Five Things About School Leadership

What makes a great school leader? Here are five ideas.

With great teachers and brilliant leaders, schools will thrive. We want a fair education for all, where schools facing the biggest challenges get the best support.

Alongside excellent teaching, it is strong leadership that will get us there.  Nothing else will have as much influence on children’s achievement.

We know that schools with strong leadership are ten times more likely to improve at their next inspection. But how to define strong leadership? It is something we are thinking about, so watch this space. What is emerging is a series of tangible things that, if done well, will make a difference.

So here are five things that the best school leaders we know are good at. We think about these things in the design of our programmes.

1.    Implementation

Schools are non-stop. Staff are all working incredibly hard for their pupils. Planning for pupil learning is complicated, with lots of moving parts.

So it is not just about having a good idea-it’s about making it stick. Implementation is all about putting ideas into action.

The EEF description in their implementation guidance for schools is spot on: “in our collective haste to do better for pupils, new ideas are often introduced with too little consideration for how the changes will be managed and what steps are needed to maximise the chances of success”.

It is important to have a focus on evidence-informed ideas, and then what evidence tells us about putting these into action:  – identify and check the need, plan to address it, prepare, do and refine those plans, and then sustain and learn.

2.    Prioritising

The other side of the coin to good implementation is prioritising. Implementing change takes time, focus and support. Most professional learning and significant changes to practice will take at least two terms before they set in and start having any impact on pupils. It’s just not possible to implement a long string of things both quickly and well.

There is little, if anything, in schools that is unimportant. Better to do a few things well and with impact, than to try and fix everything but with limited success.

3.    Curriculum

What children learn is at the heart of what schools do. Therefore one of the most important jobs a leader can do is lead an effective curriculum. Middle leaders need rigorous subject expertise whilst senior leaders must set a coherent curriculum that will underpin teaching, learning and, assessment – the core work of the school.

Exploring what makes an effective curriculum, and what makes effective leadership of this, is central in our approach to school leadership.

4.    The science of learning

How and what children learn are interlinked so the science of learning should be part of how leaders consider curriculum. And having a strong understanding of cognitive science is important for any school leader; they need to be expert in the very business of schools.

It is essential to  ensure that leaders spend time exploring the science of learning, evaluating how well it underpins practice and approaches in their schools, and developing what their leadership of the science of learning will look like.

5.    Professional development

Finally, we know that great professional development is important for teacher retention, self-efficacy and satisfaction. But more than that, it is also a critical part of ensuring great pupil outcomes, and it is often a stage of leading any change or improvement.

Yet we know that lots of CPD is not as effective as it could be. Leaders can play a big role in solving this. They can plan great professional learning and consider the culture and environment of their schools. All of which make a difference to how a teacher develops and improves.

Great school leaders need to include a focus on what makes great professional learning and how to make that happen in different contexts. They should also focus on the evaluation of professional learning. If you don’t evaluate, you can’t sustain and embed the changes.

Final words

If we’re to build a fair education for all, we need to develop a growing pipeline of school leaders able to lead thriving schools, for the benefit of their staff, pupils and community.

Author: Graihagh Crawshaw and Bridget Clay

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