, Executive School Leader, MW Education Ltd:  

“It’s been a really inspirational day for middle leaders, who are the drivers for improvement in schools. The message coming across clearly is about the power of middle leaders. I think what’s great here is the collaborative approach and being able to work with different schools around similar subjects. The conversations around Rosenshine’s principles are great and you can really feel a buzz today having these passionate conversations.”  

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