I have been a Headteacher in Wales for nearly 20 years and during that time there have been 5 main Ministers of Education, Jane Davidson, Jane Hutt, Leighton Andrews, Huw Lewis and now Kirsty Williams. Although much has changed in Welsh education during that time with the introduction of the Foundation Phase, the Welsh Baccalaureate, the abolishment of SATs and the introduction of National Testing to name but a few of the initiatives introduced since devolution, not much has really happened to develop and support leadership in Wales…. until now.
That said, it is fair to say that there have been some attempts to support leadership and we should mention the Professional Headship Induction Programme (PHIP) which was introduced during Jane Davidson’s service along with the Leadership for Serving Heads Programme (LPSH) – both of these offered support to new and existing heads, but nonetheless these programmes have long gone. However, the introduction of the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), which is designed to prepare teachers for the challenging role of headship, has survived and became mandatory in Wales in 2004. Whilst the NPQH remains a mandatory requirement, there has been little to support existing headteachers or for those finding themselves leading schools in acting roles in the absence of a substantive head.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer applicants are received for leadership roles in schools across Wales and this is a major concern especially for Welsh-medium and secondary schools who seem to suffer the most. Some senior leaders enjoy their role within the school and do not want the pressures of becoming a Headteacher especially when they can see the growing levels of personal accountability and increased pressures on school leaders. There are some deputies even after completing the NPQH who do not go forward to hold a substantive post as a Headteacher. So how do we address this? How do we motivate our teachers to be aspirational leaders? How do we encourage teachers to become ‘inspirational leaders’ as set out in ‘Education in Wales: Our National Mission’(2017), and how do we ensure that teachers and leaders stay in the profession and feel valued, respected and supported? Well at long last the Welsh Government recognise that something needs to be done and Kirsty Williams AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Education is certainly tackling this issue with the introduction of the National Academy for Educational Leadership (NAEL). This is a step in the right direction.
Since July 2016, when the Cabinet Secretary announced that she was giving priority to the creation and establishment of a NAEL, much has happened. A task and finish group which acts as a shadow board has been established and is chaired by Ann Keane, former Estyn Chief Inspector. This group also includes key stakeholders, including representatives from the Education Workforce Council, Estyn, the teaching unions and experts like Mick Waters who has helped shape the new Professional Standards for Teaching and Leadership in Wales. The board has sought the views and opinions of other stakeholders across Wales in a number of roadshows and is currently carrying out further workshops to ensure that the shadow board understands what exactly the profession wants from the academy. Ann Keane has made it quite clear that the shadow board ‘wants to carry on working with all partners and stakeholders so that we create a NAEL that will work for and with you to help to maintain and improve the quality of experiences and outcomes for learners across Wales’.
Both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) review into Welsh education and Estyn (the education and training inspectorate for Wales) have emphasised that there is a need to build capacity at all levels of leadership in order to enable learners to reach their full potential. So how does the Academy propose to do this? We need to look at other countries to see how they are developing and supporting leadership. We need to see what they do could look like for Wales and evaluate different models to consider whether or not they fit in to the Welsh context. We need to consider what international evidence in respect of leadership is saying? How are those countries who are performing well in PISA supporting and developing leadership? And about what the leadership structures in other countries where education is devolved?
In June this year I visited Ontario, Canada on a study visit and was fortunate to speak and listen to a number of professionals about their education system and it was clear that leadership is recognised as a driver in influencing student learning. Their framework (The Ontario Leadership Framework) is designed to facilitate, promote, identify, guide and implement professional learning throughout. There is a clear model for leadership within the profession which allows for career development. They focus on five dimensions of effective leadership but they also recognise that they need good, effective leaders that are ready for change and that capacity building for this to happen is essential. Capacity building is problematic in Ontario, too. The Ontario Ministry of Education continues to evaluate this area of their work and recognise that the Leadership Framework continues to evolve as a result of ongoing research in Ontario and international jurisdictions, and also ongoing consultations with a cross-section of stakeholders. This is not dissimilar to Wales. One thing is certain, Ontario places a great emphasis on ongoing professional development (OPL) and with our new Professional Standards for Teaching and Leadership, could ensure that Wales does the same.
McKinsey and Company in their report on How The World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better, state that the most successful systems actively foster the development of the next generation of system leadership from within. Their report references how 20 schools from different parts of the world have registered significant, sustained and widespread student gain. So perhaps this is the answer for Wales, to ensure that leaders understand their role as ‘system leaders’ with a strong emphasis on collaboration, improving through working with peers and innovation. It is certainly something for Wales to consider.
Using my knowledge from the visit to Ontario and my extensive experience as a headteacher I am keen to put this into practice to try and find ways to support future leaders. Since October 2017, I have joined the Shadow Board as a stakeholder representative and I welcome the opportunity to be involved in the work of the National Academy of Educational Leadership. The vision and values set out by Welsh Government and its commitment to identify, support and inspire leaders across the system (Our National Mission) are in themselves innovative. These are exciting times for Wales with the development of curriculum reform, the new professional standards and the NAEL. This is our opportunity to lead the way in the international arena with our inspirational leaders working together, committed to raising standards and reducing the attainment gap for all.
Tegwen Ellis has been the Headteacher at Ysgol Cynwyd Sant, Maesteg for 19 years. Following the school’s Estyn inspection in 2016, her leadership was described as ‘progressive and innovative....she shares her vision and philosophy very successfully’. Ysgol Cynwyd Sant is a pioneer school for professional learning and a curriculum pioneer school and it is a lead creative school with the Arts Council of Wales. Tegwen is Chair of the Welsh medium federation of head teachers within the Central South Consortium. She is an Estyn peer inspector, a member of the Drindod Dewi Sant Athrofa’s leadership working party and since October 2017 is a member of the National Academy Educational Leadership’s shadow board. She is passionate about giving cultural experiences to children and young people and was the Chair of the Executive committee for the Urdd Eisteddfod that visited Bridgend in 2017.