Leadership, and learning to fly

Best Practice Network managing director Liam Donnison meets Andrew Warren, chair of the Teaching Schools Council.

When you ask Teaching Schools Council chair Andrew Warren about the recruitment and retention challenge schools face today he recalls a 1980s reunion with a couple of teacher training friends.

“We were two years into our careers when we met up and we got talking about how things were going for each of us,” he tells me. “When we were studying those two were probably better students than me but by the time we’d met up I seemed to be having more fun in my job, and certainly had been given more responsibility. To a large extent, I put that down to the fact that I’d had a great mentor.”

That meeting underlined for Andrew the importance of support and encouragement in the first few years of a teacher’s career. It’s something that he speaks passionately about today as one of the leading figures in the national education scene.

We meet at Manor Teaching School in Wolverhampton, where Andrew is executive director. Since 2016 he has also been chair of the Teaching Schools Council, an organisation that leads and drives the work of teaching schools in the school-led, self-improving education system. Teaching schools are now firmly woven into the school landscape, with more than 800 across the country. Many of them work with alliances of up to 30 schools, so the bulk of England’s 22,000 state schools should now be able to have a link of some form with a teaching school.

Andrew believes that teaching schools have a crucial and growing responsibility to promote the sort of nurturing, encouraging start to a new teacher’s career that he benefited from. He began his career in 1985 as a teacher at St Stephen’s East Twickenham Primary in Richmond-upon-Thames. He says that the headteacher, Paul Briten, saw his potential and allowed him to grow and develop, experiment and, sometimes, trip up. “He was quick to encourage and willing to challenge,” Andrew recalls. “He never laughed at me, even when towards the end of the summer term of that first year I went into his office and said, ‘Paul, what do I have to do to be a leader?’”

He goes on: “As an NQT appropriate body initial teacher training is a vital part of what teaching schools do,” he says. “But we must see ITT as what it is: initial teacher training. We need to go beyond the initial and support teachers two, three, four years into their careers. As teaching schools and leaders, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing to make things better for newly qualified teachers; how we help NQTs to stay in the profession and help them to see the fantastic job that it is, and then help them to progress in their careers. We must go carefully. The training that teaching schools are providing is good, especially School Direct, but we need to continue to look closely at the quality of mentor support that is available. Without quality mentoring for all NQTs, then even the very best initial training will fall short.”

He wants NQTs to be treated as an investment - an approach that will demand a sensitive, careful approach. “At the moment it’s not uncommon to hear that an NQT, judged as outstanding by their ITT provider in July, gets towards October half term and after a lesson observation receives ‘requiring improvement’ feedback, which can be really disheartening,” he says. “I look back at my experience and I certainly wasn’t outstanding after seven weeks, or even seven months – few people are!  It takes time to master the different elements of teaching and we need to allow our new teachers time to grow into their skills.”

Andrew adds: “I know that heads face severe pressures over the quality of teaching in their schools, and the presence of NQTs can add to this pressure in some cases.  Perhaps if Ofsted judgements about NQTs were reported under the leadership section of the Ofsted report, rather than teaching and learning, then the onus will be on school leaders to nurture and develop NQTs, rather than worrying whether the progress in an NQT’s Year 4 books matches that found in the classroom of an experienced teacher next door.”

Leadership is also about enabling people, says Andrew. “The biggest buzz for me as a leader is helping other people to fly and achieve greater things,” he says. He underlines his point with some lines from the French poet Guillaime Apollinaire:

“Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, we're afraid!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, we will fall!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.”

Those words weave a powerful image, but leaders can’t expect their team to take that leap if they’re not prepared to do it themselves, Andrew adds.

“Skiing is one of my great passions and a couple of years ago I decided to realise one of my dreams to do a ski jump,” he says. “When I got to the jump it was a terrifying sight and I hesitated at first but I decided that although the landing might be messy I was going to do it. I have a photo of that jump which reminded me that as a leader you can’t ask people to jump from a height and not be prepared to do it yourself.”

Liam Donnison is managing director of Best Practice Network, a DfE-licensed provider of National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. Best Practice Network partners teaching schools nationally to manage the delivery of the NPQs and other qualifications. Further information is available at www.bestpracticenet.co.uk. Further information about the Teaching Schools Council is available at www.tscouncil.org.uk

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