The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Alex Masters

Good vibrations for middle leaders

‘It has never been a more exciting time to be a middle leader!’ James Toop, chief executive of Teaching Leaders, announced in his rousing opening speech at our recent Secondary Middle Leaders Conference. ‘You can make the biggest difference in helping the system to move forward.’ Toop explained that, over the last six years, there has been ‘a massive change’ in the role of middle leaders and there appears to be a newfound respect. ‘Heads of Department can be more important than senior leaders’ he said, adding that people are aware that they are ‘at the heart of closing the achievement gap’ and can have ‘a tangible impact’ on results. Indeed, assistant headteacher Wesley Morgan is all too aware of middle leaders’ growing responsibilities: ‘The level of accountability on middle leaders has never been higher,’ he said. Wesley shared his experiences and offered some brilliant, detailed advice on what you need to prepare for Ofsted, and how to respond after an inspection.

We’ve selected five top tips from experts in the field on how to make your school ready for Ofsted.

  • Share good practice with cross-curricular team meetings every half term.
  • Employ a full-time learning mentor to provide small-group and one-to-one support for pupils.
  • Ensure all staff understand the school ‘vision’ and the expectations of them.
  • Make sure you have clear evidence that CPD, appraisal and teaching development are all linked.
  • Look for examples of good practice in other schools in the areas you want to improve.

There was also a very powerful speech from Claire Narayanan, head of English faculty, who explained how she helped to drive grades in her department and outlined the essential ingredients for creating ‘a functional team’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her journey was not an easy one, but she offered an inspirational quote for when times are tough: ‘The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.’ There were nods of agreement from the audience. There was also excellent advice from deputy headteacher Jo Smith on what exactly a good appraisal looks like. She also gave top tips on how to set fair and consistent appraisals and address the difficult conversation when addressing underperformance.

Spinach in your teeth?

Would you want to know if you had spinach stuck in your teeth? Or would you rather go the whole day without knowing? It seems a facetious question to ask during a conference on secondary middle managers but, as second in English Ashley Williams pointed out, there is significance when it comes to your management style: would you rather endure criticism in the name of improvement, or continue being praised and be blissfully unaware of your flaws? Definitely food for thought. 

Developing middle leadership

How can middle leaders juggle these ever-growing responsibilities and cope with the various pressures to ensure outstanding leadership? If you’re looking to upskill your middle leaders, our new conference, From Teacher to Leader: Middle Leadership Essentials, will help you to:

  • learn how to develop a collaborative team vision, share ownership of your goals and empower your colleagues,
  • maintain a healthy work-life balance with effective prioritisation and delegation to reduce workloads and increase productivity,
  • successfully demonstrate impact to your senior leadership team and explore methods to measure the effectiveness of changes.

This is a great chance to network, air your concerns and share best practice with your peers. The conference will take place in London on Tuesday 22nd November 2016. 


Register your place here

Further reading

These articles are available to read for Optimus members:


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