October 2014


  • Missing the mark
    ASCL’s warnings about the danger of piecemeal changes to GCSE were realised in the volatility of this year’s results, says Brian Lightman. However the real worry is the damaging effect it is having on our most disadvantaged students. More
  • Ideas take flight
    The need for an authentically school-led system was one of the key conclusions to emerge from ASCL’s Great Education Debate (GED). Here, Leora Cruddas spells out the blueprint for how it may be achieved. More
  • Joined-up thinking
    A new £22m scheme aims to capitalise on the power of networking to encourage more young people into HE and raise the profile of university outreach programmes, as Clair Murphy explains. More
  • Brighter Twilight
    ASCL’s learning after school programmes for would-be senior leaders are proving a popular alternative to the ‘sheep-dip model’ of Inset training days. Liz Lightfoot reports. More
  • The verdict
    After more than a year of passionate discussion, the Great Education Debate (GED) has concluded. Here, we record the key findings and explain the next steps for ASCL and the profession. More
  • Root causes
    Andrew Thraves looks at how attitudinal surveys can help senior leaders understand the causes of challenging behaviour and provide evidence of improvement when inspectors come calling. More
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ASCL’s learning after school programmes for would-be senior leaders are proving a popular alternative to the ‘sheep-dip model’ of Inset training days. Liz Lightfoot reports.

Brighter Twilight

If you could take five pieces of equipment from a list of 15 with you on a lifeboat, which would you choose? A rope, a compass, a can of diesel, flares, shark repellent, a map or perhaps a first aid kit? It’s relatively easy to make a personal choice but your fellow sailors may well have a different list of essential requirements. So how does the crew reach a collective decision on an issue that could prove to be one of life or death?

You may ask what relevance boating has to school and college leaders and you would be right to ask the question. It was, however, one of the most illuminating role-playing tasks of a continuing professional development (CPD) training session, according to Gary Henderson, a PE teacher and head of Year 11 at Clacton County High School, Essex.

“I was the observer for our group. I observed who became the natural leaders of the group, who was diplomatic, who was the most organised and who could bring the best counter-argument. Some were more dominant and had the most to say but they were not always the ones with the best ideas,” says Gary.

“It brought it home to me that as you go through into senior leadership you come to understand that everyone has a part to play and offers different skills. If you had a team of the same kind of people, it wouldn’t work. Good leaders can spot the strengths and the weaknesses and bring people out,” he says.

The session was one of six provided by ASCL Professional Development’s (ASCL PD) Twilight Support Programme for effective middle leadership. Held after the school day twice a term, they are usually rotated around schools in the local area so staff do not have to travel far.

The training has three strands: effective middle leadership, aspiring to assistant headship, and aspiring to deputy headship and beyond, all delivered by serving or former school leaders and supported where appropriate by experts in specialist areas. 

Improving the quality of teaching, learning and leadership formed the second strand of ASCL’s Great Education Debate. Nationally, however, there has been growth in the direction of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of whole-school CPD or Inset days says Asma Mansuri, who leads on the twilight programme. Two-thirds of teachers do not find the ‘sheep-dip’ model of whole-school Inset useful and a fifth vote it a waste of time, according to a survey last year by the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE).

Injection of thinking

Allan Foulds, ASCL Vice President and Head of Cheltenham Bournside School & Sixth Form Centre, says the twilight programme offers a manageable commitment and an injection of thinking with as many as six expert course leaders involved in the same number of sessions.

“The model also offers superb value, minimal need to travel and the opportunity for participants from the same school to collaborate and reflect, both with each other and with others in different schools locally,” Allan adds. “Participants confirm the usefulness of hearing directly from serving leaders who are also connected with a national perspective.”

A twilight programme developed by ASCL PD and The Stanway Federation Academy Trust of three schools in North-East Essex runs after school once every half term and was offered to more than 20 schools in the North East Essex Teaching School Alliance (NEETSA). John Wiltshire, the Deputy Head of Stanway School in Colchester, approached ASCL PD who audited the needs of the schools and drew up tailored programmes of support.

Since then the Colchester model has been replicated across the Havering Learning Partnership and is also being used as a stand-alone model in some schools with the sessions targeting the school’s own identified areas for improvement.

Interview traps

The six sessions explore items such as the difference between leadership and management, leading and managing change, and handling difficult conversations. Participants are encouraged to move from their subject areas and think more about whole-school strategies and vision. Preparing job applications and avoiding interview traps are also covered.

Many of the participants have gone on to get promotion, although the benefits go beyond career advancements, says Gary Henderson.

“One of the sessions was about accountability and it got me thinking about the fact that I talk mostly to those pupils who are referred for poor behaviour, absences or uniform breaches. There is a temptation to talk only to those you know through discipline issues or those who are doing exceptionally well. The middle group, students who come in every single day and do everything they are asked to do, get ignored. I had no real communication or relationship with them and I made a point of going round and meeting every single student. Now they are happy to come and speak to me.”

Review data

Andrey Cooper, the Business Studies and Economics Subject Leader at the Gilberd School in Colchester, participated in the Aspiring to Assistant Headship course and found the session on using data particularly useful.

“It showed how to review data as part of a narrative. Before the course, we used to input grades into the system for report time but never analysed them in depth. We were looking to see who had met their Fischer Family Trust grades and preparing to justify the GCSE results. Now we look at the level of progress required, where the student is at present and what interventions could be put in place to help them to meet aspirational grades. At least six times a year now I look at the data for my classes, my subject, the department, the year group and then across the school.”

Wanting to advance her career, Andrey gained an MA and is studying for a Doctor of Education (EdD) but she thinks the CPD was probably of more direct help.

“We were encouraged to think about our vision and how we would get staff on board with it. What kind of leadership and management would we bring to the school? How would we bring about change and monitor what is happening to demonstrate positive results? I found this very helpful, [as I did] the last two sessions on the application process which involved role-plays and presenting your strengths in the most positive way,” Andrey says.

The calibre of the session leaders was a big factor for David Boggis, an Assistant Headteacher at Thomas Lord Audley School in Colchester.

“Any speaker who can make a one and a half hour session of CPD interesting at the end of a long day on a Thursday in the middle of the winter term is doing a good job,” says David, who completed the course on Aspiring to Deputy Headship.

“These were people who either were heads or had been successful heads. It was particularly interesting to get an insight from people who had worked in different contexts in different parts of the country. 

“The session on finance was fascinating and should be compulsory for anyone in a senior leadership position. The delicate balance between spending on teaching and non-teaching areas was explored with an understanding of the financial constraints that can make or break a school or a headteacher,” he says.

Following feedback, the courses have been extended to provide further tailoring. The middle leadership course now has two levels – Aspiring Middle Leaders and Practising Middle Leaders – and the Assistant Headteacher Programme has also been divided into aspiring and practising. 

“For each school or collaboration, the programmes are bespoke and planned together. Where specific areas of interest exist we build new programmes to meet the need,” says Asma.

For more information about the Twilight Support Programme email consultancy@ascl.org.uk and look online at www.ascl.org.uk/bespoke-consultancy

Ahead – ASCL’s new support services for middle leaders 

Our new support package offers free CPD and resources for all middle leaders whilst our schools package offers a chance for schools to help develop their staff to become the future generation of senior leaders. For more information, see online at www.ascl.org.uk/ahead