A management scheme is proving that distributed leadership is the way to go, writes Caroline Roberts.
The new National Leaders of Education (NLE) programme is up and running.
But it's not another case of superheads being parachuted in to rescue failing schools. The experience of early participants suggests distributed leadership is the way forward. And it's an approach that can really benefit the school, offering support as well as the client.
The programme was conceived in September 2005 when the Government asked the National College for School Leadership to identify seasoned and successful heads from across the country whose schools would become "support schools"
to offer guidance to others in challenging circumstances.
The first 68 NLEs were ready for deployment last October. One is Barry Day, head of Greenwood Dale school in Nottingham, which now supports nearby River Leen school. Both have many disadvantaged pupils who are at risk of underachieving, but Greenwood Dale has a fine track record in helping them realise their potential. In terms of contextualised value-added scores, it is the sixth-highest performing school in the country.
Liz Churton, River Leen's acting head since last May, felt her school could benefit from the input of Greenwood Dale's senior management. "I knew urgent changes were needed." she says. "A fresh perspective from outside the school has brought things into much sharper focus."
Mr Day says: "We've been very careful not to go down the 'hero head' route.
My deputy went in to River Leen and set up a joint project team consisting of senior staff from both schools to identify areas where extra capacity was needed."
But his reluctance to be seen as the figurehead doesn't mean he is averse to hands-on leadership, especially when it comes to the classroom. "I think the idea of school leaders not teaching is outrageous," he says. "Senior staff should be prepared to take on the most difficult classes."
True to his word, last year he taught maths to 35 of the most challenging Year 11 pupils in his own school, all of whom achieved a B or C at GCSE.
It's a strategy that has been taken on board at River Leen. Raising attainment in maths was identified as a priority at the school, which has had problems recruiting staff in the subject. The fact that Greenwood's deputy Kelvin Hornsby spends three days a week at River Leen means the assistant head, a maths specialist, can take on a more active teaching role with Year 11 classes, adding to curriculum time and allowing for more personalised learning as well as raising the profile of senior staff.
But doesn't Mr Hornsby's absence leave a hole in the senior management at his own school? No, says Mr Day. Rather, it is a great opportunity for other staff to gain management experience by taking on aspects of his role.
At present, the heads of maths and English share the responsibility. For Mr Hornsby, who has already completed his headship qualification, it has been a chance to put some theory into practice. "It's really opened my eyes to what can be achieved," he says.
Ms Churton is pleased with the recent Ofsted report which rated the school satisfactory with some good features. The partnership is set to continue for the rest of the school year and she believes the extra capacity and support will help the school to keep moving forward.
More about the National Leaders of Education and Support Schools schemes at www.nscl.org.uknle.cfm