How do we go about improving schools?

Creating a Climate for Continued Improvement to Learning and Leadership

Developing successful deep leadership across a school or federation is, in part, an act of ongoing learning. Teaching staff need to expand their repertoire of pedagogical tools to make lessons engaging in differing contexts, to deepen children’s skills and understandings, to prepare them for a life time of learning. Teachers, quite simply, need to be learners themselves. Administrators and support staff need to adapt their skills and resourcefulness to the changing needs of partnership in times of economic hardship, whilst Children’s Centre staff and inter-agency partners need to collaborate and dig even deeper to intervene more effectively than ever before. As leaders we should put this new learning at the heart of the school or federation and be relentless in its pursuit for all.

How this is realised, I have illustrated below. In short, whether for children or adults, learning is best and deepest if it is facilitated by deep experiences, buoyed by deep support mechanisms and nurtured through deep leadership.

Deep support drives standards when instead of the OfSTED clipboard after-the-event-feedback model of observation or performance management, colleagues are mentored towards improvement. This real-time coaching involves intervening at the point of learning for staff, just as teachers do for pupils. By working with mentors who help them to hone their skills whilst actually performing their job, staff are able to achieve higher standards quicker, in a less threatening process, with more bespoke delivery for their context. This is the very heart of schools: mentors and mentees both benefit from the giving and receiving of expert guidance as critical friends. Mentors accordingly come from schools of all sorts, thus eliminating any notion of inequality. As staff skills develop, the model shifts from mentoring to coaching, where instead of offering advice, coaches help colleagues to navigate their own route to solutions. This transformation places autonomy and personal responsibility at the heart of the support process and as such is ideal for soft federations.

Deep support demands of staff a commitment to deep learning by assessing and challenging their own practice, learning from the best practitioners nationally and internationally, in order to refine and hone their skills. In this sense it respects the reflective practitioner’s voice, giving them greater responsibility but also greater accountability to achieve our aims.

Inspiring a Collective Community Effort to Social and Economic Development

In order to reach disenfranchised families we need to have a deep experience and understanding of the challenges they face. The success of a school or federation’s aim to raise leaders and deliver outcomes will be determined by the depth of the staff’s understanding of these challenges.  The work of extended services is vital to this aspect of our social understanding and systemic emotional intelligence, as is our staff’s face to face contact with families. We should know our families and be known by them and this is achieved by expanding the public profile and accessibility of all staff, including the Executive  or Headteacher, in the playground, church, workplace or homes.

To support staff in their engagement with our families’ needs we must provide the very best CPD from within and beyond education,  but we must also see the impact of that training in the effectiveness of our leadership across the school or federation. Each member of our organisations can exercise leadership in their area of expertise when positively supported and encouraged, and we should distribute leadership to individuals and teams across the entire organisation to reflect our expectations for the very highest levels of commitment to raising standards and increasing life opportunities.


Coaching and mentoring, leadership programmes, high quality CPD and a challenging yet supportive distributed leadership culture will all contribute to the development of schools and federations. However, sustaining this drive will be determined by each individual’s sense of ‘having made a difference’ to each child in each place. As leaders we should work tirelessly to enable each member of the school or federation to see and be inspired by the essential part they played in making a difference together to children’s lives.


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