December 2016


  • Team Player
    National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter talks to Julie Nightingale about his role in promoting the benefits of academies and why he thinks more schools will come round to his view that they offer the best model for improving children’s education opportunities. More
  • Getting the best out of PFI
    Making your private finance initiative (PFI) contract work for you is about building good relationships and sustaining them but also following some practical steps, says Julia Harnden. More
  • Widen their horizons
    Links with employers can be invaluable in raising young people’s aspirations, and the charity Inspiring the Future can help schools and colleges make those connections, says Charlotte Lightman. More
  • Research insights
    In the second of a regular research insights feature, Amanda Taylor from the Centre for Information and Knowledge at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) rounds up a selection of recent reports on teacher recruitment and retention. More
  • Learning above all
    Executive Headteacher John Camp explores the leadership challenges of moving from federation to multi-academy trust (MAT) and why a focus on pedagogy, alongside key principles of collaboration, trust and mutual respect, must remain at the heart of the new structure. More
  • Reality check
    The government’s aim of boosting social mobility is laudable but there is no evidence to suggest that an increase in selective education is the way to do it, says Malcolm Trobe. Instead, ministers need to focus on the real solutions. More
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Executive Headteacher John Camp explores the leadership challenges of moving from federation to multi-academy trust (MAT) and why a focus on pedagogy, alongside key principles of collaboration, trust and mutual respect, must remain at the heart of the new structure.

Learning above all

The Compass Partnership of Schools in Greenwich is a soft federation made up of six mainstream primary schools, a primary special school and a secondary special school. I am executive head of the group – I was previously the head of one of them, Deansfield Primary – and am responsible for its strategic direction but play no role in the day-to-day management of any of the schools.

The group has grown since 2011 by roughly one school per year and has been highly successful at transforming schools in very challenging circumstances at the same time as developing an extensive pool of leaders.

We have organised the group into hubs that enable tighter collaboration between two schools with a focus on swift school improvement. Collaboration across the whole group focuses more on broad policy developments and research into effective pedagogy.

Leadership principles

I have a set of principles that underpin my approach to leadership. They include:

  • Leadership is less about power and more about empowerment.
  • Seek to find and nurture those who have the abilities to do the job better than I can.
  • Build organisational culture so that habit of mind and habit of action are congruent with the needs of children and their families.
  • Leadership is as concerned with unintended consequences as it is with intended consequences, so risk assessment is integral.
  • Failure is an opportunity for change and growth.
  • Great leaders have a hunger for continually developing their practice, and want to be at the forefront of change and innovation.

Over the last five years, my own leadership skills have developed alongside the growth of the group. In particular, I have developed a greater understanding of context and the impact that this has on decisions. I have grown to understand the subtle differences that shape similar decisions across the schools and how successful communication demands a deeper insight into the school community and how it is likely to react.

The group’s growth has also created many opportunities for staff leadership development and we have been able to retain highly skilled staff by offering them leadership positions across the group. These include the executive leadership of pairs of schools, leadership of cross-partnership research and development groups, leadership of newly qualified teacher (NQT) induction and learning, project management of academy conversion and leadership of IT and website development.

Executive headship

As an executive head, I am now more concerned with multiple communities and managing the relationships between larger groups of people. This includes:

  • identifying opportunities across the group for professional growth and development
  • orchestrating relationships for improvements in pedagogy
  • being the interface with the wider educational community
  • brokering school-to-school support work
  • coaching and supporting
  • navigating the political climate in which we are operating

One example is the development of school-specific pedagogies in response to pupil needs. It has been important that I have been able to support the development of alternative and new pedagogies while ensuring that these remain within the agreed principles that underpin our philosophy for education in its broadest sense.

MAT structure

Our partnership is part way through the process of conversion to a multi-academy trust (MAT) and is due to convert on 1 April 2017. We have decided that my role will be that of senior executive headteacher and not chief executive officer to signal quite clearly that even the most senior leaders in our organisation should be firmly focused on teaching and learning.

We have tried to develop an organisational structure for the MAT that reflects our group’s key principles of collaboration, trust and mutual respect and that supports collaborative problem-solving and peer-challenge. (We have research and development groups, for example, which focus on key aspects of the whole group’s work, and the creation of our own ‘Assessment without levels’ framework, in the year before levels were abandoned nationally, was a key piece of problem-solving.)

The federation has an executive leadership group made up of chairs of each governing body as well as the heads from each school. Sitting below are the individual school leadership teams.

In the MAT, a board of trustees will replace the executive leadership group and the federation’s strategic leadership team will become the strategic leadership team of the trust. This team includes me and three other executive headteachers (I am senior by virtue of my chief accounting officer accountabilities and my responsibility for the performance management of the other executive heads).

The MAT will have a core business team made up of leaders responsible for finance, personnel, IT and operations. The group will contribute to the strategic direction of the group and their own impact will be evaluated against the quality of provision and outcomes across the group.

However, we are committing to devolving as much decision-making power to school level as possible; headteachers will still control their budgets, make school-based staffing decisions and ensure that provision is at its best.

Structures are important but I firmly believe that leadership is a collective endeavour and should be focused on organisational culture; get the culture right and it will lead the organisation.

Evaluating effectiveness

Great leadership is, in essence, concerned with learning. It is concerned with being informed fully so that habit of mind is congruent with habit of action. It is this belief that keeps children’s learning at the centre of all that we do.

We want all leaders to evaluate their own effectiveness in terms of their impact on the quality of pedagogy and outcomes. They will use our Compass leadership framework to identify the key areas of their leadership that need development and work with other colleagues to shape response, challenge themselves and broaden their skills.

Shaping pedagogy that is informed by evidence-based research is our core purpose. By keeping this at the centre, we are able to secure better outcomes for all of our children.

When outcomes are not as good as we would wish, our focus on learning enables us to learn from the context, shape the change and improve the outcomes. Our recent Key Stage outcomes have demanded a forensic evaluation of individual school performance and a collective ‘problem-solving’ session, with external specialists, so that our actions are precise, swift and effective.

Supporting leadership growth

To support leadership growth, we will continue to build on our existing strategies for ensuring that we have sufficient capacity. These are:

  • Appoint NQTs who have the potential to be great leaders.
  • Use our own leadership framework to progress individuals towards system leader level through carefully planned development opportunities.
  • Build a culture of ‘permission’ in which leaders are allowed to innovate, take risks and try something new.
  • Build opportunities for inter-school working and hybrid role development so that leaders can experience the unique challenges of different contexts and differing leadership styles.
  • Ensure that research, both practitioner-led and that from the leading thinkers, permeates all aspects of leadership and provides a robust context for the growth of intellectual capital.

As we move forward into new territory we will no doubt wrestle with the many complexities that come with being an organisation that has largely reshaped its relationship with the local authority.

Our challenge for leaders will be to ensure that we remain a viable and flourishing organisation while meeting the challenges of the policy context.

ASCL Guidance Paper: Staying in Control of Your School’s Destiny: considering forming or joining a group of schools

John Camp is Executive Headteacher of The Compass Partnership of Schools.