In the middle - Why halfway point is full of angst

Paul Ainsworth

Middle leaders have many anxieties, but near the top of the list are often staffing issues. Whether it is working with an incapable team member, an obstructive one, or just an emotional one, that is when you really feel you are earning your leadership pay.

A major concern is not having the full complement of teachers to deliver the timetable. A middle leader can feel that senior leaders are just concerned with putting a body in the classroom in front of the children and that the quality of the teaching is not paramount. In a way, that is their primary concern as it is better to have somebody than nobody, even if it is a member of staff teaching outside their subject area or an agency teacher you feel is not up to the job.

My biggest middle leader worry was having the new senior leader parachuted into my department, especially if they had themselves been a curriculum leader. You worry that whatever you do will not be good enough and they will constantly be observing you to determine your effectiveness. If you try to be innovative, they may criticise it as not being worthwhile; or, even worse, constantly begin sentences with, "At my previous school, I ..." Those words are guaranteed to raise the hackles of any curriculum leader.

But what is the senior leader thinking? In two schools recently, I have been in that scenario and I have tried to remember my middle leader concerns. My first dilemma was whether to attend departmental meetings, I felt I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't. I tried to keep out of the way, get on with my teaching and give opinions only when asked - a bit like I did as an NQT. I don't know if I've succeeded, but I am grateful for the patience of the middle leader concerned. This year, I imagine, we'll both be a little relieved that I am teaching outside my subject area.

Paul Ainsworth, Deputy head, Belvoir High School, Bottesford, Nottinghamshire.

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Paul Ainsworth

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