May 2013


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  • Leading lessons
    A school-based centre dedicated to leadership and training is developing innovative approaches to professional development for the school that runs it and for its neighbours, explains Chris Holmwood. More
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A school-based centre dedicated to leadership and training is developing innovative
approaches to professional development for the school that runs it and for its neighbours, explains Chris Holmwood.

Leading lessons

Four years ago, when our headteacher, Glen Martin, stood up and said, “I want this school to become a school of leaders,” I could not have predicted what this would come to mean for the school. I’m not entirely sure he could have done either.

In September 2012, Shenley Brook End School in Milton Keynes welcomed ASCL General Secretary Brian Lightman to open our new leadership and training centre (LTC).

Brian said, “This is about ensuring the best possible education for young people. International research shows that the quality of teaching is the single most important factor in making sure that young people succeed at school. That’s why a centre like this is so important.”

The LTC provides a high-quality training environment within a school and my full-time commitment as its principal. The school’s redeployment of part of its former sports centre into a conference standard facility has
transformed our own opportunities for high-quality continuing professional
development (CPD) but has also established a new kind of training
experience for staff from other schools.

I sometimes say that for our own staff it is an opportunity to go from the classroom to the hotel without getting in the car. For staff from other schools it is proving to be a useful environment for reflective learning but also an opportunity to use the school and its teachers and students to support training and the sharing of good practice.

The philosophy of growing leadership at every level is a subject of
great interest to the schools who ask us to work with them. Their common interest seems to be in how we encourage risk-taking and creativity. We are therefore spending much of our time in sharing creative approaches to planning, observing and reflecting upon teaching and learning; our creative strategy for cross-curricular skills development across the school; and creative approaches to the
construction and communication of school improvement planning.

These schools are engaging us in quite a debate. Can we only do this
because we are an outstanding school? Or are we an outstanding school because we do this? Encouraging the confidence to innovate is,
therefore, quickly becoming an important part of our work.

This new model for CPD has become increasingly popular and seems to confirm that this new venture is a risk worth taking.

School-to-school support

Significant in the school’s ability to develop in this way is its membership in the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance. Led by Denbigh Teaching School in Milton Keynes, the alliance offers a wide range of CPD and school support through its schools and also through the deployment of National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs).

Teaching school responsibilities are shared according to the experience and expertise of the six outstanding schools on its strategic board and are enhanced by the wider partnerships of which they are a part.

The LTC contributes to the alliance in leadership development, succession planning and aspects of school-to-school support and has recently been recognised by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) (formerly known as the National College for School Leadership) as a lead school in these areas. The work of the LTC has quickly grown at local, regional and national levels. It includes an extremely popular middle leader development programme, a lead role in creative maths and creative literacy networks and the support of subject networks where we have been able to invite national partners.

At local and regional levels, the LTC is supporting 12 schools, both within the teaching school model and beyond. Often, we are creating
innovative programmes in response to the needs articulated by senior leaders, whether it means supporting school improvement planning at strategic level, creating a specific sequence of developmental days for middle leaders or encouraging a creative approach to teaching and learning in a particular subject team. Similar work is also developing with primary schools.

For instance, one head requested support with developing a more
imaginative approach to school improvement planning in order to engage the senior team in a debate about the future of the school. This
resulted in a ‘wordle’ that articulated the school’s future aims in a more
dynamic way and that was used to engage staff and students across the school in clarifying their aspirations and ethos.

Creative leadership

Another senior leader asked for a programme that would encourage creative leadership and learning in a particular subject area. From this, a five-day programme was created that gives specific training to subject leaders in how to develop a more vibrant learning experience for students. It is supported by visits to our own lessons, conversations with our staff and the subject-specific support of an SLE. The subject team spend a day at the LTC and in the school, exploring creative approaches to lesson planning, teaching and observation and considering how their relative strengths could combine to move things in a new direction.

The programme then includes a day where our staff visit them and either support or feed back on how the new approaches are being applied.

In keeping with its wider aspiration to contribute to a more positive educational climate, the LTC has taken a leading role in the Whole Education Network at national level. This is proving to be an excellent development opportunity for staff and students to both share and learn best practice.

Looking back on this journey, I would say that the key reason it has come about is a core belief in the importance of middle leaders within schools. It was our own work in this area that initially brought a higher
quality of staff development into our own school culture and that then
led us towards offering NCTL Middle Leader programmes. Engaging middle leaders creatively and developing their skills in a way that balances support and challenge was at the centre of our own strategy to move teaching and learning from good to outstanding and, through the LTC, we felt that this was something that could be shared more widely.

Both our accredited and bespoke middle leader work emphasise
developing self-awareness, growing skills and confidence, and raising
teachers’ and students’ aspirations. To support these aims, our accredited programmes promote deeper personal reflection by the
individuals. Our bespoke work, on the other hand, is much more clearly
focused upon the specific needs of a particular team of middle leaders.

We also feel it is crucial to demystify the role of the senior leader by
drawing the connections between the leadership attributes that teachers display in the classroom that have prepared them to lead beyond their classes and then encouraging them to think about leading their team and leading beyond it.

Our move to the NCTL’s modular curriculum is helping to support that
approach. Many participants are the future senior leaders and headteachers of our schools and encouraging this questioning and thinking is also an important part of this work.

Positive culture

Ultimately, school improvement is essentially about self-improvement.
Encouraging the habits of reflective practice and aspiration for further
professional development play an important part in creating a more positive leadership culture. One head has said of the LTC’s work:

“After many years of working very much to the Ofsted agenda, it was so refreshing learning about an approach grounded in a genuine interest in developing learning and more effective teaching.”

Much has changed in the four years since our aspiration to become a school of leaders was first voiced. I believe that the new CPD opportunities encouraged by the creation of the teaching school
model and initiatives such as the LTC can make a welcome contribution to supporting the development of successful leadership at every level.

As Dr John Dunford, chair of Whole Education, often says, “It’s time to stop looking up and start looking to each other!”

  • Chris Holmwood is principal of the LTC and senior deputy head at Shenley Brook End School, Milton Keynes

For more information about the LTC, visit email or follow the centre on Twitter @LTCSBE