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Still closer to the summit

A revamped leadership policy has helped to make a good school even better, writes Martin Whittaker

Your school is high-performing, your leadership has been praised by inspectors and your key stage 3 test and GCSE results are way above national averages. So, where do you go from there?

Bishop Stopford school made a radical change in its leadership. It opened up its management to give teachers more responsibility and a greater stake in running the school. More than three years on, the change has paid dividends, says head Margaret Holman. Staff now work in teams and feel valued. There is better sharing of good practice, and a conduit has been opened for teachers' ideas to feed into school development.

"The benefits lie in the fact that staff feel their contribution to school improvement is important and valued by the leadership team," she says.

"Development is embraced since it has not been imposed - and it becomes intrinsic to the school's work."

Bishop Stopford is a voluntary-aided 11-18 comprehensive and technology college in Kettering, Northamptonshire. Its pupils come from backgrounds of relative advantage. Just 1.2 per cent are eligible for free school meals and pupil attainment on entry to Year 7 is high. In the past seven years its GCSE results have seen a steady improvement from an already above-average rate of 70 per cent achieving five or more A*-C grades to 89 per cent in 2003. Its KS3 to GCSEGNVQ value-added measure last year was 102.8 (where 100 represents average national progress).

The idea for a change to the leadership came in 2000 when then head James Colquhoun and Ms Holman, then deputy head, considered how the school could move on.

The catalyst was a National College for School Leadership seminar called "Developing a Professional Learning Community". When Mr Colquhoun left the school and Ms Holman took over, she and her leadership team began to use ideas from the seminar.

"It was a heaven-sent opportunity to do something different," she says.

The school had a traditional management model - a senior management team of five, the head, a deputy head and three assistant heads. The team oversaw the year teams and faculties and set the agenda for the school management group and staff meetings. It was also responsible for professional development, monitoring and evaluation, school improvement and administration.

A leadership network was introduced with a host of elements to encourage teachers to have their ideas discussed and used.

A school development group was introduced to take over from the school management group. This was more than just a change of name - the new group's meetings were open to all staff. As well as agreeing policy, it presented new ideas to take the school forward and to share professional development. A new system of internal secondments was brought in to allow staff time out of the classroom to work on school development issues.

Seminar groups were formed to develop cross-curricular and school improvement themes. These are chaired by those not in the senior management team to give other staff leadership opportunities and encourage a free flow of ideas. Examples include a seminar group on provision for gifted and talented pupils, another on thinking skills and one on developing ICT across the curriculum.

Another element of the new model is teaching and learning teams: groups of staff who consider development areas for the whole school. They work on ideas fed in from the other seminar groups.

A school-based MBA programme was also introduced, delivered in conjunction with Leicester university. Internal secondments have proven popular with teachers. They can bid for up to three days out - usually during exams. The school frees teachers by paying for invigilators. Secondments have been used for planning time for maths staff on lessons using whiteboards and projectors, the use of ICT in art and design, a review of post-16 tutoring arrangements, and for expanding the teaching of A-level politics.

The secondments are designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning, says assistant head Jill Silverthorne. Staff can meet away from school to discuss initiatives. Sometimes they even meet at a colleague's house.

"People come back and say having time to talk to colleagues is superb," she says. "As so often in teaching, it's a matter of how we are going to fit it in. Giving people that space to reflect and move forward has had a big impact."

But how well does the system work? Ms Holman points to the fact that Northamptonshire education authority has assessed leadership at Bishop Stopford as grade one over the past three years. She says the revamped structure has created an ethos of shared responsibility. There is better morale among teachers as they now have a greater voice.

"Our seminar groups are voluntary and very well attended, despite the fact that everybody's very busy," she says. "Staff make it their priority to go to those. At one point somebody asked why we didn't make them compulsory, but we don't need to. The quality of discussion in them is so high that we don't particularly want to dragoon people into it.

"One strength is that teachers now often stand up in front of the whole staff. Previously, some teachers here would never have done that."

Ms Holman says she is happy with the system, though it needs a few small adjustments. "The danger is that too many ideas for development are generated," she says. "We have to stay focused."

Name: Bishop Stopford school, Kettering, Northamptonshire.

School type: 11-18 voluntary-aided comprehensive.

Proportion of pupils eligible for free meals: 1.2 per cent.

Improved results: From 70 per sent of pupils achieving five or more grades A* C GCSEs in 1997 to 89 per cent in 2003.

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