Executive Leadership in Education – Working With and Through Others

Working at the level of an executive leader in education brings with it a unique set of challenges and rewards. It is a role like no other. One minute you will be in the classroom observing students and teachers explore an element of the curriculum – sparking new ways of thinking, engrossed in their learning and really benefitting from the high quality teaching they are receiving, and in the next moment you are reviewing tenders for a new catering contract or speaking to government officials about the next round of paperwork they need you to submit. No two days are the same, no two tasks are the same and yet you are responsible and accountable for delivering on all of them.

The role of an executive leader can be defined by pairs, or partnerships: responsibility and accountability, operational and strategic, risk and reward, learner and leader, the list could go on. How you navigate those partnered challenges is what defines your leadership. What supports you in that task is relatively simple on paper, three key ingredients; the right people, the right systems and the right processes. Getting it right in reality is more complex, ever evolving, and the element of executive leadership which keeps those in the role motivated to continue.

This article will unpack and explore one of the three key ingredients in more detail: people or more specifically relationships. A key group of stakeholders for Executive Leaders are the parents and carers of the young people being educated. They are however, potentially a group of stakeholders executive leaders can feel distanced from – not greeting them at the school gate or interacting during parent events in quite the same way as the teachers and leaders working day to day in schools. Understanding how, as an executive leader, you can influence the relationships between each school and their parents is key to supporting your staff as they work with parents to support young people to thrive.

What does the research and guidance say?

One report cited in the new National Professional Qualification for Executive Leaders framework is the Education Endowment Foundation’s (2018) Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning. This makes clear that schools ought to be optimistic in their approach to fostering the link between the home environment and children’s school performance, whilst acknowledging that the evidence on effective strategies is mixed. In fact the EEF’s research found that most schools don’t have an explicit plan as to how they work with parents and fewer than 10% have received CPD on parental engagement.

Recommendation 2 from the report: ‘Provide practical strategies to support learning at home’ is a good place to start when considering your own approach or devising a new one.

It states the six practical strategies to support learning as:

  1. ‘For young children, promoting shared book reading should be a central component of any parental engagement approach. Home learning activities, such as playing with letters and numbers, are also linked to improved outcomes.
  2. Tips, support, and resources can make home activities more effective—for example, where they prompt longer and more frequent conversations during book reading.
  3. Book-gifting alone is unlikely to be effective, but carefully selected books plus advice and support can be beneficial for supporting reading.
  4. Support parents to create a regular routine and encourage good homework habits, but be cautious about promoting direct parental assistance with homework (particularly for older children).
  5. Parents can support their children by encouraging them to set goals, plan, and manage their time, effort, and emotions. This type of support can help children to regulate their own learning and will often be more valuable than direct help with homework tasks.
  6. Consider initiatives to encourage summer reading; these have some promise but are not widely used at present.’

It may be that, given the experience of the past year, some of these strike a particular chord or prompt further thinking about developments that have taken place across your Trust or are planned.

Messages from the critical review section

The EEF recommend considering the following as starting points:

  • Developing a clear plan for what you want to achieve;
  • Auditing your current practice to assess what is working well and what is not;
  • Listening to what less-involved parents would find helpful; and
  • Stopping activities where there is no evidence of clear benefits or impact.

Thinking strategically about these across your schools is a next step…

What are the implications of this learning on my own schools’ context?

When reflecting on this area of study, there are evident questions to be asked and implications to be considered.

  • What do you and your trust leadership team want to achieve in terms of working in partnership with parents/carers to help their children with learning?
  • Across the trust, what is currently working well and why? Is impact evaluated for you/others to know this is the case, or is it more anecdotal?
  • How do successful approaches reflect the 6 practical strategies identified by the EEF? Are any missing?
  • To what extent is good practice known/shared across schools? Is key learning about what works transferrable or context-specific?
  • Are the views of less-involved parents in the schools known? What are the key messages if they are and, if they’re not, how might they be captured?
  • What is working less well and why? If there are no clear benefits, is it time to stop?
  • How might CPD focused on engaging parents in supporting learning be designed across the Trust?

Thinking strategically: you might wish to consider the implications for your trust’s development in terms of:

  • Overall strategy and the development of this with key stakeholders so that needs are understood and how these might be best met fully considered
  • Potential partnership working across the Trust as well as with external providers
  • How staff development might contribute to achieving desired outcomes
  • Evaluating the impact of actions taken (as 76% of schools do not have measures in place for this)
  • How the EEF’s report might support the Trust’s future development.

Engaging with research in this way – to challenge your thinking, generate discussion points and enable the sharing of good practice, is a good way to ensure you remain at the forefront of what can often feel like a rapidly changing educational landscape.

If these questions have got you thinking, then the NPQEL could be just the CPD opportunity you are looking for. To find out more and apply visit www.llse.org.uk/programmes or join our roundtable discussion at the October conference.

This article was written by Leadership Learning South East (LLSE), a partnership of Teaching Schools and Strategic Partners working together to build capacity in the system for outstanding leadership.

Join LLSE at the Outstanding Schools Middle East Conference, in the Leadership & Management Stream, on the 13th October 2021. 

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References

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/ParentalEngagement/EEF_Parental_Engagement_Guidance_Report.pdf (Accessed 5 July 2021).