Raising Standards Together

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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Professional learning


The professional learning journey


Professional learning and leadership

There is clear evidence to show that the quality of teaching and leadership are key drivers to improve learning and raise standards (Hattie, 2008). Leaders are important at all levels, including department, area, year-group, or senior management team (SMT). The OECD report ‘Improving Schools in Wales’ (OECD, 2014) makes reference to ‘decisional capital’, the decision-making capacity of educational leaders. Increasing decisional capital within organisations helps to make them more effective, and hence development activities that enhance professional judgement and leadership potential are very important.

What makes a good leader? Leadership styles vary, but there are several key attributes and indicators of quality leadership within education. These are summarized in the section on ‘leadership standards’ within the Revised professional standards for education practitioners in Wales [.pdf]. These standards feature the following key areas.

  • Creating strategic direction: leaders have the ability and foresight to steer their area or organization towards greater success.
  • Leading learning and teaching: leaders have the knowledge and experience to understand the strategies and techniques for effective learning and teaching, and have the skills to model and disseminate best practice.
  • Developing and working with others: leaders are good communicators who nurture the professional learning of colleagues.
  • Managing the school: leaders are able to manage effectively the many systems within their organizations, including financial systems.
  • Securing accountability: leaders take responsibility for key decisions and initiatives.
  • Strengthening the community focus: leaders understand and strengthen the role of their organization within the community.

These key areas are echoed by a CfBT report on Successful leadership (Day and Sammons, 2013), which looks at models of effective educational leadership within the UK and across the world. This report differentiates between leading and managing: management is very important, but leading goes beyond this as indicated in the following figure.

Figure 5.2.1: Differences between leading and managing (adapted from Day and Sammons, 2013)
Figure 5.2.1: Differences between leading and managing (adapted from Day and Sammons, 2013)

The CfBT report goes on to indicate important skills sets that prospective leaders should strive to develop:

  • influencing skills, e.g. motivating people, negotiating, public speaking and entrepreneurial
  • learning skills, e.g. rapid reading, thinking skills, information processing and anticipation
  • facilitating skills, e.g. listening, recognising potential, team building, building alliances
  • creative skills, e.g. envisioning, inspiring, empowering and aligning.

Some good examples of how these skills have been put into practice within Wales can be found on the Estyn (external link), and a specific example is presented in the following activity.

Activity 5.2.1

Read the case study on Penllegaer Primary School, Swansea, (external link), which you can find on the Estyn website and respond to the points below.

  • Which strategies adopted by the new headteacher at the school were found to be particularly beneficial?
  • Have you had experience of any of these approaches in your organisation?
  • How could this example relate to your development?

In Activity 5.2.2, you will find out about the experiences and perspectives of educational leaders from both primary and secondary schools.

Activity 5.2.2

In this activity, senior managers from schools in the Llanelli area discuss key elements of practitioners’ professional learning journeys, and steps towards leadership.

  • Watch the video of Alison Bevan, Deputy Head at Ysgol Bryngwyn, Llanelli. Then watch the video of Helen Wynne, Headteacher of Ysgol y Felin, Felinfoel. How does your situation relate to any of the key development elements mentioned by the two speakers? 
  • Which steps towards leadership discussed have you already taken? If you are aiming towards leadership in some form, how have the views of Helen and Alison helped you to think about what you should do next?
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Further support for leadership skills is available via the National Leadership Development Board, established  by the Welsh Government to promote school leadership programmes. A publication [.pdf] produced by the board makes particular provision for middle managers, and suggests attributes that can help practitioners make judge whether they are currently at a ‘middle leadership’ standard of professional development. This is the focus of Activity 5.2.3.

Activity 5.2.3

Download and read 'Leadership development – provision for middle leaders [.pdf]'. It is worth reading the whole of the document, but in this activity we will focus on page 4, entitled ‘Who are our ‘middle leaders’?’, and answer the questions below.

  • How can we recognize excellence in learning and teaching?
  • How does excellence in learning and teaching link to research evidence?
  • What is the role of data within a school or other educational organisation?
  • Why are strong inter-personal skills important?
  • Why is it important to develop resilience?

Additionally, you might like to gauge your own situation and performance against the list of attributes on page 4: have you already reached ‘middle leader’ point or beyond? What more do you need to do to get there?

The report Leadership development – provision for middle leaders (Welsh Government, 2014) makes some suggestions for activities that could support professional learning towards leadership. Figure 5.2.2 summarises some of these activities, and you might like to think about the extent you have already engaged in these, or how you could engage further.

Figure 5.2.2: Activities to undertake to enhance leadership potential
Figure 5.2.2: Activities to undertake to enhance leadership potential

You can record and review any activities of this sort that you may have experienced, and future learning that may help you develop as a leader, in the Welsh Government’s Individual leadership review (IRL). Practitioners can use the ILR matrix to review their practice against the leadership standards, indicating where they can already demonstrate evidence. The ILR matrix also allows practitioners to reflect on their practice so that they can plan appropriate development activities to strengthen their evidence.

A further source of ideas about the development of educational leaders can be found in the McKinsey report (McKinsey, 2007) that we looked at within Topic 4, and we return to this report within Activity 5.2.4.

Activity 5.2.4

Turn to the 2007 report brought out by McKinsey and Company, entitled 'How the worlds best-performing schools come out on top' (external link), and turn, in particular, to page 31 and ‘exhibits’ 19 and 20. Respond to the points below.

  • List three elements of the training programme for school principals implemented in Singapore. Which of those elements might be most useful for you?
  • What sort of support is provided for new principals in Boston, and how could it benefit new headteachers and other leaders in educational organisations in Wales?

When you have reached the point of meeting all the leadership standards, are in a senior role already, and are confident that you are ready for headship, you should consider undertaking the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) programme. The NPQH is not a taught programme but an approach to senior leadership development which expects candidates to have gained considerable leadership experience throughout their careers. This competitive approach to developing and identifying future headteachers involves the accumulation and assessment of evidence of headship potential, and is a mandatory step prior to taking a headship role. You can find out a lot more about the programme and qualification on Learning Wales.

Effective educational leaders are fully aware not only of their own organisations, but of issues and developments within Wales, the UK, and beyond which may impact on their roles and the achievement of their learners. Activity 5.2.5 provides an opportunity to reflect on this further, and to consider where you might have gaps in your knowledge.

Activity 5.2.5

The video shows Professor David Egan, Director of the Centre for Equity in Education, who highlights some of the key current priorities for education in Wales. Listen to the recording, and make a note of any points raised that might affect your learners, and which you feel you need to find out more about (more information on the Wales Centre for Equality in Education (external link) website.

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