Raising Standards Together

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Masters in Educational Practice: Numeracy learning pack


Contexts for learning and teaching


The role of leadership in improving standards in numeracy


In their booklet, ‘Success and Sustainability: Developing the strategically focused school’ (external link), Davies, Davies and Ellison (National College for School Leadership), focus on how schools build on good short-term school improvement planning and address the issues of both sustainability and of building capacity and capability in the longer-term (p.3).

The challenge for schools in Wales is how to effectively manage current provision, while concurrently developing and improving educational provision for children in the future. The launch of the National Literacy Programme (NLP) and the National Numeracy Programme (NNP) requires leaders to put plans in place which will enable their schools to make significant educational improvements. This will involve addressing the needs of learners, staff and the wider community.

It will include, amongst others, a focus on:

  • leadership, management and managing change
  • policy development
  • learning and teaching
  • curriculum planning and resourcing
  • school culture and environment
  • partnerships
  • continuing professional development
  • assessing, recording and reporting achievement and outcomes.

This sub-topic deals with strategic processes, approaches and leadership in schools and other educational settings. It is followed by a sub-topic which focuses specifically upon the implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF).

Developing a strategically-focused school

The most common view of strategy is that it involves setting the direction for the school. It is the process of providing a coherent way of translating the core moral purpose of the school and its values into action, influenced by a futures perspective and vision.
(Davies et al, date unknown, p.7)

Davies and Ellison (2013) identify a three-strand planning model (below) which emphasises the iterative and complex process of school improvement planning which requires both a strategic and operational approach. They also underline the importance of the three strands not being distinct from each other, rather that they are part of a holistic framework which aims to achieve short-term and longer-term success.

  1. A ‘futures’ perspective (5–10 years) 
    Looking ‘outside’ of the school and looking forward, analysing broad trends and considering the possible impact of changing contexts (e.g. changing economy, educational reform, the impact of technology).
  2. A ‘strategic’ dimension (3–5 years)  
    A broad, medium-term strategy which considers important or key issues that the school is likely to face and how it might prepare for and cope with change.
  3. Operational ‘action’ planning (1–2 years) 
    A detailed, short-term plan with specified activities and measurable outcomes which supports the achievement of learner targets.
The Planning Time Dimensions
The Planning Time Dimensions (Davies et al, date unknown) based on Davies and Ellison (2003).

Davies and Davies (2003) refer to the concept of ‘strategic flow’. This begins with ‘strategic analysis’ of the school and its environment to identify possible courses of action. These courses of action will then fall into one of the two following categories.

  1. Strategic planning.
  2. Strategic intent.

Davies, Davies and Ellison (p.52) define strategic planning as ‘you know where you want to go and you know how to get there’. This school knows where it wants to go, understands how to get there, has the organisational capability and capacity to do so, and will be able to evaluate its outcomes.  

Strategic intent is ‘knowing broadly where you want go but not how to get there’, but (arguably, most importantly), with a commitment and determination to ‘find out.  This indicates the need to go through a process of building capacity and capability in order to significantly improve the school’s performance. In this instance, the school will have to work out how to establish a process that will enable it to achieve its ‘intents’.

Activity 4.08

  1. In his foreword to Davies and Ellison’s (2013) text, Hopkins (2013) encourages the reader to consider the following question.
    For a child starting in nursery in 2013 (or a learner starting secondary school), what outcomes would you wish to see for this individual in five or ten years’ time (i.e. a ‘futures’ perspective)?
    What would ‘strategic’ planning do for this child/learner? Consider how schools might translate their core values and purpose into longer-term actions which will, in turn, affect ‘individual’ learners.
  2. Consider your own setting (school/college) in relation to the introduction of the National Literacy and Numeracy Programmes.
  • Does it know where it wants to go? Does it understand how to get there? Does it have the organisational capability and capacity to do so? Does it have mechanisms in place for evaluating outcomes?


  • Does it need first need to develop a way to build capacity and capability in order to ensure that the requirements of the National Literacy and Numeracy Programmes are met and outcomes for learners will be improved?

Building capacity and capability

Effective leadership is about building capacity and capability in order to shape a successful and sustainable future. In successful schools, this involves three components.

  1. Strategic processes.
  2. Strategic approaches.
  3. Strategic leadership.

(Davies et al, date unknown).  

1.  Strategic processes

The four strategic processes examined by Davies, Davies and Ellison are summarised below.

Conceptualising Engaging the people Artticulating the strategy
Implementing the strategy
Reflecting: Reflection on where the school is and what is happening in the wider environment Strategic conversation: Engaging the wider staff in discussions about core values and issues, and the longer-term of the school Oral: (Linked to strategic conservations) Focuses on effective communication of the chosen strategic approach to stakeholders Translating strategy into action Focusing on a limited number of strategic objectives and translating these into shorter-term activities. Leaders ensure regular engagement with the strategy and it forms part of a continuous process of review and development
Strategic thinking: Trying to understand what should happen (ie how to reach the future 'vision'for the school Strategic participation: Participation in the strategic direction of the school by a larger group of staff (e.g. widening the leadership aspects of middle management roles Written: A written strategic document which is separate to the short-term development/improvement plan and is 'ongoing' and 'adaptive' in its form Strategic alignment: Staff commitment to and alignment with the strategy, reconciling individual and organisational perspectives
Analysing and synthesising: The interaction of reflection and strategic thinking with analysis of additional information, leading to a 'synthesis' of ideas Strategic motivation: Using strategic conservations to support participation and motivation Structural: The manner in which organisational arrangements are set up to reflect the strategic purpose (ie separate to 'operational' planning or reviews) Sequential and parallel actions: A linear, sequential approach to development (ie Moving forward when one set of improvement has been achieved). Parallel sets of development aim to extend the current effective ways of working whilst building capability and capacity for new developments and the shift to a new way of working
Constructiog mental models: Creating a model or map of what is understood that provides the basis for discussion and action Strategic capability: Building capability to meet current and future challenges through strategic conversation, participation and motivation Strategic timing and abandonment: Balancing when individuals are ready for change, against the organisation's need for change and when external factors force the change. 'Abandoning' other things in order to provide time and space to undertake the new activity
Strategic processes

Research by Professor Brent Davies suggests that ‘strategic conversations’ play a significant role in transforming schools (date unknown, p.9). In his article, ‘Sustaining Deep Leadership’ (external link) he defines strategic conversations as being those that’ move away from the day-to-day operational matters and move on to the fundamental discussions of the nature and direction of the school’.  He states that it is reasonable to conclude that through interactions between individuals within a school setting, ‘a unique and powerful perspective can be developed to enhance the school’. The way in which ‘conversations’ are developed is critical in:

  • establishing a common vocabulary
  • understanding how individuals could make things happen
  • consensus building
  • outlining individual visions
  • building reflection
  • keeping everyone involved
  • carrying everyone forward.

Activity 4.09

‘Culture’ is a very important dynamic and central to sustainable transformation (Crossley and Corbyn, 2005). ‘Engaging the people’ is a key process in creating a culture which is positive, responsive and prepared for change.

  • Is your workplace culture responsive to change? In what ways? Could this be improved? How?
  • What formal and informal ‘strategic conversations’ occur in your setting? How and when do these take place? Who is involved?
  • How might strategic conversations within each school support the Welsh Government’s long-term goal of improving numeracy standards for all learners so that they leave school equipped with the numeracy skills they need for life? Consider the processes of ‘strategic participation’, ‘strategic motivation’ and ‘strategic capability’ listed above.

2.  Strategic approaches

Davies et al (date unknown, p.43) reflect upon four approaches used by successful schools to implement strategy. These are based upon a number of assumptions which are summarised here.

Strategic approach Assumption
Strategic planning Some activities can be predictable and can be planned for in advance
Emergent strategy Schools can learn by doing and reflection. From this, successes can be turned into a strategic framework for the future
Strategic intent The school knows it wants to develop specific areas, but does not know how. The school will build capability and work out solutions to this as part of a 'learning journey'.
Devolved strategy This occurs when senior leaders set the broad direction for the school, but devolves responsibility for the detailed strategy to others in the school
Strategic approaches
Strategic Approaches diagram
Strategic Approaches model – Davies et al (date unknown, p.44)

Strategic planning in successful schools occurs when schools distinguish between shorter-term planning (i.e. operational improvement or development planning) and a strategic plan. The latter has a broader perspective and only deals with a number of key issues or themes which are critical for school success and improvement over a longer timeframe. This is a proactive planning process.

In contrast, emergent strategy ‘occurs in a situation where the school is required to take on a new initiative’ (Davies et al. date unknown, p.50). The school might not have the knowledge or expertise of how to proceed and learn ‘by doing’ through a ‘trial and error’ approach. This is a reactive planning process.

Strategic intent involves the school planning from the starting point of having a broad understanding of what it wants to achieve. For example, developing a ‘high performance culture’ across the school (School Effectiveness Framework (2008)). In order to achieve this strategic ‘intent’, the organisation might need to tackle ‘deep-seated cultural change’ (date unknown, p.52) by building capability and capacity.  This will require it to develop understanding and solutions through investigation and reflection.

Devolved strategy involves ‘decentralisation’  . Leaders ensure that there is a clear framework for articulating values and goals, but others within the organisation who have the expertise provide the detailed strategy (e.g. key stage/phase leaders, subject specialists).  

It is emphasised by Davies et al that schools might use different strategic approaches in different situations (date unknown, p.59), depending upon the challenges and possibilities which face schools.

Activity 4.10

Reflect upon your own school/educational setting.

  • Do you recognise any of the strategic approaches described above as currently being used?
  • Describe the context in which the strategic approach occurred.
  • How did this approach emerge? What happened? How is it affecting you? How is it affecting others? What are its intended outcomes?

3.  Strategic leadership

Five activities which are undertaken by effective strategic leaders are identified by Davies et al (date unknown, p.75).

  • Setting the direction of the school.
  • Translating strategy into action.
  • Aligning the people, the organisation and the strategy.
  • Determining effective strategic intervention points (ie not only knowing what to do and how to do it, but knowing ‘when’ and what not to do).
  • Developing strategic capabilities in the school.

A further five key characteristics of strategic leaders are also identified. They:

  • challenge and question
  • prioritise their own strategic thinking and learning and develop their own and others’ understanding
  • display strategic wisdom based upon a clear set of values (this includes balancing the potential effects of ideas of change on themselves, other staff and learners in both the short and longer-term)
  • have powerful personal and professional networks
  • have high-quality personal and interpersonal skills.

Activity 4.11

Having studied some of the key findings of Davies et al’s research (Success and Sustainability: Developing the strategically-focused school) in this sub-topic, identify three key learning points and reflect upon these in your professional reflective journal.

  • Has your perspective on the role of leadership in improving standards changed? If so, how?
  • Has your view of what a ‘whole-school approach’ to improving standards in numeracy changed? If so, how?

Strategic processes and approaches provide a framework to develop strategic leadership abilities. Integral to these processes and approaches is the focus upon developing the strategic leadership abilities of a wider group of staff. This idea will now be further explored in the following section.

Distributed leadership

Within the McKinsey Report (2007, p.71), it underlines the central importance of ‘effective leadership’ in improving outcomes for learners. Harris (2008, p. 4) suggests that schools need to ‘alter structures, redefine boundaries and remove barriers that prevent broad-based involvement of the many rather than the few in leadership’ if capacity and capability is to be released. Distributed leadership  is concerned with ‘how’ leadership occurs within a learning organisation and how it is further enhanced and developed. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that ‘distributed leadership’ is able to effect organisational change and development, and improve outcomes for learners.

Activity 4.12

View this presentation on distributed school leadership (external link) and this ‘Distributed Leadership’ (external link) video clip by Professor Alma Harris in which she explains the term ‘distributed leadership’ and its potential to change schools and improve standards, with its focus on engaging the many, rather than the few, in leadership activity. Now consider the following questions.

  • Who leads in your setting?
  • What challenges might distributed leadership pose and how might these be overcome? Is it always a good thing?
  • How might the implementation of the LNF provide opportunities for teachers to ‘lead’?
  • How is your school responding to the implementation of the National Literacy and National Numeracy Programmes? Are all staff involved? Is leadership ‘distributed’? If so, what impact is this having on (i) curriculum provision (ii) teaching and (iii) learning?

Now view the following video of Tŷ Sign Primary School in which the school’s senior leadership team discusses whole school implementation of the LNF. Reflect upon points of interest in relation to the content of this topic.

Unable to play video as javascript is disabled on this browser. Please enable javascript to play video.

Now read Leading System Transformation (external link) by Harris (2010) and consider how ‘interdependent practice’ is being developed in Wales in order to build capacity within and between schools.

  • Is good practice in developing numeracy practices being shared beyond your setting? If so, how? If not, what do you think the reasons are for this? How might these issues be overcome?
  • How might participation in a professional learning community (PLC), for example, support the development of numeracy practices in yours and others’ schools?
    (For further information on PLCs, refer to subtopic ‘4.8 Practitioner development and training’)
  • How will the National Support Programme support the development of a whole-school approach to improving learner outcomes in numeracy? Reflect upon the information provided in subtopic ‘4.5 The National Support Programme’ of this topic.
  • How can sustainable whole school numeracy practices be achieved?

Further reading

Crossley, D. and Corbyn, G. (2006) Learn to Transform.  London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

In an evaluation of twenty schools associated with the Raising Achievement Transforming Learning Programme (RATLP) (external link), Harris, Allen and Goodall (2008) identify three types of ‘lever’ integral to the process of school transformation.


Decentralisation – responsibility for providing details of the strategy might be delegated to others.

Distributed leadership – leadership shared and extended within and between organisations (Harris 2008).


Davies, B. and Davies, B. J. (2003) ‘Strategy and planning in schools, in Davies, B. and West-Burnham, J. (Eds) Handbook of Educational Leadership and Management.  London: Pearson.

Davies, B. and Ellison, L. (2013) The New Strategic Direction and Development of the School: Key Frameworks for school improvement planning (2nd Edition). London: Routledge.

Davies, B., Davies, B.J. and Ellison, L. (date unknown) Success and Sustainability: Developing the strategically-focused school. Nottingham: National College for School Leadership.

Harris, A. (2008) Distributed School Leadership: Developing tomorrow’s leaders.  Oxon: Routledge.

Harris, A. (2009) Distributed School Leadership: Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders [PowerPoint slides]. Essex: Author.

Harris, A. (2010) Leading System Transformation. (accessed 7 October 2013).

McKinsey and Company (2007). How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top. (online) (accessed 7 October 2013).

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