School improvement: Advice from the top...

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:

Experienced school leaders are contributing their advice on school improvement to the new look National Professional Qualifications. Liam Donnison gives us some examples...

Over the past 12 months we have been working with our partners to refresh and revitalise the suite of National Professional Qualifications so that they can meet the current and future needs of aspiring, new and established school leaders.

During that time dozens of schools leaders have given their time to contribute insights and advice. The result is a substantial body of the most current thinking and practice from leaders of all types, across the phases and across the country. Here are six key pieces of advice that we have received from our primary leaders tackling various aspects of school improvement:

Helen Morris, principal, Cranberry Academy, Cheshire: “It’s about knowing your school through the hard and soft data so that you can focus in on what the real issue is. I think it’s important to be specific, so start with just one or two key things to target. Be open to brainstorming, magpie-ing ideas and sharing best practice. If something is not effective then don’t be afraid to change it. Learn from the mistakes but don’t dwell on them.”

Kylie Spark, headteacher, Tyntesfield Primary School, Cheshire: “As headteachers we are at times ‘jacks of all trades’ and the day-to-day management can be difficult to juggle alongside the strategic leadership role. My advice would be to never lose sight of what is important and evaluate every action against the impact on learning.”

Tarun Kapur, CEO of the Dean Trust MAT: “If we can’t demonstrate that we are already doing it in our own schools then we can’t preach it. There are too many consultants working in the system who can’t genuinely say that, but everyone in the teams that we send into schools are practitioners at every level. You also need to make sure that you have the capacity in your schools to release people to work on school-to-school support. If you can’t release them then you simply can’t do it.”

Lyndon Evans, headteacher, Wheatfields Junior School, St Albans: “It’s easy to be distracted by the operational matters but you must cut through that and make sure that everything you do is in some way contributing to that core purpose. The other thing is getting the right people around you. And remember if there is a process and guidelines then refer to them and use them – keeping your key people involved and informed.”

Denise Kennedy, principal, Hammond Academy, Hemel Hempstead: “You must have rigorous monitoring and self-evaluation in place so when you start to think about school improvement priorities and setting your curriculum you will have an excellent understanding of what it is your children need and what your staff need for their professional development. And if your school is part of a MAT make sure that you draw on that support.”

Rachel Tomlison, headteacher, Barrowford Primary School, Lancashire: “I am a teacher and I can’t be an accountant, social worker and barrister. My job is to lead teaching and learning – that’s my expertise – and then use the people with the expertise to cover these other areas. Of course, there is a cost but it means these areas will be looked after professionally and effectively and it will ultimately cost you less. Don’t do a bad job of something that you are not qualified to do.”

  • Liam Donnison is managing director of Best Practice Network. These insights from leaders form part of the new suite of NPQs, developed and delivered by Outstanding Leaders Partnership in partnership with Best Practice Network. Visit

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