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How are specialist leaders of education (SLEs) being deployed?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: School-led system, SLE


There are now over 6000 specialist leaders of education (SLEs), supporting school improvement across England. Here, 5 SLEs with different specialisms describe the work they've been doing.

Sue Bradley

Cheadle Hulme High School, Atticus Alliance

Specialism: English and literacy

What were you asked to do?

I carried out a diagnostic review of the English department, using lesson observations, book scrutiny, student voice and interviews with key staff to determine what the underlying issues were and to devise a way forward.  I then visited once a week over a period of a year.

How did you go about it?

After the initial diagnostic review and report was submitted I waited for the school to decide which aspects they wanted me to focus on. I then met with each member of the department privately and reassured them that I was there as part of a whole-school supportive measure and was not there to 'judge' in any way. By providing advice, support and resources I was able to gain the trust and confidence of the department so that working on achieving consistent levels of teaching and learning was much easier. Some of my tasks included:

  • working with the head of department to re-structure the department and re-visit job descriptions
  • jointly planning the KS3 curriculum with the KS3 coordinator
  • leading KS4 moderation sessions; observed lessons taught by all staff in the department
  • coaching and mentoring key staff with a focus on teaching and learning
  • advising head of department on data analysis and tracking
  • carrying out a review of whole school literacy and advised on a range of strategies to implement

I invited staff to my own school to meet with members of my department and to shadow staff, observe lessons and learn from a different environment. I also delivered a full day of training on the way forward for them, which ended with them running the last session themselves.

I always submitted a written report after every visit, detailing what I had done that day and my thoughts on any actions required before my next visit.  This report would go to the headteacher, head of department, and my own line manager.

What were the challenges?

Many staff felt that they had had every initiative thrown at them. They had been observed over and over again, so gaining their trust and convincing then that I was on 'their side' was hard. It was also difficult to change habits in the classroom.

Perhaps the hardest thing was tackling the attitude that ‘until the rest of the school changes/behaviour improves/leadership support us, then nothing will change’. Many staff who were feeling stressed would blame the lack of progress on any number of things without realising that sometimes it just takes a few tweaks in their own practice to make a difference.

What was the impact of your deployment and how did you measure it?

The confidence of the head of department to devise her own action plan for areas to focus on following data analysis.

The eagerness of staff to work with me on long term plans and schemes.

The level of consistency in the quality of teaching and learning after two terms  and the empowerment of the KS3 coordinator, so that she was actively involved in the department quality assurance and monitoring.

The desire to create a pocket of excellence that was then held up as 'exemplary' during an HMI visit.

Amanda Anderson

Marshfields Special Secondary School, Cambridgeshire Teaching Schools Network

Specialism: Special needs/science

What were you asked to do?

Support the teaching assistant team of a medium to large secondary school after concerns about SEN students in the maths department were highlighted by the schools self-evaluation.

How did you go about it?

I worked one-to-one with the deputy headteacher to highlight the issues, and then delivered training unique to the students involved. The training provided a toolkit that teaching assistants could use when engaging students within the maths department (and across school), to ensure SEN students could gain access to learning.

What were the challenges?

A working relationship needed to be fostered within a short period of time with a team of over 20 teaching assistants. The teaching assistant team were from varying backgrounds and some were 'stuck in their own ways'. Using practical activities during training, all of them became involved and together we developed the toolkit that they could deploy.

What was the impact of your deployment and how did you measure it?

In our sessions, I took part in a question time with the teaching assistants and endeavoured to respond in a useful way. When further resources were required I ensured these were available for the following session. The teaching assistant team certainly developed mutual respect as sessions took place and together the toolkit was devised. The deputy headteacher gave feedback at the time of training that all was going well and attendance at sessions was greater than expected over the 3 months they took place. The overall impact will hopefully be seen by the deputy head over the coming months with all SEN students attending maths lessons.

Helen Moorcroft

Gatley Teaching School, Gatley Teaching Alliance

Specialism: Maths

What were you asked to do?

I was asked to support a school that had recently received requires improvement in an Ofsted inspection. There were specific areas for development on the report that had a maths focus so I was asked to work on these by the local authority.

How did you go about it?

An initial meeting was organised between me, the head of my school (who is a national leader of education) and the head of the school we were supporting. During this meeting we discussed the support required and the impact this would have.

A support plan was put in place with:

  • actions to be taken
  • milestones to complete
  • the support on offer
  • success criteria
  • how it would be monitored
  • cost implications

This was agreed with the school and dates were set.

The support I would offer involved leading CPD and developing subject leaders, the quality of teaching with specific teachers and other leadership development within the school. Specific tasks included:

  • working with school staff to develop a short-term planning format to be used in year groups 1-6 and use of medium term plans to ensure linkage between lessons
  • creating a vulnerable groups overview for each class to include pupil premium and children new to the key stage
  • leading a meeting for staff on the new national curriculum changes and ensuring that teachers were aware of the progression between year groups
  • working with some year group teachers to develop planning for learning to help provide challenge for pupils in their classes
  • performing a review of support and monitoring of mathematics

What were the challenges?

Challenges faced were particularly from staff members who were not fully engaged in the process. Although they would come to meetings and appear to engage, they would fail to implement the changes in their classrooms.

What was the impact of your deployment and how did you measure it?

I reviewed the impact of the support with my headteacher and the senior leadership team of the school. This involved a learning walk - observations, planning, review data, interview with pupils and sample books.

There was also a review by the local authority, which was monitoring the school. The results of this were added to our impact evidence.

The school is also due to receive an Ofsted monitoring visit, where impact will be measured.

Stuart Billington

The Fallibroome Academy, The Silk Alliance

Specialism: Science department leadership

What were you asked to do?

Help other science departments with issues such as:

  • ineffective curriculum offers
  • underperformance against attainment targets
  • inconsistency of performance and skills between teachers in the department
  • uncertain leadership from middle leaders
  • poor relationships between middle leaders and their senior leadership team

How did you go about it?

Often, but not always, first contact has been with a member of the requesting school's leadership team, who have outlined the issues as they see them. I have then made email contact with the head of science to convey to them directly what I have been asked to try to provide. I then visit for a morning or day, which often begins with a short chat with the head of science to break the ice, followed by lesson observations and a marking scrutiny. I then have longer chats with a couple of members of the department (eg the second in charge) and, finally, feedback and discussion with the head of the science department. After the visit, I provide a formal written summary to the head of science and the leadership team, including future steps, that may or may not include my continued involvement.  Sometimes, staff from the school are invited to spend time at my school, to observe lessons here or talk to our staff.

What were the challenges?

The biggest challenge is always one of diplomacy: trying to be a supportive mentor and coach who is a contemporary, on an equal footing. I need to provide some actual positive outcome, while simultaneously not being patronising and also accepting that I am generally thrust upon the head of science by leadership, often unbidden, often when there are 'issues' to resolve. That can lead to a lot of mistrust if not handled carefully. Walking through the front door of the requesting school for the first time takes some nerve!

What was the impact of your deployment and how did you measure it?

Changes in policy are the most visible - different examination courses, for instance, or different deployment of staff or use of different teaching methods. The measurable impact these lead to are less easily judged, but obviously the hope is that they will translate to improved examination results in the summer exams.

Dr Joanna Rhodes

Shelley College, Green Light Teaching School Alliance

Specialism: Science and curriculum

What were you asked to do?

I was asked to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of an under-performing science department and to support the head of faculty to overcome a number of challenges including improving the quality of teaching and learning and strengthening aspects of her own leadership.

How did you go about it?

I visited the school and spent time with the head of faculty. She also visited my school and I listened to the very wide range of issues that she perceived herself to be up against. We used all of this information, along with guidance from the senior leadership team, to draft an action plan with the main areas we were going to work to improve together.

We continued to meet throughout the link cycle and held learning walks to get a feel for how the intervention was supporting the department to improve. We collected evidence of our progress and updated the action plan to keep the senior leadership team at both our schools up to date. The areas of interest were flexible and changed the longer we worked together and by the end of the cycle we had really pinpointed the most important things to continue with to ensure that the faculty improved.

What were the challenges?

Part of my strategy at the outset with any deployment is to focus on empowering the curriculum leader. With increased involvement, delegation and participation the science staff can be more accountable for the performance rather than detached from it. This makes leadership a more rewarding and successful experience.

Where a curriculum leader is bogged down, it is easy for them to list all the factors they are up against that are out of their control and therefore lead to stress. This could be, for example, staffing, timetabling, time available or an imminent inspection. Instead, we focused on aspects of leading the department that were in the curriculum leader's control. We tried to emphasise the positive impact that they could make on a daily basis by investing in their team and supporting them, which is wholly within their control.

What was impact of your deployment and how did you measure it?

The main impact of this deployment was the science team beginning to comprehend what good and outstanding teaching looks like within their department. They valued this enough to begin putting in place some strategies for how they would continue to identify good practice within their department and share it with each other. Members of the wider science team had participated in guided drop-ins with me, along with observations, and it was rewarding to hear their comments on how valuable an experience it was. In particular they were now able to see a drop-in from the point of view of the observer rather than the observed. This is something that will now continue within the department and a structure is in place to provide opportunities for staff to participate and a time for everyone to receive feedback.

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  1. Comment by Shushila bhanderi posted on

    What about sle in primary early years? Are there case studies for this?

  2. Comment by Deborah Taylor posted on

    Hi Shushila,

    My colleague and I are both Early Years SLEs, appointed last year. So far we have been delivering bespoke training to EY departments in schools, and Sophie has recently undertaken some SLE work with a nursery class. We are both available for EY support. I am a Nursery Manager of an Outstanding Children's Centre Nursery and my colleague is the Children's Centre and Nursery teacher. We don't currently have any case studies but hopefully will have once we get deployed more widely!

    Deborah Taylor, Roundabout Nursery, Brighton and Hove City Council.

  3. Comment by Kas Lee-Douglas, Whitwick St John the Baptist CE School, Leicestershire Council posted on

    Hi Shushila,
    I am a coach and SEN SLE and have been used in a variety of ways, including working with Early Years, and both KS1 and 2. I have delivered SEN training to Schools Direct trainees; coaching to NQT mentors and EY managers; delivered courses on dyslexia/dyscalculia and Talkboost training to teachers and heads; bespoke staff training for some schools and have worked with schools either supporting a SENCo new to the role, carried out an audit or provided advice and support for others. I have also been part of a collaborative of SENCos working together during the changes to SEND reform. The work has been varied and highly enjoyable and feedback indicates that schools are grateful for support; however, this could not have been possible without the indulgence of my Head and colleagues.


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