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Train and retain: how to grow your own leaders

One international leader explains how offering research-based leadership qualifications has helped to retain staff and improve outcomes for learners

Growing your own leaders

British education is in high demand across the world.

For the past 20 years, there has been a growth of English curriculum schools in the Middle East and now that demand has migrated to Asia, where English curriculum schools are opening at an unprecedented rate.

This growth presents numerous challenges but possibly the greatest is finding and retaining high-quality teachers to meet the demand. 

Offer a chance to develop

Schools have employed various means to attract staff, offering perks such as competitive, tax-free salaries and free accommodation, in addition to the benefit of living in a new and exciting part of the world.

However, there is far more to recruiting and retaining quality staff than financial rewards. 

I’m the headmaster at the British School Al Khubairat, a not-for-profit embassy school with more than 50 years of history in Abu Dhabi.

Each year, we carry out a short survey of our staff. The survey looks at how much staff feel valued, what could be done to support them and which aspects of the job could be having a negative impact.

One thing that came out throughout the past two years was that staff really valued quality continuing professional development. This came even higher in their list of priorities than salary expectations.

We place a great deal of emphasis on progression and development but have moved away from having staff attend one-off courses either locally or back in the UK.

Avoiding the ‘teacher plateau’

The work of Rockoff, Kane and Staiger suggests that teachers reach a plateau after three to five years on the job and that “there is little evidence that improvement continues after the first three years”.

Another study by Helen Ladd found that, on average, teachers with 20 years’ experience are no more effective than those with five.

Further, Steven Rivkin noted that the initial first year of experience made the biggest difference, because “the bulk of the experience effects occur during the first year” and, after the first three years, most teachers did not get much better.

This so-called ”teacher plateau” is well supported across a number of different studies and presents a clear picture to school leaders. Most teachers with more than five years’ experience may need help to continue with their development.

Research also shows that sustained CPD programmes have the most positive impact, rather than the traditional one-day events. As a result, we set up distinct CPD pathways that would allow teachers at any level in our school to find an appropriate route for their own development.

We also wanted to offer sustained CPD that could be undertaken, targeted at a specific school improvement area, reflected upon and have the impact measured.

A clear pathway

The CPD pathway offered five routes, depending on the position of the individual in the school.

We offer three National Professional Qualifications (NPQs); one for those looking to move into middle leadership positions (NPQML), one for aspiring senior leaders and one for future headteachers (NPQFH).

It’s important to remember that leadership roles aren’t for everyone, which is why we also offer ”Excellence in the Classroom”. This pathway supports development and encourages the use of action research to improve practice.

In addition to these courses, the school also offers access to subsidised master’s programmes.

A strength of these courses is that they are action-research focused, meaning that staff  have to focus on an area of the school development plan and work at improving it.

Research with results

One head of year took the NPQML and focused on student wellbeing and achievement. The project investigated whether increasing a student’s self-esteem and confidence could have a positive impact on their achievement levels.

They looked at 27 students who were identified as having a low Pupil’s Attitudes to Self and Study (PASS) score and underachieving in two or more GCSE subjects.

The mid-term review of the project showed a direct correlation between improved PASS scores and academic achievement.

This has helped the identified students and is now being rolled out to a wider cohort. The staff member is also motivated by seeing the results of their project and how it has supported student achievement as well as their own professional development.

The next phase has been to partner with Emirates College for Advanced Education, a college of higher education in Abu Dhabi, to collate all of our research to influence future practice across the region and possibly beyond.

The programme is still in its infancy but, with an increase in its CPD budget of 300 per cent, and staff turnover now at a very low 5 per cent, the initial indications are very positive.

Mark Leppard MBE is headmaster at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi