We’re following Sian Hampton in her first year as a national leader of education (NLE) to discover how the role meets her expectations, learning about her successes, achievements and challenges along the way.
Sian is the executive principal of Bluecoat Academies Trust in Nottingham, which has 4 sites and almost 3,000 pupils. They are sponsoring a local academy on a separate site, which became Bluecoat Beechdale in April 2014. NLEs are excellent headteachers who, together with the staff from their national support schools, provide direct support to other schools.
The opportunity to make a greater difference
A big part of my reason for applying is because I am a big believer in system leadership and the school-led system. I think it is important to grow and develop your own leaders, and becoming an NLE was the next step for me to grow and develop, which in turn provided the capacity for other people to grow and develop behind me. I think the era of looking to the local authority for help and to step in has long gone, and we need to develop a cadre of school leaders who can develop the educational aspirations of young people.
Sian feels that her experience of leading Bluecoat, and then sponsoring Bluecoat Beechdale, along with having trained as an Ofsted inspector, has provided her with a wealth of knowledge and variety of skills to draw upon in her role as an NLE.
Single designation, whole school development
The designation of Bluecoat as a national support school has also had a positive effect on staff. They feel pleased that their skills were recognised.
When Bluecoat took over Beechdale, there was a range of emotions from staff, from excitement, interest, bemusement, ‘I just don’t care as long as it doesn’t affect me’, to some anxiety because I selected some of the brightest and best Bluecoat staff and moved them to Beechdale. But, that provided opportunity for other staff to grow and step up at Bluecoat.
The school’s commitment and dedication to supporting others was evident even before the designation as an NLE and national support school. Five members of the staff group are specialist leaders of education. Sian and other leaders identified that the school has an exceptionally skilled workforce, and wanted colleagues to both develop themselves further and to go out and experience working in other schools when providing support.
Sian acknowledges that as an NLE, she has a role to help support other schools but recognises that the support will be a team effort:
I carry out the diagnostics. I go in and diagnose the problem, and then work alongside the team of staff who go in and support the implementation of changes.
A mission and purpose
A benefit of the NLE role I think will be that we all come into education to see young people flourish, and I think that’s what gets me up on a cold morning. I think the benefits and positive changes at Beechdale will validate a lot of the incredibly hard work that people have done and provide a clear rationale for how we can do that elsewhere – because ultimately it is about system improvement. If we can do it in one school, then we know that we can do it in other schools. Therefore, I think personally, it will help me and others to develop further, which will impact positively on this multi-academy trust and the schools I am working with.
I think it will be incredibly fulfilling – it’s part of what I came into education to do. I started out as a classroom teacher where I could influence 30 young people and I loved that; I ended up running a sixth form where I could influence 500 young people, and I loved that; and then I became a headteacher and that was a job I adored. Now I am in a position where I’m looking after 3,000 young people – and having that opportunity to play a part in improving those young people’s lives I find incredibly motivational. I believe education leadership is a vocation and that’s how I see it.
So what next?
When we spoke to Sian, she was hoping that their sponsored academy would receive an Ofsted rating of good:
I think that it would be a wonderful triumph for all the effort that has gone in by a lot of people and a really effective team. Results are already going up incrementally so it would be good to see a step change up.
Since we met with Sian, Ofsted has carried out an inspection of Bluecoat Beechdale and – less than 3 years after being sponsored by Bluecoat Academies Trust – the school received the good rating that Sian was hoping for.
We’ll be catching up with Sian later in the year.