Becoming a Teaching School

NCTL met Lee Gray the headteacher at Studley High School, at the induction for new teaching schools last year and they came to meet him at school last term, to find out more about his plans.

About Studley High School

I’m the head of Studley High, an 11 to 16 comprehensive school in South Warwickshire. We became a teaching school in September 2016, lead school for the Shires Teaching School Alliance, which reflects our proximity to the 3 counties of Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. The alliance includes 12 secondary schools, 6 primaries and a special school, as well as a university and a further education college.

The ethos underpinning the Shires is that we welcome all schools to get involved in school-to-school learning. Developing a distinct alliance identity, independent of Studley High, has been important, as we want to reflect that the alliance is about every single organisation.

One of our drivers for applying to become a teaching school was that Studley was already part of the South Warwickshire Education Partnership. We were already collaborating with other schools and colleges, so becoming a teaching school was the logical next step.

“Yes, there is a lead school but that doesn’t mean it’s the ‘head’ school. The lead school manages the funding and can be the glue that supports all schools in developing the capacity to develop others.”

Building an open and honest alliance

To succeed we knew we needed an alliance of schools to be open and honest. Our schools have to be able to discuss their areas for improvement as well as their strengths. We also need to be honest about what we can devote our staff time towards. That’s the big commitment, letting your own staff out on occasion to help other schools. Getting all those things right requires lots of communication and set-up at the start, so everyone is clear about what is going to happen and everyone has a voice.

Our vision for the Shires is to be outward facing: let’s be open, let’s share data, let’s have a look at where our areas for development are.”

School-to-school support

Studley High’s new curriculum leader of English is an outstanding teacher but he is new to that role, so we’ve arranged support from an established curriculum lead in another school, who has been able to help with areas such as moderation for the new 1-9 GCSE grading. In turn, Studley’s maths department, which is outstanding, has been able to support the other school’s maths teachers.

This reciprocal relationship of release of staff is only working because we’re honest and open about what needs we have in our schools.

Being a teaching school is a fantastic achievement for the school and the staff within it. But do we have areas we need to work on and improve? Of course we do. We need to be open about that.”

Developing teachers and leaders

From the outset, before making an application to become a teaching school, I discussed it with staff and governors and asked for their views. Whilst Studley is a small secondary school, we actually have highly ambitious staff with diverse experience, including a number of teachers in their second to fifth year of teaching potentially looking for their next step in career progression.

A major benefit of becoming a teaching school and being part of a teaching school alliance is the opportunities it offers for staff development, which in turn benefits the quality of children’s learning.

Our vision is that within our alliance, staff will move between levels and between schools, so they’ll have a much more open-ended career path. This will keep teachers in the profession, allowing us to develop leaders who can safeguard the profession and the quality of education in the future.

If we don’t have bespoke pathways for our teachers, we run the risk of losing them. We need to make it exciting to be part of our teaching school alliance.”

It’s true that this development of our staff may mean that we’re supporting our teachers to move on to another school after a couple of years. But that is brilliant because they’ve given us a fantastic start with their early career, they’ve gone above and beyond for our pupils, so we need to go above and beyond for them, to help them with their next steps.

If we can achieve that career support and progression across the alliance, then teachers from all of our partner schools will be well suited to take up a role in another alliance school and be able to slot in and deliver at a high standard from day one – ensuring sustainability.

Specialist Leaders of Education

At this early stage in setting up a teaching school, I’m particularly looking forward to reviewing the applications I’ve received for new Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs). We aim to deploy our SLEs in a meaningful way, so they have genuine impact with teachers and pupils and generate positive feedback from schools. The notion of excellent practitioners supporting others to improve outcomes may sound easy but it will be challenging to get deployments right and I’m really keen to see this develop and succeed. The Shires is aiming to recruit between 10 and 20 SLEs in our first application round, focused on areas of strength already identified by our schools including maths, English and careers advice.

Developing our staff across alliance schools as specialist leaders of education is a really valuable part of the work that we do. Staff put a lot of effort in to applying for these roles – they want to develop their careers and to help other colleagues.

I see the nurturing of SLEs as a means of retaining staff by offering them professional development and opportunities to make an impact on pupil outcomes not just in their own school but in partner schools too.”

Next steps for Studley High

We’re just starting as a teaching school, so our staff are having lots of conversations with other schools in the local area and we’re especially keen to encourage more primary schools to get involved.

Our aim is that as the teaching school alliance develops and embeds and has success in our key areas, then we can start to work with other alliances and really develop alliance to alliance support. Obviously we’re very early in that process.

Now that leads have been established, we’ll be working with strategic partners to plan activities and then report back to the next strategic meeting. Where we may not have a particular expertise within our immediate alliance, perhaps 6 to 9 months down the line when we can really start to work closely with other alliances and other schools, we can identify more talent out there. That way, we’re building on the best that every school has to offer, and identifying our own weaknesses as well as strengths in the process. That means we are all learning from one another and that’s what being a teaching school is all about.”


Aspiring Leaders

Aspiring Leaders – The Next Generation

Leadership is not a rank. Leadership is a choice.

(Simon Sinek Leaders Eat Last – 2013).

We have recently had the privilege of hosting an Aspiring Leaders’ Conference on behalf of University of Worcester with the primary aim of reflecting on how to develop leadership characteristics and qualities in the first years of teaching. With a room packed full of PGCE/School Direct trainees who had applied to attend the training, expectations were high that  this would be an exciting day. Second to that, was the opportunity to meet a wide range of leaders within our school context; to hear stories and experiences of how different staff members progressed into ‘Leadership’.

As part of this day, our ‘aspiring leaders’ explored well-researched and evidence based leadership behaviours, habits and competencies that contribute to superior performance in all areas of the profession. For me, as a new Assistant Headteacher, the experience had the added benefit of giving a personal opportunity to reflect on key characteristics that any ‘aspiring leader’ should aim to instil in their professional life. By the end of the session, leaders from across the school had shared their words and wisdom and as a group, had highlighted the importance of the following traits (a non-exhaustive list!)

Don’t forget the ‘why’!

As Simon Sinek argues:

Every single person, every single organisation on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it … But very, very few people or organisations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” … By “why” I mean: What’s your purpose?What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organisation exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

Teachers care. It is part of the key attributes that make a teacher in that we all have a common purpose and understanding of ‘why’ we get up in the morning; the children we teach, help and support. At the heart of effective leadership has to be a sole focus on improving the educational experiences and outcomes for the children we teach. It’s all about impact. Everything we do, for the effective leader, has impact at the heart of it.

What is your why and how do you share that with your colleagues?

‘Set out your stall’

Above all else, our next leaders will be those establishing themselves in their classrooms now. Effective leadership begins, and continues, in the classroom. Visible leadership, that which pupils and parents and staff comment on, is long-lasting and develops a professional reputation no matter what stage of your career.

For any aspiring leader, opportunities need to be embraced, expected behaviour needs to be modelled constantly, and the ‘setting out of your stall’ and what you stand for starts from day one.

When your pupils go home after school – how will they describe the learning in your classroom?

Get things done!

Teachers, even the best leaders, will face times when an overwhelming sense of ‘stuff’ that needs to happen just won’t get done. There is never a ‘quiet time’ of the year anymore. Exam groups may go but teaching staff are constantly moving on to the next cohort, looking for ways to develop intervention and/or support work. Procrastination is the enemy of the effective leader.

Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made. Avoiding them, ignoring them or trying to divert them may buy time but will lead to greater problems.

The effective leader gets things done. They use their team, rather than dictating or trying to do other people’s jobs. They inspire and motivate and build teams that achieve, whether in the classroom, department or school wide.

How can you plan ahead and learn to prioritise?

Never stop learning

As teachers, we constantly emphasise the importance of learning. We expect pupils to reflect, review and amend in order to improve and progress. We need to expect the same from ourselves. Leadership requires experience. Not in terms of years of dedicated ‘service’ but in terms of facing a variety of situations. Effective leaders will take all of these situations and review what worked, what needs improvement and what could be done differently next time. Above all else, our new teachers need to embrace failure on their path to leadership.

When will you build in time to reflect?

Leading takes time

There is no one path, no one route, no fixed journey into ‘leadership’. Gone are the days when teachers specialise in one area. We all take responsibility for data, teaching and learning, pastoral support, vulnerable groups. The best leaders will experience different aspects of school life and develop their skills based on this.

How will you develop your skill set and address any areas of weakness?

You are never going to be ‘ready for it’!

In the midst of a rapidly changing educational and policy landscape, and with more demands on schools than ever, surely now is not the time to be promoting leadership to colleagues so early on in their career?

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is because of these demands and changing landscape that exceptional, driven and determined leaders are required by schools more than ever.

As a member of a Senior Leadership team, succession planning is essential for ensuring the continual development of department areas, management models and leadership capacity. Succession planning is increasingly being used to support bespoke CPD models, that support and challenge aspirational and able staff.

It is comforting that, despite controversy over teacher recruitment, education policy and political upheavals of this year, our new cohort of teachers are not perturbed and are ready to embrace a leadership journey with a passion for learning and excellence at the heart of all they do. Our children and our schools are in safe hands!


Amy Page
Assistant Head, Studley High School
ITT Lead