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Shaping standards for Middle Leadership – Spinning the Changes

Are your middle leaders ready to lead? 

Middle leaders are often described as the engine of successful schools. They play a pivotal role in supporting learners and staff alike and are more often than not responsible for driving the implementation of strategies and facilitating real change in schools. They spin many plates, juggling their additional responsibilities in addition to their teaching responsibilities.

As masters of their specialism, middle leaders are often the vehicle for curriculum development. They are responsible for driving up the quality of teaching and learning and provision within their teams; not only amongst other specialists, but increasingly they are bringing non-specialists with them. For most, a middle leader responsibility will be the first taste of school leadership; a position they choose to take on due to the passion they have for their subject or phase, or maybe a commitment to their setting.

‘Pressures on Middle Leaders in Schools’, a report run by Education Support and Public First early in 2022, cited many positive aspects of middle leadership from staff who were really upbeat about their roles. They enjoyed sharing their love of their specialism with learners and staff and found satisfaction in having a broader sphere of influence with the school community. It is evident though that the preparation of staff for middle leadership varies greatly across schools, trusts and local authorities. Inconsistent approaches to training and support were reported, with many being expected to learn the craft of leadership and its associated skillset on the job. It comes as no surprise that those who felt more supported and received training, responded more positively about their leadership role [1].

Middle School Leaders Talking

Whilst many teachers choose to take on greater responsibility, some feel pressured into taking on a leadership role they don’t feel ready for and aren’t yet equipped for. Sometimes this is a reflection of the excellent skills this individual has, other times it is simply down to the fact that they have more experience than others [2]. Whilst many middle leaders in the Education Support report said they took pride in their extended responsibilities and the opportunity to support their colleagues, a high number said that time and beaurocracy pressures, poor training and a lack of autonomy caused disparity in their feelings towards the role [1]. Inconsistent time allocation and lack of real incentive to carry out their role leads to many feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, and that they are constantly juggling their responsibilities. A recruitment and retention crisis, in addition to rising energy costs has the potential to have knock-on effects to staffing numbers, placing even greater pressure on middle leaders [3].

So where does this leave middle leadership? The report made recommendations to policy makers that ‘best practice should be researched, articulated and promoted to schools to minimise disparity between institutions [1].’ This is something Scotland has had in place in the form of the ‘Standard for Middle Leadership: An Aspirational Professional Standard for Scotland’s Teachers’ enacted in August 2021. Whilst primarily setting out the professional knowledge, skills and attributes of middle leaders, they work to provide a framework for professional growth, a reference point for the entitlement that middle leaders have for support and training. Consequently they also serve as an important self evaluation and reflection tool for teachers with additional responsibilities [4].

The DfE Teachers’ Standards serve the sector well as a framework of professional knowledge, skills and attributes but when a teacher’s role evolves to include a leadership capacity, these standards provide little guidance on the necessary skillset. There is a large jump from the Teachers’ Standards to the Headteachers’ Standards and whilst the NPQs work to plug this gap, not all middle leaders will want the additional pressure of completing these. Will we see additional standards being added like those adopted by Scotland? In the meantime schools and trusts may consider developing their own standards which set out the knowledge, skills and attributes required for their own setting.

In order to support this, BlueSky is pleased to launch a new module ‘Shaping Leadership Standards’. This module aims to help schools develop their own leadership standards, providing a stepping stone between the Teachers’ Standards and the Headteachers’ Standards. Session one focuses on what resources schools have access to that they can reflect on to help consider what may be included in these standards. Session two encourages the mapping out of the new leadership standards and discusses how schools can successfully engage with these. Watch the Taster and learn how you can start to build leadership standards in your organisation today.

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[1] Education Support (2022). Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022. [online] [Accessed 6 Jan. 2023].

[2] DfE (2021). Education Technology (EdTech) Survey 2020-21. [online]  [Accessed 6 Jan. 2023].

[3] Promethean (2022). The 2021/22 State of Technology in Education Report. [online] Promethean Blog. 


[1] Dorrell, Ed, et al. Pressures on Middle Leaders in Schools in Collaboration With: Understanding the Professional Stresses and Strains That Middle Leaders Face in Their Working Lives. June 2022.

[2] Atkinson, Louise. “New Teachers Are Being Pushed into Leadership Roles They’re Not Ready for – with No Guidance or Training.” Teachwire, 11 July 2017, . Accessed 7 Oct. 2022.

[3] McBrearty, Sinead, and Dan Morrow. “A Looming Middle Leadership Crisis Must Be Averted.” Schoolsweek.co.uk, 29 June 2022. Accessed 7 Oct. 2022.

[4] GTC Scotland. The Standard for Middle Leadership Inspiring World-Class Teaching Professionalism GENERAL TEACHING COUNCIL for SCOTLAND. 2021.

Discover more BlueSky Learning Leadership modules here

Tamsin Denley

Author: Ally Sousa
Content Specialist, BlueSky Learning

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