The next five years: five key opportunities for school leaders

Robert Hill.

There’s no question that school leaders will face tough challenges in the coming years. But there is also a major opportunity to reshape the school system. This blog, the second based on my London Centre for Leadership in Learning lecture on 19 May, should be read alongside this set of slides.

The nature of the challenges is such that it is not possible for schools and their leaders to manage them alone. They will have to collaborate – whether that builds on what they are doing at the moment or takes them into new territory.

Collaboration at both a local and system level provides school leaders with the opportunity to:

  • remodel how we train teachers – using the outcome from the work being led by Stephen Munday there is the chance to reimagine how initial teacher training is delivered. Instead of trying to cram everything into one year with variable development support thereafter, the new model would be structured over the existing first three years of a teacher’s career (their training year, NQT year and NQT +1 year). This would provide time to deliver the new core training content, which should include necessary subject and pedagogical knowledge, classroom skills and the acquisition and practice of research/learning impact skills. Although new teachers would, as now, be ‘employed’ at the end of year 1, their placements might continue over the three years and qualified teacher status would be awarded at the end of year 3. Universities and accredited school groups would work together to organise recruitment and training in each sub-region and routes into teaching would be rationalised.
  • redefine professional development – learning from the improving teacher style programmes, the growth of coaching and the action research focus of many teaching school alliances (TSAs) has shown the power and potential of combining formal learning with modelling, analysing and improving practice in the classroom. This needs to become the universal professional development template for the future. Teachers within and across schools would draw on what we know through insets, online research, reading groups and master classes, and would then work together to improve teaching in the classroom using lesson study, peer coaching, action research (involving pupils in many cases) and online forums. They would be constantly looking to assess the impact of their work together to establish new knowledge and improve outcomes. It is this approach that should form the core agenda for the College of Teaching to champion.
  • recast leadership of learning so that we explicitly acknowledge and encourage the role of school leaders in leading learning between schools and across the system as well as leading learning within their schools;
  • build a leadership pipeline using school groups as the basis for deploying school leaders to different leadership assignments as a way of accelerating their development – supported by leadership programmes run under the aegis of a sector-led Education Leadership Foundation;
  • use resources more productively. Partnerships and multi-academy trusts bring a huge potential for schools to improve their efficiency. They provide the basis for sharing posts and roles – particularly at leadership level and in specialist areas. Either through jointly delivering or procuring services they can use economies of scale to make savings in how HR, education welfare, grounds maintenance, catering, ICT and other services are provided. And groups of schools have the financial clout to employ high level financial and business management expertise to help them plan budgets and identify areas for savings.

So, the next five years offer exciting opportunities for collaboration to make a reality of school-led improvement across the system. However, if a collaborative approach is to deliver these outcomes then school leaders will need to adopt the habits and implement the disciplines of effective partnership. For example, school groups will need to understand scale and how to use small clusters led by executive leaders to realise the value that deep partnership can bring. They will need to link clusters to the resources, expertise and learning available through a TSA, federation and/or academy chain.

Effective collaboration involves hard accountability – structures and systems for holding each school to account for progress and performance and measures for assessing the impact of partnership activity. Governance of TSAs and academy trusts must be clearly structured and populated with able people who understand their role – whether that is at school or a wider partnership level – and who are supported in carrying it out. Achieving a balance between hierarchy and networking is another vital discipline; chains need to avoid erring on the side of hierarchy and TSAs need to make sure they do not just rely on networking.

The next five years could and should see a move towards all schools being part of a local school improvement cluster. Ideally there will be a diversity of structural models – no ‘one size fits all’. In some areas this approach is already well under way and in others it needs kick-starting or nurturing. School groups need to be steered and supported along a path to become mature and capable hubs of improvement. In due course all school improvement groups might be accredited.

Some will interpret a self-improving system as implying there is no need for local authorities or regional schools commissioners. That is naïve – and at variance with how things tend to work in high performing education systems. We need a means to ensure that there is a shared vision for improving education in each area, that every child has a school place, that the needs of vulnerable children are looked after, that no school gets left behind or left out of being part of a school improvement group, that schools are challenged to work together effectively, that weak or declining performance is quickly identified and corrected, that data and knowledge are moved across schools and that there is accountability to local communities.

In a self-improving system the issue is not the existence of some form of middle tier but creating the right culture to make it successful, by employing leaders with high-level people skills to key positions and working with and using school leaders to help carry out its roles. And it should be one system for all schools in an area – not one for academies and one for maintained schools.

So individual schools would be part of a local cluster, that in turn was part of a teaching schools alliance or multi-academy trust, that in turn was part of a sub-regional system for recruiting and training teachers and developing leaders. This approach could yield a rich harvest: more even rates of improvement, a sustainable model of school leadership and improvement, a better equipped and developed workforce, a rebalancing of the inspection system so that it focused more on development and less on grading and school leaders playing a major role in shaping and running the education system.

Are schools leaders confident enough to drive this agenda? Or will they wait to be told what to do?

Are school leaders sufficiently committed to working with each other to improve the system? Or will they, along with the leaders of multi-academy trusts, retreat into competing baronies as financial constraints bite and they vie for pupils and teachers?

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Posted in Leadership and management, Teachers
6 comments on “The next five years: five key opportunities for school leaders
  1. Tim Mercer says:

    One area that I find under commented on as regards the general ‘work smarter’ message that comes through in articles about how we will manage going forward is pedagogy.

    The focus of these articles seems largely on using resources (human and physical) more efficiently, which is certainly good housekeeping and helps us to continue to deliver teaching according to the existing model. However, being new to teaching (5 years in) after 25 years of working in industry, work smarter to me is about transforming the teacher-student relationship. I wouldn’t equate the two but the private sector has done this with the supplier-customer relationship over the last 20 years.

    For me, the transformation of that relationship, the nirvana of the “independent learner” that is the mantra I have constantly heard – and rarely observed – is central. The good housekeeping has to happen but it doesn’t transform. Initiatives and frameworks like Building Learning Power build on the research and development of Hattie, Dweck and lots of others to show us how to transform our schools, to revolutionise the teacher’s workload and equip our students for life rather than for exams.

    If school leaders want to implement change and have all the school’s stakeholders putting their shoulder to wheel, including the students, then I find something to do with pedagogy far more engaging and motivating because that’s why I came into the profession.

    Don’t get me wrong, we have to balance the books, we have to train new teachers and manage our resources prudently – but that’s what business managers to do. We are a profession, we need teachers to teach well, we need excellent pedagogy developing and improving, we need motivated students who leave school knowing how to learn and with a hunger to learn and do things for themselves. I often feel I joined a sausage factory which is about economies of scale and frog marching students through a syllabus to ‘get the grade’, when it is so much more than that.

    Frederick Herzberg identified Motivators and Hygiene factors. Good housekeeping is a Hygiene factor, stakeholders expect it to happen but it doesn’t motivate them, it just acts a demotivator when it is done poorly. Motivators take people forward to realise their ambitions and take the whole organisation and its stakeholders to a new level.

    So, school leaders, please give a thought as to what motivates teachers and students when you are doing your 5 year plan.

    • If you look at slide 22 you’ll I argue that collaboration should be a means for transforming how teachers work together to improve their pedagogy – a message reinforced by needing to harness and use the technology skills of young people in approaches to teaching and learning.

  2. Extending teacher training over 3 years is an attractive idea but seems to fly in the face of government policy that teachers need no training whatsoever.

    Collaboration to enable economies of scale sounds a little like LEAs but without the public accountability. The government, by its actions, is clearly against LEAs and local accountability.

    Having MATs is going to work against schools working in local clusters, because MATs are effectively in competition with one another.

    So it seems many of these proposals are directly opposed to current government policy. Are they? Are school leaders likely to fight the government?

    • The fact that the government has allowed unqualified teachers does not mean they do not recognise the need for training. One of our leading headteachers is leading a government-commissioned review on how to implement changes in initial teacher education and I hope my ideas will feed into his thinking. The government knows that better education outcomes will come from having better skilled classroom practitioners.

      Being part of a MAT does not necessarily result in being unable to work with other schools clusters – some MATs are inwards looking but many also recognise the need to engage and work with other schools. And some MATs such as Outwood Grange have taken the lead in openly sharing all their systems and ways of working with other schools.

      I don’t think it is a question of school leaders ‘fighting’ the government as being confident enough to collectively work together and use the their considerable voice and influence to shape the education policy debate.

  3. […] Despite the difficulties incumbent on the role of school leaders, the Institute of Education has published this article as a digest of opportunities available to reframe educational leadership and set it off in a direction which gives learners better opportunities to succeed… Read the article here: The next five years: five key opportunities for school leaders | IOE London Blog […]

  4. […] tools to improve. Robert Hill, from the Institute of education, has written eloquently about the opportunities for school leaders in the next five years – with a series of wise recommendations – but his vision of a self-improving school system […]

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