Middle Leader Questions

It is always interesting to see how different schools interpret the role of Middle Leadership. In smaller schools separating different levels of leadership is difficult as there is so much to do and not enough people to share it with. Larger schools can have Year Group leaders – who may be responsible for as many teachers as the Head of a small school. Gascoigne Primary in Barking & Dagenham has at least 7 teachers per year group, so if you are a Middle Leader there, your role is almost the same as the Head of a 1FE Infant setting.

It means there can never be a definitive list of questions, but perhaps some starting points for a discussion in your context.

I have worked in one Primary setting where ML was all about subject leadership. As a Headteacher I preferred Middle Leaders to have a team to lead – and I was referring to Year Group Leaders… whatever works for you.

Regardless, if you can have all of the staff answering these questions confidently and with evidence of impact then you will be heading in the right direction.

1.    What are the strengths in your subject / area of responsibility? How do you know this?

Tips: Be prepared to identify 2-3 key strengths, don’t try to cover too many. Make sure they genuinely are strengths and that you have the evidence to back-up your claims e.g. data or evidence your monitoring activities.

If you are a Year Group leader and you wrote down a list of three things you do well as a team, would your list match with those of your colleagues? If it doesn’t, why not?

Are the things that you do well the things that matter? You may have amazing displays, but if the children aren’t behaving your effort would be better spent on strengthening attitudes to learning.

Is what you are doing well related to any aspect of whole school improvement? Wouldn’t it be great if the school had an area of improvement focus and you could point out clearly: either how you were doing that well, or how you have a clear action plan to improve that aspect of provision.

If you have wonderful strengths, that do matter and are related to the wider picture of self evaluation and improvement… who are you telling about them? Do Governors know what good work you are doing? Is there a Link Governor to invite in and share the good news with? Do you have the chance to contribute your summary of the team’s efforts within a Governor report?

2.    What are the key areas for development / weaknesses to address?

Tips: Don’t try to hide any obvious areas for development – it is better to be honest and explain what you are doing to address these. Again, pick the top priorities here rather than embark on a long list.

The additional points here are similar to the above. However as it is an area of development… what is the plan to get better and does everyone know their role? If your team is made up of teachers and TAs, is everyone equally able to say how what they do, on a daily basis, is contributing to that improvement plan? How often will you be able to measure for progress? What risk factors are there and how can you mitigate against them. Let’s say you are worried about phonics skills. You train someone to run an intervention… but they are off sick. What happens? If this priority is a priority it must be important enough that you have a plan for when things go wrong, before they go wrong!

3.    What have been your key priorities for improvement in recent years and what impact have these actions had on pupil outcomes?

Tips: Consider what you have already done to improve standards and be prepared to articulate the strategy as well as the positive impact it had e.g. “I introduced X, and as a result attainment went up by y%”.

A simple structure for evidencing impact is to use the 3Is approach… Identify, Implement and Impact. The first step is easy – everyone can always produce a list of things they think could be done better. It is harder work to check it has the right areas on it, then prioritise that list, before working out what you are going to do.

A danger is that implementation is substituted for Intervention… they are not the same thing. The best results come from quality first teaching practices that are embedded in typical delivery and culture. If Child A has to leave the classroom for 15mins a day for 6 weeks, is that a sustainable model? What is that child missing while they are absent from class? Is it an efficient use of the adult’s time? How is a link being maintained between the intervention and what happens in the classroom? Does everyone else know what is happening and why?

@teacherhead published a blog on how the best intervention might just be to teach everyone better!

4.    How well do pupils achieve in your subject / area of responsibility?

Tips: If there is national data available, make sure you use this i.e. be prepared to talk about how attainment and progress of pupils in your school compare to the national picture. Make sure you point to both current data of pupils still in the school as well as historic data.

Data sets in schools are a real challenge. In most cases the numbers of pupils in the cohort is so small that it is statistically unviable. Trying to draw conclusions from groups which may only have 1-3 pupils in them is fraught with danger. One child can stuff your numbers, another can vastly over inflate the averages. We had one girl who was White British, born 3 months premature, had a visual impairment, came from a background with poor adult levels of literacy, was Free School Meals eligible and was on the SEN register. Her scores were so low that she impacted on every group. Teachers could easily get lost in the data and depressed at the way the spreadsheet is refusing to behave… but it is all meaningless.

What assessment do you have that genuinely tells you what pupils do/do not know?

How are you acting on that data to inform teaching before you start and to measure impact once you have completed a unit?

You would be well advised to read any of the posts by @jpembroke

5.    Are there any discrepancies in achievement between different groups of pupils?

Tips: It is important to be aware of any particular issues there might be for specific groups of pupils. Do certain groups appear to achieve better or worse than their peers? A focus on SEND, those eligible for pupil premium, higher attaining pupils, gender and ethnicity are all important to consider… but be wary of group numbers and drawing too many conclusions based on small sizes!

For leaders it would be great if everyone was able to link back to how what you do, in your year group, relates to the delivery of the whole school plan. Somewhere in your school there is a Pupil Premium Funding document that tells Ofsted – and Governors – what the money is being spent on. Is any of that plan related to your Year Group and any PP pupils you may have? Does the plan address the right needs? Have you ever discussed the plan with your SLT? Are you ever asked to provide evidence of impact?

In some schools the Pupil Premium money is insignificant, but in others it may be £700k+… wouldn’t it be great if everyone knew about the plan, knew their role in delivering it and was able to articulate the impact they had had?

6.    How do you assess learning and pupil progress in your area of responsibility?

Tips: It is tricky for all leaders to be able to articulate how learning is assessed and, critically, how any information is used to help improve the progress pupils make. Managing data drops for Reading, Writing and Maths is hard enough. Now there will be the inevitability of Times Table data drops as well. All the while you should be looking for ways to reduce workload.

Remember, there is no one correct way to do this – you just need to be able to articulate how your school do this in a clear and coherent manner.

  • What you do with the data is more important that how you collect it so try to focus on this. If it doesn’t make a difference, don’t do it!
  • Link it back to your marking and feedback policy – which hopefully has only three key requirements:
    • Pupils can identify something in the subject that they do well and they are able to give you an example to show how they know
    • Pupils can identify something in the subject that they need to do better and they are able to give you an example to show how they know the teacher has helped them in that goal
    • Over time there is visible evidence of progress

This three pronged approach would work for every subject and it doesn’t require huge reams of meaningless numbers. Something that we have been working on is Assessing Through Talk, an approach developed in partnership with Chris Quigley Ltd. The idea is simple… when do you make time to talk to children to see what they can actually do and what they understand? Do you have conversations that allow you to check for depth of understanding? Here is a quick introduction from the man himself: video link

8.    How do you monitor standards in your subject / area of responsibility?

Tips: Remember that monitoring takes a variety of forms e.g. pupil conferencing, lesson observations, book sampling, data analysis etc. How do you use this information to draw conclusions and, critically, what do you do as a result?

Another useful post on this comes from @teacherhead… again!

A key difficulty many Year Group Leaders face is being able to get into classrooms to see their colleagues teaching. Partly because they may never have done it before and aren’t sure what to look for – being an observer is quite a nerve wracking experience the first few times. Often there is an issue with release time – money is tight! Book looks can be powerful if you see the teaching that supported what went into the work. If the teacher can bring some books along to the feedback session to talk about what work was completed, that is highly useful.

You don’t have much time, so use it wisely. Simple sitting down and flicking through a huge pile of books is not going to be very productive. What do you want to get out of the monitoring of standards? Who is going to be involved? What will be better as a consequence?

9.    What is the quality of teaching like in your subject / area of responsibility?

Tips: Be prepared to talk about how well your subject is taught. Where is it taught well / less well? Are there particular strengths or weaknesses in terms of teaching? Be prepared to be quite specific here e.g. “number and place value is taught well, but we are working on how we teach problem solving effectively.” You may need to be specific in terms of the quality of teaching across the school e.g. “Teaching is strong in the upper school, but not yet as strong in the lower school.”

What do you do with your PPA time? How often do you proactively get in to see other colleagues teach? Sometimes this would be solely for your benefit, on other occasions it might be to look for evidence related to your area of responsibility. It won’t always be possible for SLT to give you extra time, but you do have control of some of your timetable… so make the most of it.

10.    How involved are you in improving the practice of colleagues in your school?

Tips: Have you been involved in mentoring new teachers / coaching more experienced ones? If so, consider how you have helped improved their practice? What would you do if you identify an issue in terms of quality of teaching?

How involved are you in taking your own practice forward? Have you used social media to build links with colleagues and share ideas? What was the last professional book you read and how did it impact on your teaching/leadership? Have you videoed yourself teaching and then improved something as a consequence? If you aren’t doing it for yourself, you are unlikely to be doing it for somebody else.

11.    Is there a CPD plan for your area of responsibility?

Tips: Be prepared to talk through how you co-ordinate, plan or lead training for colleagues in your area of responsibility. Is there a plan in place and does this link to your wider improvement plan?


This poster shows the key points made by Rosenshine. If you already apply them to pupils, well done! Do you also apply them to staff? Is CPD provided once and then never spoken of again? When do staff have the chance to revisit training and refresh their understanding?

Are observations and feedback used as a chance to review and clarify how the training is being applied? What modelling has been provided for staff… not just NQTs. New techniques and schemes are just as challenging for teachers on the Upper Pay Spine. You make expectations clear for pupils, make them equally clear for staff.

Do you practice new ideas before introducing them to pupils? Is there a chance to identify possible issues a long time in advance and do something proactive to prevent them actually occurring?

12.    How do the senior leaders in the school support you in your role? Do you receive CPD as a middle leader?

Tips: Consider how you work with senior leaders. Do you meet regularly? This is not the time to launch into a list of complaints about lack of support from senior leaders – probably better to have these conversations separately!

This links back to how often you talk about the key documents that are supposed to drive progress in your schools – SEF, SIP, Governor Reports that update on progress with these priorities, data trends, feedback on what is happening in the classrooms. If there is only infrequent contact between ML & SLT then drift can set in quickly and momentum lost.

Has your school agreed some leadership competencies… what are leaders in your school supposed to be good at? What does good look like? How is it modelled by SLT? Does the CPD programme provided make sure these competencies are addressed and covered so that by the time you get the job you know what to do?

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