Developing subject-specialisms in middle leaders

Nov. 28, 2018
James Toop

Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching

For school leaders to be confident that they’re making the best bets to deliver impact for their pupils, it’s crucial that the development of their staff is backed up by the most robust evidence.

After being awarded a grant from the government’s Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund (TLIF) to deliver our Teaching Leaders programme, we’re now hard at work designing the detail of the curriculum. 

We’re building on the highest-impact elements of the current programme with the most up-to-date evidence of what works for middle leader development.

Our early challenge was making headway amidst all of the already published evidence: what’s credible? What conclusions can we really draw from it? Where are the gaps and how can we best fill them?

To help us answer these questions, we commissioned research from Manchester Metropolitan University and produced a thorough literature review that really pins down the best of the research that’s out there. 

We’re therefore delighted to publish a Literature Review and Comparative Analysis on Subject-Specific Development of Middle Leaders, a comprehensive look at the dispersed evidence that’s been presented to the sector on middle leader development. 

Along with a raft of other research, this evidence is feeding directly into our programme design.

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The review picks up some key themes including:

Empowering middle leaders to own their roles

The review emphasises that middle leadership cannot exist in a vacuum: middle leaders must “gain insight into wider school objectives and planning” and develop the skills to understand how their role feeds into the wider school improvement agenda. 

Crucially, they must also develop the skills to “negotiate with senior leaders and teachers to ensure recognition of their subject area” in relation to the organisational strategy.

Building subject expertise within school

We want teachers to be able lead their area with credibility and support their teams to improve practice – that means developing subject specialist expertise. 

The review highlights the need to signpost “how teachers might collaborate in subject groupings even when schools are geographically isolated.” In a fragmented school system, it is vital that educators are enabled to share practice and learn from each other for the benefit of the whole.

Supporting your middle leaders to thrive

We need to look closely at how we help staff manage their time and make space for activities that will drive change. As an organisation, we want to do more to support teachers; both by giving them the knowledge and skills to take ownership of their roles, and by enabling those who lead them to set a positive working climate for their teams.

Teaching Leaders is just one part of the evolving education model for the new organisation. 

Analysis of all this evidence is enabling us to make the best bets on the curricula which will drive our development programmes: creating a golden thread which links each level of teaching and leadership.


You can read the full report here. If you’d like to find out more about Teaching Leaders and register interest in the programme, please visit our website.

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