Created in collaboration with our Ofsted expert.
Traditionally, middle leaders are responsible for maths, reading, writing, SEND provision or the curriculum; in larger schools, they may be phase leaders. The role of middle leaders within schools has risen to the forefront of Ofsted’s focus in recent years, and their effectiveness is now a key focus for Ofsted.
In the past, middle leaders were seen as a ‘buffer’ or ‘broker’, an implementer of school policy; many of their tasks were administrative or clerical and they weren’t seen to have much impact on the school. There has been a shift in this thinking, and now modern practice and Ofsted highlight middle leaders as being:
- Accountable for pupil achievement.
- Responsible for the development and monitoring of the quality of teaching and learning.
- Leaders of the curriculum.
- Experts in the analysis and reporting of data.
- Role models for a culture of professional learning in their teams.
- Leaders and collaborators across the school.
The effectiveness of leadership now focusses closely on the ability for middle leaders to improve teaching and learning and, ultimately, raise standards. Schools are now judged on their ability to develop the role of middle leaders – this includes looking at how middle leaders are coached and mentored in their role.
How does Ofsted focus on middle leaders?
Throughout any inspection, inspectors will have a high focus on middle leaders. Middle leaders will be given the opportunity to meet with the inspection team and will be invited to carry out a range of activities, such as joint observations, book scrutiny and data reviews.
The expectations from Ofsted’s framework are that middle leaders should have the following experiences:
- Leading and managing the processes of evaluation and review
- Drawing up development plans for their area
- Compiling a school evaluation form
- Analysing performance data and discussing its significance with their team
- Managing the performance of their team
- Leading the appraisal process of their team
During the inspection, middle leaders will have to demonstrate their experience in the above and must be able to highlight that they are aware of their role in ensuring the school improves.
Can middle leaders impact an Ofsted judgement?
Whilst middle leaders are an important indicator of the effectiveness of leadership and management, they can also determine the overall effectiveness of the school. The reports of many schools that received a ‘requires improvement’ judgement in the last year highlight the role of middle leaders as a reason for the school not being as effective as it could be.
Examples of what these reports say include stating that middle leaders are underdeveloped (which leaves the headteacher with too much to do) and that middles leaders don’t monitor rigorously enough.
Schools that are not performing as well as they could, or schools in which teaching and learning is not judged as ‘good’, will have some indicator of the effectiveness of middle leaders.
What do effective middle leaders look like?
Many schools have effective middle leaders – effective middle leaders must have knowledge of, or display, the following characteristics and have evidence to back them up:
- Being consultative and collaborative – knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their remit and being able to develop these areas, with evidence to support this.
- Being diplomatic – knowing how to engage people, ensuring that everyone under their remit shares the same opinion and goals, and how to manage difficult conversations regarding performance.
- Developing staff under their remit – knowing the staff under their remit and ensuring high-quality CPD, coaching and mentoring of these staff to improve practice (there should be a particular focus on inexperienced staff, such as NQTs and RQTs).
Middle leaders are the engine room of the school, sitting at the heart of the drive to improve teaching and learning. They lead teams of teachers, turning senior leaderships’ strategies into outstanding classroom practice.
High-performing middle leaders drive consistent teacher quality in their areas of responsibility through curriculum leadership, data analysis, lesson observations, holding staff to account and developing staff. They also ensure consistency across the school by collaborating with and challenging their fellow middle leaders, influencing whole-school behaviours through sharing, coaching and mentoring.
Who is responsible for ensuring middle leaders are supported and developed?
Senior leaders and governors are accountable for middle leaders and it is their responsibility to ensure that they are supported and developed.
Governors, in particular, should have succession planning as an area of focus to ensure that the school has long-term plans for the future. Headteacher recruitment is a concern for all schools across the country; therefore, schools must have a clear plan to ensure that they have a consistent approach to planning for leadership.
Schools that invest in middle leaders are far more effective than those that do not. Having transparent leadership pathways ensures teachers aspire to improve their careers. By creating this culture, these schools will continue to narrow the gap in attainment of pupils and develop an ethos of improving teaching and learning; ultimately, these are the highest performing schools.