Four key ways middle leaders can boost results (and having a vision isn’t one of them)

Report finds that middle leaders' most common priorities do not necessarily have the biggest impact

Helen Ward

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Heads of department may have their priorities wrong, according to new research which shows that the parts of the job that make a difference to results are not always the ones which are most commonly valued.

Setting a vision for their department is the most common priority for heads of department, with 75 per cent saying it is “very important” – but the research suggests that making this a priority makes no measurable difference to a department’s performance.

The report from Teaching Leaders and thinktank LKMCo, called "Firing on all cylinders: what makes an effective middle leader?", reveals that out of 15 priorities listed just four were linked with how well a department performed. These were:

  • Managing data, which was prioritised by 57 per cent of middle leaders
  • Performance management, which 31 per cent prioritised
  • Planning and resource management, which 24 per cent prioritised
  • Leading pupil literacy, which 20 per cent prioritised

Sam Baars, co-author of the report, said that while middle leaders thought vision was important, it may be the detail of how the vision is put into practice that really matters.

Get your priorities right

“When you talk to people in schools, they talk about the day-to-day factors, the nuts and bolts of how that vision is achieved,” Mr Baars said. “Vision in itself is not associated with departmental performance but probably it comes through in those other things they do that have an impact.”

There was no measurable impact on department performance from those middle managers who said that leading teaching and learning was very important to them, which 74 per cent did.

Similarly, the priority placed on staff development, assessing pupils progress, lesson observation and pupil premium interventions, all seemed to have no link to how well the department performed, relative to other departments in the same school, as measured by average GCSE point score. The same was true of engaging parents, leading across school, using research and providing leadership in other schools.

The report drew on the survey responses from 123 middle leaders and performance data from 49 middle leaders.

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