Cultivating a shared leadership approach

shared leadership amongst middle leaders

Leadership in UK schools has evolved greatly in recent decades, with senior and middle leaders now both playing a shared leadership role in overseeing day-to-day performance and developing whole school policy and vision.

As traditional, top-down – in which head teachers serve as monolithic entities making nearly all decisions and instructing other staff – have given way to more modern structures, it follows that the burden of school leader responsibilities is increasingly shared between capable staff at all levels of the workforce.

The benefits of a more modern, shared leadership approach have been heralded by researchers and campaigners, who view the model as a way not only to boost school performance, but to ensure that these gains are sustainable in the event that a key, senior leader leaves.

Campaigners at the Shared Headship Network say that “shared school leadership will result in head-teachers with more positivity and resilience over the longer-term,” adding that the approach offers an effective way to battle the “headship crisis” that is “expected to worsen over the coming decade” across UK schools. 

A report published by the British Council similarly maintains that “sharing the responsibilities of leadership is essential for success,” urging: “School leadership is too complex to be left to one person, even in small schools.”

Corroborating these recommendations, researchers at the University of Worcester found both a promotion of “shared decision-making” and an insistence that “power and accountability [are] shared and distributed amongst members of the leadership team” to be among the key traits of school leaders classed as “outstanding.” 

Rather than developing leadership capacity in just a concentrated group of senior managers, the model of shared leadership focuses on creating a network of capable and contributing leaders across the school community, allowing schools to both ease pressure on individual leaders and increase employee engagement with school-wide goals.

By instilling a culture of shared leadership and encouraging staff across the workforce to take initiative in shaping the school’s vision and day-to-day priorities, schools can reap manifold benefits for performance: increasing teachers’ motivation and job satisfaction and strengthening relationships between staff and managers. 

Encouraging individual input

In order to implement a successful shared leadership strategy, schools are advised to prioritise the needs and skills of individual people in their workforce rather than implementing a rigid, process-driven management strategy. 

The development of staff skills is crucial to a shared leadership model, as each member of the workforce takes on their own role in advancing the school’s vision and performance objectives. 

Emphasis should therefore be placed on engaging staff with leadership decisions, instilling personal leadership skills and creating a united sense of school vision, rather than on imposing directions from a top-down perspective.

By encouraging staff to take initiative rather than simply wait for direction, schools can create a more dynamic and self-sustaining performance management model, in which teachers raise and resolve issues head-on and managers play more of a supportive than overseeing role.

Schools implementing this approach cite benefits including a reduction in staff turnover – reinforcing statistical evidence which suggests that teachers who are engaged to take control of their own performance are more likely to be motivated, content and effective at work. 

Engaging teachers in school policy and vision necessarily means including them as far as possible in shaping the school vision. 

Research indicates that a sense of personal contribution to an organisation’s overall vision is crucial to ensuring that workers are motivated by personal and school-wide performance objectives and take these fully on board. 

Despite this however, many institutions neglect to include employees in creating work performance goals for either themselves or the wider organisation, with a recent study finding that just 3 in 10 workers strongly agree that their manager involves them in goal setting.

In schools, senior and middle leaders should aim to encourage and incorporate as much input as is reasonable from staff, so as to drive worker motivation and build team unity. 

For some schools, using regular staff surveys to set the agenda of school focus for a short period can be helpful, with head teachers using these briefs to inform strategy for the next month or two weeks. Such exercises emphasise a sense of team-work and can motivate staff effectively. 

Consultation groups and other forms of input collection can also be effective ways to encourage staff contribution, with face-to-face brainstorming sessions providing the added benefit of face time between staff and senior leaders — making teachers feel that their opinions are valued and strengthening inter-departmental communication.

Investing in middle leaders crucial

Inherent in encouraging input from staff at all levels is an adaptation of the role of the head teacher and senior leaders. 

The British Council elaborates: “The sharing of leadership assumes that the school leader, the head teacher, need not have ready answers to all detailed questions about the school – but must have a colleague who does have the answers,” adding: 

“The headteacher’s mission is to create a team capable of supporting all aspects of the school which require development.”

Subject leaders and leaders of year-groups form an integral part of the shared leader model as staff working on the ground with pupils every day, and can be tasked with jobs such as observing, guiding and giving constructive feedback to other teachers, identifying issues that need addressing for further improvement and supporting the members of their team to ensure that they have what they need to perform.

To ensure the success of the model therefore, significant time must be invested into cultivating middle leadership skills, with teachers identified as potential future leaders receiving daily training and guidance from those in leadership roles before taking on their own position.

Responsibility should ideally be slowly increased rather than heaped on at one moment, to both avoid overwhelming staff and ensure that the system operates as efficiently as possible. 

Investing in middle leaders not only helps to achieve school performance goals, but provides extensive CPD opportunities for teaching staff looking to develop their leadership skills and strengthens the overall school workforce, creating a pipeline of experienced leaders within the school ready to take on positions of senior leadership later on.

Whilst subject and middle leaders take on more responsibility in directing school policy and performance, senior leaders must, in turn, take on more of a supportive role, communicating openly with leaders across the school to address any challenges and help maintain performance.  A more inclusive, team-based approach to leadership can help to not only unite staff throughout the school community but also create a school that is efficiently run and overseen at every level – with issues tackled as soon as they arise and performance aims put into practice on a direct, daily, small scale. 

Mental health factored into performance management

Mental health factored into performance management

 Improved mental health support for teachers could become a central element of school performance management strategies, as new research underlines the damage caused to education by teachers’ highly stressful working conditions.

HR professionals have predicted that discussions regarding mental wellness and wellbeing are set to become increasingly common during employee performance check-ups across all industries in general, as societal awareness and acceptance of mental health issues increases.

Mental health is a significant issue across the workforce, with nearly 20% of workers affected by some form of mental health condition.

Problems regarding employee mental health support are particularly acute in schools however , with teachers’ high-pressure working environment, heavy workloads and long working hours leading to high levels of stress, anxiety and depression across the profession.

A 2017 survey conducted by the Education Support Partnership found that 75% of all education staff in the UK had faced physical or mental health issues because of their work, with 53% having considered leaving as a result.

Of those surveyed, nearly a fifth (19%) said that work-related stress had caused them to have panic attacks, while more than half (56%) had experienced insomnia and difficulty sleeping due to school stress.

Beyond causing harm to individual workers’ wellbeing, a working environment which is not conducive to good mental health also inevitably has a severe impact on teacher performance and productivity. 

Some 41% of UK teachers say that work stress has impaired their ability to concentrate, whilst over a quarter (28%) have had to take time off work.

Of those who did take time off work to recover from work-related mental health problems, the majority were absent from work for more than a month as a result.

Whilst teachers cite workload and work-life balance as the key professional causes of harm to their mental health, industry leaders have specifically faulted poor school management practices for failing staff.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, says: “The time has come to end the culture of the “anything goes” style of management where any adverse impact on teachers is regarded as collateral damage.”

He adds that “too many employers are failing to exercise their duty of care for the health and welfare of their employees and are presiding over mental and physical burnout.”

As well as having a positive impact on staff and pupils, improved wellbeing support can improve teacher performance and job satisfaction, in turn reducing staff turnover and absence from work whilst increasing productivity and promoting staff engagement.

To bolster mental health support at work and boost teacher job satisfaction, performance, retention, and wellbeing, school leaders will have to reconsider their overall approach to performance management in order to implement more supportive strategies.
Schools advised to make teachers’ mental health a priority

Improving teacher mental health support will require making mental health a priority in performance management, refocusing manager-teacher relationships to factor teachers’ mental health into discussions of performance and progress.

By reframing teacher-manager relations, schools can help to remove workplace stigma around discussing mental health — a key challenge in tackling professional issues related to staff’s mental wellbeing.

Studies show that a large number of workers are still hesitant to discuss mental health problems in the workplace, with many citing fear of judgement, losing out on professional opportunities and fear of discrimination for this reluctance. 

To ease these concerns, school leaders must implement policies to introduce open, non-judgemental discussions of mental health into routine professional activities such as teacher-manager meetings.

This approach not only builds trust and ties between employees and management, but also encourages teachers to be honest and helps management to provide support more quickly, leaving staff feeling better supported and more valued.

It is advisable that mental health should not just be addressed as a stand-alone issue, but also considered in broader discussions regarding staff performance and progress.

For example, performance appraisals should aim to assess how work stress is impacting an individual’s performance and how this impact could be alleviated — perhaps with reduction of non-essential job duties or additional support.

By taking this approach, schools will be able to both improve and better understand the professional wellbeing of their teachers.

In terms of setting performance goals, rather than focusing on big, overarching annual goals, managers should set smaller, concrete objectives for staff in their appraisals, ensuring that teachers feel their goals are manageable and know where to seek support if they run into difficulty.

Aside from offering mental health specific support, schools can also support teachers’ wellbeing by providing sufficient continuing professional development opportunities for staff — with CPD support shown to increase teacher wellbeing and job satisfaction at all levels.

Results-driven management must be reformed, says research

In addition to altering teacher-manager relationships, a more balanced, mental-health focused approach to performance management will also likely mean moving away from the results-driven mindset currently prevalent in schools.

The intensely competitive, high-pressure emphasis on results in schools is evidenced through the use of strategies like linking teacher bonuses to pupil outcomes.

This approach not only impacts teachers’ stress levels but has also been shown to not be effective, ultimately only ever achieving the aim of improved academic results at heavy costs to staff and student wellbeing.

According to a recent study conducted by educational and psychological experts, the results-driven mindset in UK schools is leading to overly burdened teacher workloads and poorer quality teaching, as focus on paperwork and data collection detracts from lesson preparation and broader learning. 

Teachers interviewed for the study reported feeling that not only their own mental health and performance, but also students’ education, was suffering due to an excessive emphasis on results.

One teacher reported feeling that the results culture meant: “conforming to syllabus and rigour of that syllabus rather than responding to the children,” whilst others reported feeling disillusionment with their role and losing self-esteem due to “impossible” outcome expectations.

According to psychologist Gerry Leavey, results-focused “tension is often internalised and impacts on teachers’ identity,” with teachers having to weigh “taking care of themselves and the non-academic needs of pupils against management duties and targets.”

The Ulster University researcher adds: “Too often, this leads to stress and mental health problems.” 

To remedy this, researcher Dr Barbara Skinner says school leaders must seek to reform their attitudes towards results, advising that the introduction of any “rigidly prescribed organisational and management structures” in schools “should be weighed against their impacts on professional identity and personal well-being.”

Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.

 Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

 To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on  or call 020 3411 1080.

Continuing professional development: an overlooked asset in boosting performance

School leaders are investing less in providing teachers with continuing professional development as budgeting cuts and financial strain lead schools to direct spending towards other areas, new research indicates. 

According to statistics published by the Teachers Development Trust, spending on CPD in schools dropped by £23m year-on-year for the 2016-17 school year. 

Schools in England spend just 0.5% of their budgets on CPD on average, with research revealing that 10.5% of secondary schools and 4.5% of primary schools spent no money at all on continuing professional development in 2016-17.

The Department for Education cites CPD provision as an essential element in bolstering school success and urges that “professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.”

Yet financial strain appears to preventing schools from offering CPD activities, with a government teacher survey last year finding cost to be the most commonly cited barrier to teachers accessing effective CPD.

The lack of quality development opportunities available to teachers as a result is noted by the OECD, which states that “the quality and nature of continuing training available [in UK schools] is very uneven”. 

91% of teachers affirmed that the were prevented by barriers including cost and workload from accessing continuing professional development in a Department for Education survey last year.

This lack of access is particularly concerning given that widespread research has confirmed the benefits of CPD, with statistics showing strong links between CPD provision and improvements in pupil outcomes, staff morale and retention rates.

An extensive 15 year study on learning influences by University of Auckland professor John Hattie found CPD to be in the top 20 most influential elements in improving pupil outcomes out of 138 practices analysed.

In order to reap the benefits of professional development provision whilst adhering to a tight school budget, school leaders must be selective in finding good value and cost-free approaches to incorporate CPD opportunities into their management systems.

Choosing the right training 

One key criticism often levelled at CPD as a strategy is the broadness of the term. 

Comprising any activity that helps workers develop their skills and knowledge, and enhance their professional practice, CPD can take a vast range of forms in schools — from accreditation courses, training and workshops, to in-school mentoring schemes and peer group exchanges. 

A CPD strategy can encompass on one hand activities as small-scale as individual teacher reading and reflection and on the other involve intra-school visits, education conferences and widescale network collaboration.

As a result, the sort of strategy chosen by a school is hugely significant to CPD’s effectiveness in terms of both results and time and cost efficiency.

TDT chief executive David Weston warns that “a large swathe of training has no effect whatsoever on pupil outcomes,” adding: 

“The training most schools choose is often poorly chosen and ineffective, and the evidence about how to fix this is not widely known or understood.”

Research shows that CPD is most effective when it is targeted, evidence-based, collaborative, sustained over time and subjected to periodic evaluations. 

In particular, collaborative techniques such as implementing networks for topic-specific best practice sharing both within and across schools can be very effective in improving pupil outcomes.

These networks offer a low-cost way to bolster professional development and staff support and strengthen ties between colleagues, pooling resources and uniting staff on common goals in areas like special educational needs, maths and English teaching.

One MAT head notes that implementing system leader networks “reduces our resource needs by creating a synergy and network of people working together.”

This activity in particular provides staff with an opportunity to build their leadership and initiative skills, fostering the next generation of school leaders and improving job satisfaction.

In addition, collaborative efforts can be surprisingly time effective, with technology allowing networks to communicate remotely and for free via chat groups. 

Time efficiency is another key concern in prioritising CPD strategies, with many school leaders reluctant to add to staff’s heavy workloads with mandatory courses or trialling of new teaching methods.  

In its 2018 school snapshot survey report, the Department for Education found that 51% of over 1,000 teachers surveyed did not feel they had time to take up significant professional development activities such as courses.

Therefore when selecting their CPD offerings, it is imperative that schools focus on those that maximise time efficiency alongside cost considerations.

Incorporating CPD into existing performance management strategies, such as via 360 degrees performance appraisals, is one option.

Additionally, schools are advised to ensure that their chosen CPD offerings dovetail as neatly as possible with the school’s specific development goals, so that time spent on development has a tangible impact on improving outcomes and doesn’t feel to teachers like a gratuitous additional activity.

External experts and evaluations

Whilst in-school strategies such as peer networks and incorporating CPD into existing performance management policies offer cost-effective and time-effective results, research suggests that offering teachers some training from external experts is important and can significantly boost CPD’s effectiveness.

External experts offer not just evidence-based training and insight, but also bring a fresh perspective from outside of the school to identify and correct bad habits which may have become widespread across a school.

When choosing workshops and courses, schools are advised to be selective — aiming for a few, well-chosen, longer term courses directly related to practical school development objectives rather than a wide array of one-off workshops on a variety of subjects.

Research suggests that schools can achieve better results with training which takes place over a sustained period of time and which is more hands-on in nature, in part because allowing teachers to practice new skills is crucial to enforcing new techniques.

One-off sessions and out-of-school events such as conferences are therefore less likely to have an impact on teaching quality than more personalised, hands-on courses where smaller groups of teachers receive training support over an extended period of time. 

For similar reasons, training should be as targeted as possible, concentrating on a small set of focuses to allow teachers to thoroughly extend their knowledge and key skills on a specific subject and to practice what they learn during sessions.

Analysts advise against superficial focus on ‘tips and tricks’ and bought-in lesson plans, as such techniques are less likely to build teachers’ own skills and confidence and so improve the long term quality of their teaching.

In addition, school management should strive to evaluate the effectiveness and progress of CPD offerings should after training is delivered. 

Whilst this may in the short term add time and cost to the process, in the long-term such evaluation is key to ensuring that a school’s CPD provision is as streamlined and effective as possible. 

At the moment, only 3% of UK secondary schools evaluate the impact of CPD on student outcomes and attainment, promoting a scattershot, inefficient, hit-and-miss approach to training investments and making it difficult to know which offerings are truly proving to be the most valuable.


Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.

 Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

 To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on  or call 020 3411 1080.

1 in 2 school leaders term inspections ineffective

Schools in England are no longer to be punished for failing to meet standards in national exams or tests, thanks to policy reforms pledged by the government.

 The measure was amongst those unveiled by Education Secretary Damian Hinds last year, as part of the Department for Education’s new strategy to boost teacher recruitment and retainment levels.

 School leaders and education unions alike have welcomed the change, which will remove what many saw as the double jeopardy nature of floor and coasting standards.

By not classing schools as ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’ based on pupil outcomes in national tests, the new policy removes an assessment burden which many criticised for targeting schools without regard to contextual factors.

 The National Association of Head Teachers has long campaigned against floor and coasting standards, with general secretary Paul Whiteman stating:

 “[The] standards added unnecessary stress and uncertainty without ever helping the process of school improvement. School leaders will be pleased to see the back of them.”

 In lieu of the floor standards, only the results of Ofsted inspections will be used to force intervention strategies on schools, such as a change in management.

The changes however highlight broader issues with approaches to school evaluation and inspections as a whole, with Ofsted also recently coming under fire for failing to help school improvement. 

 Last year, a report from the National Audit Office found that less than half of head teachers felt that their latest Ofsted inspection had led to any improvement at their school, despite the inspectorate’s guiding principle to be a “force for improvement” in education.

 Some school leaders feel that the formal accountability system suffers due to its overly critical approach, as a result promoting competition rather than collaboration between schools and deterring honest, constructive dialogue regarding improvement.

 Instead, research increasingly suggests that a more supportive, less punitive approach to school evaluations is needed.

 To implement effective evaluation and accountability tactics, schools may benefit from pursuing additional evaluates, harnessing more informal, collaborative and supportive options to take control of their own performance.

Peer reviews offer assessment alternative

 For schools looking to go beyond inspectorate feedback, incorporating more  informal, lateral modes of evaluation may bring a helpful, new dimension to accountability.

 For example, schools may benefit from implementing peer review and mutual accountability strategies, which have proven in several studies to be a more effective driver of school improvement than traditional top-down inspections.

 Implementing supplementary lateral school assessment systems can not only bring a fresh perspective to assessments from other school leaders, but can also help to develop management skills within the school staff force and boost schools’ support networks by promoting collaboration between institutions.

 The NAHT’s Accountability Commission has advocated for peer review programmes to be more widely used in schools, holding that the strategy has significant benefits for both schools’ accountability systems and pupil outcomes.

In order to implement an effective peer review system, school management teams should ensure that the reviews remain improvement-focused and are as independent as possible.

School leaders should not only ensure that their peer reviews are led by an individual without any vested interest in the outcome, but also by fellow leaders who are detached enough from the school and its environment to be able to appraise its performance objectively.

 To maximise the benefits of the collaborative, communicative aspect of peer reviews however, schools should also ensure that their own management works with the external peer review team and joins them in the assessment process.

 By pairing external reviewers with in-school colleagues, schools can allow their own leaders an opportunity to gain insight into and analyse the daily workings of the school and provide opportunity for in-depth dialogue between the pairs of leaders, inviting detailed, thorough discussions on the institution’s performance and what can be done to improve outcomes.

 Peer review networks provide insight and CPD opportunities

 To equip reviewers to assess other institutions, schools should provide a short training workshop in self-evaluation and review for participants.

 The review should be informed by the school’s identified priorities and documented with both oral feedback during the visit and written feedback afterwards, focusing on performance strengths and weaknesses.

 When factoring academic results into performance assessments, reviewers should ensure to be as holistic as possible, focusing on contextual value added rather than simply assessing crude exam results without reference to the school’s background or specific challenges.

 As well as informal feedback, peer reviewers should ideally provide a thorough action plan after the review in a report that both offers practical solutions and highlights key themes for improvement of the school’s current performance.

 In order to encourage further, continuing collaboration and strategic planning dialogue between schools, institutions working together on peer reviews should make sure to hold a follow-up meeting to discuss their progress and offer advice for any pitfalls that may have been encountered in implementing the action plan.

 The room for constructive, in-depth and informed dialogue between schools and their peers on improvement tactics gives peer reviews a uniquely helpful perspective on school assessment, separate from either internal self-assessment or external inspections.

 Schools report “valu[ing] the experience of other colleagues looking at our organisation and identified areas.”

 At the same time, the technique also builds leadership and performance management skills within a school’s existing workforce, allowing staff to gain experience in leading evaluations as well as providing them with continuing professional development opportunities through peer review training.

 Those who participate in school peer review initiative frequently report valuing the experience for this benefit, with one governor stating:

 “As a reviewer, I felt it developed my skills to gather, collect and analyse information in a short time frame…I feel I have developed skills on how to give feedback in a constructive way at a higher level than I have done before.”

 The development of leadership and evaluating skills within a school’s own workforce will likely have a positive impact on school performance in its own right and and helps strengthen the pipeline of leaders for senior positions within the school.

Improving Performance Management

 Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.

Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on  or call 020 3411 1080.