Leadership development

I was recently invited to join a conference panel discussing how to have impact at any level as a leader. It got me thinking about successful leadership behaviours. I concluded there are four that together add up to epic leadership.

Epic leaders are empowering, (moral) purposeful, impactful and compassionate.

Epic wasn’t a word I used much until my home became dominated by the superheroes and accompanying jargon my husband and children are obsessed with. It seems a good fit for the notion that successful school leaders have a touch of the superheroic about them. But you don’t need special powers to be an epic leader; just four qualities anyone can develop.


Epic leaders don’t rely on personal performance, but inspire and enable others to deliver. This can be particularly tricky for middle leaders, who are often ‘pace-setters’, leading by example and urging others to keep up. It certainly can be difficult to let go, especially when you know (or think you do) that you can do something better yourself. Yet, while pace-setting can be an effective way to get things done in the short term, it can quickly lead to burn-out for you and demoralisation for staff.

Far better is giving staff genuine responsibility (for outcomes not tasks), and offering them the tools to succeed for themselves. Setting a clear vision and expectations, backed up with practical and moral support is key. Coaching can help staff find their own solutions and approaches, while metoring is useful when they’re stuck. You also need to create an environment where it is safe to try things out and sometimes fail – as we tell our students, this is an important way to learn.

(Moral) purposeful

OK, I had to cheat and put the moral in brackets for epic to work, but think of those parentheses as adding emphasis, not diminishing it.  To continue the superhero theme, with great power comes great responsibility. What you do with the power you have as a school leader really matters. Having a strong moral compass and set of values around securing the best outcomes for all children – while supporting the growth and wellbeing of the adults you lead – should determine the direction of your leadership. Consistently living those values in everything you do is crucial. People will be watching; it’s not good enough to expect people to do as you say if it’s not as you do.


Epic leaders have a positive and lasting impact on those around them, be they adults or children. Of course, the difference we make to the young lives in our care is our most important task as school leaders. It should extend beyond academic success to a genuine flourishing in all aspects of development, including the personal, social, moral and cultural. All our leadership endeavours – from the development of our staff to our use of financial resources – should be directed at securing this impact.

But we need to exercise care that the mantra of “doing whatever takes” doesn’t come at the expense of staff wellbeing, or indeed our own. We all work hard; what we need is to work smarter, innovating and experimenting to secure the biggest gains for the least effort. We cannot successfully nurture our pupils if we do not also nurture and nourish ourselves and the teachers and other adults around them.

The most epic leaders have impact beyond their own organisation, whether that’s a school, teaching school alliance or multi-academy trust. They share their expertise and enthusiasm as true leaders of the system, striving to make it better for everyone in it. System leaders can be found at every level, making an impact through exercising “soft” power and influence (shaping the agenda and promoting learning and development through blogs and conferences, for example), as well as taking on formal responsibilities.


Last, but certainly not least, epic leaders are compassionate – both to others and themselves. Compassion has been much underestimated in traditional models of “strong leadership”, but there is great strength in taking the time to know, understand and empathise with staff and colleagues and in treating them with compassion and respect. It is the right thing to do. It can also inspire commitment and loyalty that will result in a willingness to ‘go the extra mile’.

Compassion is a courtsey you should also extend to yourself. You are likely to be your harshest critic. If this is the case, ask yourself what you would say to a friend who was saying the things you say to and about yourself. Make your self-talk a more positive reflection of the person and leader you really are.

Epic, not infallible

Being an epic leader doesn’t mean getting it right all the time. Development and the achievement of success is not a linear process; it is very messy. Epic leaders acknoledge this, admit when they’re wrong, learn from it and move on. They also create a culture that ensures others can do the same.

Epic and authentic

Like superheroes, epic leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t don a cape, they simply strive to become the very best version of themselves.

If you’re looking to develop an approach to epic leadership that’s as unique and authentic as you are, sign up by Friday 20 October for one of our four leadership development programmes:


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Across Southwark Teaching School Alliance, we are striving to create a community of schools where all children and young people are nurtured and challenged to flourish in all aspects of their life – academic, cultural, personal and social. We are doing this by harnessing practitioner excellence and evidence-based practice for the benefit of all schools and children in the Alliance and beyond.

In 2016/17, our schools have worked together to:

  1. provide initial teacher training for 36 trainees across our two Schools Direct partnerships;
  2. offer a range of practitioner-led continuing professional development for teachers and teaching assistants on everything from staff and student wellbeing to phonics to outdoor learning;
  3. formed five new peer review clusters across 22 primary and secondary schools and nurseries to provide school-to-school support and challenge; and
  4. engaged in a range of research and development activities, including leading a project to explore how to reduce the burden of marking while increasing the impact of feedback.

Developing leadership at all levels has been a central strand of our work because research in the UK and abroad has emphasised how “leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning”[1]. And of course its impact extends beyond single classrooms to whole schools. In 2016/17 we have enabled over 50 teachers to develop as middle and senior leaders and towards headship, and 15 serving heads and executive heads to hone the skills needed to progress in executive leadership.

In our new brochure, STSA Leading the Way, you can read more about two of our leadership programmes and the successful leaders they have inspired. All have either secured promotion or taken on additional system leadership responsibilities. All share important reflections about their experience of leadership and why it matters – because of the difference it makes to learners.

You can find out more about the leadership development on offer through Southwark Teaching School Alliance in 2017/18, including National Professional Qualifications in middle leadership, senior leadership, headship, and executive leadership, on page 15.

I hope what you read in the brochure will inspire you to want to join Southwark Teaching School Alliance and pages 16-17 provide details of our 2017/18 membership offer. Together we can ensure that across our community of schools all learners flourish.

[1] Leithwood, K. et al (2004), How leadership influences student learning, p3. See also Day, C. et al (2009) The Impact of School Leadership on Pupil Outcomes Final Report.


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With Christmas a mere five days away and the cold starting to bite, it’s hard to believe we were having a late summer heatwave on those first few days of term in September. A lot has happened since then – both in Southwark and the world outside – and, as is traditional at this time of year, I thought it worth a quick look back on the autumn term that was.


Since taking up post in September, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting primary, secondary and special schools across the borough and beyond (as indicated by the stars on the map). I am very grateful to the headteachers who have welcomed me and shared the many exciting things going on in their schools. An important task in the months ahead is to ensure we become more effective in identifying, signposting and spreading excellent practice wherever it is found, so that it impacts on as many learners as possible. If there’s something good going on in your school you’d like to share, please get in touch.

Other highlights of the term include:

Initial Teacher Training

  • Our Schools Direct partnership, led by John Donne, doing better than the national average (of 30,000 places awarded from 65,000 bid) to secure 18 of the 25 places they requested for trainees this year

Continuing Professional Development and Leadership Development

  • Launch of a new Middle Leaders’ Programme, being offered in partnership with UCL/IOE
  • Holding the first two of seven sessions in our second cycle of Leading Impact – NPQSL, run in partnership with Ambition School Leadership (formerly The Future Leaders Trust)
  • Securing money from the NCTL Leadership Equality and Diversity Fund to launch two programmes for female leaders; one for serving heads and executive heads exploring Headship Beyond One School, and the other for Senior Leaders contemplating their next steps towards headship
  • Shorter courses led by our Specialist Leaders of Education (SLE) on fabulous phonics, spelling in the new curriculum and pupil wellbeing, among others

School-to-school support

  • SLEs using their expertise to provide bespoke support to schools in Southwark, Smethwick and Uganda in topics ranging from phonics to SEND to school business management
  • Ongoing success of our pilot peer review cluster, with a second round of visits prompting detailed scrutiny, deep thinking and development of improvement plans in areas identified by hosting headteachers
  • Working with Mime and Southwark Council to give all Southwark primary schools access to data about how their pupils do at secondary school
  • Our first headteacher hot topic session, considering collective approaches to recruitment and retention, with key proposals being taken forward by Southwark Council

Research and development

  • Being one of only 11 schools/TSAs accepted (from 158 who bid) for funding as part of the workload challenge. The money will support a project involving 8 schools to examine the impact on pupil outcomes and teacher workload of dropping written marking in favour of verbal feedback
  • Continuation of the Connecting Knowledge Project with UCL/IOE and nine schools in Lambeth and Southwark – using Lesson Study to explore strategies to raise attainment in writing for disadvantaged children

Huge thanks to all the schools in our alliance who have contributed to such a successful autumn term. I look forward to working with you to widen and deepen our partnership and impact on pupil outcomes in 2017.

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We are delighted this week to launch three great leadership development opportunities for headteachers and senior leaders. Although they are aimed at women, please also read on if you’re a man – because it’s possible you’ll have a female colleague who could benefit and would really appreciate a “tap on the shoulder” from you.

The opportunities are:

  • Headship Beyond One School – aimed at serving female heads who are, or would like to, lead beyond one school – as an executive head, a MAT CEO or by supporting other schools in some other way
  • Senior Leadership Development for Women – aimed at female senior leaders who could be ready to step up into either deputy headship or headship
  • Seizing opportunities: Leading women to headship and beyond – a one-day summit hosted by the Leading Women’s Alliance

Read on for more details and to sign up…

Headship Beyond One School

Fully funded from the NCTL Leadership Equality and Diversity Fund, this pilot programme will:

  • Explore the range of opportunities available to women looking to lead beyond one school – whether through supporting other schools, executive headship, MAT leadership or other forms of system leadership – and how to fulfil them in a way that is true to yourself and your leadership style
  • Provide insights and inspiration from executive leaders in the education sector and beyond, including shadowing opportunities
  • Focus on the key skills and attributes needed to succeed
  • Create a powerful network of like-minded female leaders
  • Aid your succession planning by providing parallel development for future female heads within your school, federation or MAT

You will also have the option to:

  • Coach and/or mentor aspiring female headteachers, with funded coaching training available
  • Work with others to develop and trial family-friendly policies and practices within your school, federation or MAT

In return for over £1000-worth of CPD per person, we ask that you:

  • Commit to attending around six sessions between January and June 2017 – mostly breakfast seminars or twilights
  • Help shape the programme to best meet your needs and for roll-out to subsequent cohorts
  • “Bring someone with you” by identifying one or more female leaders within your school to participate in our parallel female leadership development programme
  • Pay an upfront “commitment fee” of £250 per school or £400 per MAT to be returned at the end of the programme providing the above requirements are met

For more information or to sign up please contact kate.chhatwal@southwarktsa.co.uk. Places will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

Senior Leadership Development for Women

Fully funded from the NCTL Leadership Equality and Diversity Fund, this pilot programme will:

  • Sharpen your leadership skills, with sessions tailored to your needs
  • Offer insights and inspiration from female headteachers, including shadowing opportunities
  • Provide mentoring and coaching from successful female leaders
  • Prepare you for application and interview success
  • Create a powerful network of like-minded female leaders

You will also have the opportunity to take part in optional activities to explore how the joys and challenges of balancing senior leadership and motherhood can be made more manageable.

In return for over £1000-worth of CPD, we ask that you:

  • Commit to attending around six sessions between January and June 2017 – mostly breakfast seminars or twilights
  • Help shape the programme to best meet your needs and for roll-out to subsequent cohorts
  • Pay an upfront “commitment fee” of £250 to be returned at the end of the programme providing the above requirements are met (this fee will be waived if your headteacher is taking part in the Headship Beyond One School programme)

For more information or to sign up please contact kate.chhatwal@southwarktsa.co.uk. Places will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

Seizing opportunities – Leading women to headship and beyond

Southwark Teaching School Alliance is one of a number of organisations proud to support the Leading Women’s Alliance, which seeks to encourage and empower more women to take up headship and executive leadership positions.

The Leading Women’s Alliance’s second summit on 20 January 2017 will feature renown speakers on women’s leadership – including Sian Carr, ASCL President – and aims to:

  1. Equip and inspire women to seize opportunities presented by the changing leadership landscape
  2. Explore values-led leadership – essential in influencing our local communities at this time
  3. Review the Leading Women to Headship Strategic Plan, including The Pledge, and to commit to action

A full programme for the day is available here and you can sign up on Eventbrite. There is an early-bird discount price for people signing up before the end of November.

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