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Leadership Development: In conversation with Gene Payne, Head of TSA Rss

Posted on: November 29th 2019

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Following on from our informative sit down with East Dulwich Boy’s Principal, Peter Groves, we spoke to Gene about the importance of our Teaching School and how its activities benefit both Harris Academies and schools outside the Federation.

Can you tell us a bit about your start in Education and how you got to where you are today?

I started in Education as a Secondary School Teacher back in 1987, so that’s 32 years ago now. My background within education has been quite varied, I started as a Secondary Geography Teacher and I've also been a Secondary Headteacher.

At one point in my career, I worked for the National College for School Leadership which was essentially the government’s provision to recognise, celebrate and improve the quality of leadership in education. When the College first opened, I was one of the first employees. This was also where I first came across Sir Dan Moynihan who was working as a headteacher in Redbridge and Dagenham at the time. 

My current role, as Head of the Teaching School has only been for the last two years. The role itself suits my background and is primarily about professional development and leadership development, growing good leaders across the Federation and from the Federation, but we service leaders across the whole of London. It is a real desire of the Federation - to work with all leaders - as we want all schools to be the best they can be, not just our schools. All young people need to benefit from excellent leadership.

What is the Harris Teaching School Alliance and what is your role within it?

I am the Head of the Teaching School Alliance. The Teaching School is essentially an alliance of all of the Harris Federation Academies, working together to promote best practice and provide professional development. The Federation has an Initial Teacher Training arm (HITE), so for new teachers, HITE provides invaluable support through the first stage of the teaching journey. From then on, further professional development is the teaching school’s responsibility. We predominately put on leadership programmes as well as and running various large Federation training events such as the Annual whole staff, Governor’s and Senior Leader’s conferences.

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What motivates you to keep doing the job that you do?

It’s easy really – it is a privilege to be able to do work that impacts on young people’s lives and their opportunities. So, in that sense, I am motivated because we do good work for a good cause but I am also motivated because I work for a successful organisation that is committed to innovation. It is committed to doing things better and trying new things. I am not somebody who likes to just tick things done, I am not somebody who enjoys doing a good job but keeping it the same - I like to change, improve, innovate and be creative around the work that’s going on. This is an organisation that is committed to innovation and being creative in relation to providing a great educational experience for kids. That motivates me.

What is the importance of having industry and school leaders facilitate the programmes run by the Teaching School Alliance?

Being a large MAT, we know we have some exceptional leaders and teachers, so we will always look internally for the best first. We do draw on expertise from outside the Federation but it very rare that we don’t have some excellent practice within the Federation to draw on, so we will always look to our people first. And as to why, well it celebrates our people, it celebrates their talent, it amplifies that expertise so more people benefit from it and it also symbolises our commitment to our own people as that is where we look to first. The result of that has been that people feel not just part of an individual academy but they feel part of the federation because they actively take part in federation activity not just academy activity.

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Why is succession planning and talent management such a big part of the Federation and TSA ethos?

We focus on leadership development. It’s interesting really, if you’re a good organisation, if you invest in your people, if you’re clear about the way you do things, almost certainly you will grow better leaders than you can find from outside – especially if you’re one of the most successful organisations in the country. It’s almost certain that by training and supporting your internal people. They will be better qualified, better equipped and knowledgeable about facilitating and leading education in the 21st century.

So, it is important to make that obvious and focus on that – so we talent spot every year. We are looking to identify people who we think can be great middle leaders, great senior leaders, potential headteachers – we identify them, we bring them together and we develop them. And there’s two things that are going on there; there’s content – they are learning things that they might not naturally learn at that stage in their career; there’s recognition - they know we think well of them because we’re identifying them and asking them to be a part of cohorts for certain programmes. But, probably most importantly what happens is they are able to access and build professional networks.

They build professional partnerships with many individuals across the Federation and therefore, once they are more comfortable to move to other academies – they know people. They feel a part of this whole network. Additionally, the standards we expect for young people, from our principals and our senior leaders are hard to achieve on your own – they are only achievable with the help of others and so we have a duty to create those networks for people so that they know people from other academies and can ask for help and advice and reach out, benefitting from examples of how best to do certain things. So, talent spotting is part of it but, building those networks is key too, it’s not just about making leaders who are ready to lead, but they now have the network support to be able to lead within the Federation. So, it is important that we do it on an annual basis, we specifically have our own accelerated principal-programme, our future principal programmes – we also have National Professional Qualification cohorts that are made up of a mix of internal and external participants and therefore we are preparing people to be the best Middle Leaders, Senior leaders and potential headteachers they can be.

What is the importance of delivering the National Professional Qualification Senior Leadership and the National Professional Qualification Executive Leadership?

Well, they are the ‘National Qualification’ so they are the qualifications that are endorsed nationally, it is important that people have qualifications that they feel they can take elsewhere.

What’s that classic Richard Branson line? You know, train people well enough for them to leave, treat them well enough so they choose to stay. And I suppose, it’s that type of philosophy, make people as qualified as possible so they don’t have to stay but do it in a way that means that they choose to stay – and so, national qualifications is one reason why we do that but also it’s really important that you have the opportunity to deliver for all leaders. Teaching schools like ours are about making sure you are leading on behalf of the system, that you are kind of giving back to the rest of the system too. Having a license to deliver the national qualification, enables us to deliver that in a way that we know is going to suit our own staff but it also allows us to support other schools and school leaders beyond the federation and that is important commitment.

School to school support. What is it all about? 

There was a time in education where local authority provided the school improvement support to their schools. And, over the last twenty years, there has been a move towards the system leading itself so schools and their expertise are supporting other schools. What the alliance will do through knowing its best leaders, is that it can provide that school to school support to schools who need it. It means the support is current, it means it’s real. People are more inclined to offer and receive support when the support is led by those who are doing the job day to day.

What support does the Teaching School provide to aspiring Executive leaders?

Well this is a new area, it is only within the last 18 months to two years that the National Professional Qualification for Executive Leadership even existed – but given we as a Federation have had our own Executive Leaders before this, who have worked across more than one school, supporting 3 or 4 schools.

We also have Executive Leaders and directors who have worked across 7+ schools, so we possess experience in an area that nationally we lack experience. It is very important that as a large MAT, we provide an opportunity for others to learn about executive leadership – there’s a lot written about executive leadership that exists in the public sector and in the private sector, where it is much more common than it has necessarily existed in education. So, what we offer is to show how we do it. We are not saying how we do it is the only way to do it, but it is a way and it is successful.

Often in new areas, like Executive Leadership in education, it is hard to learn about how it is done in practice. Harris is uniquely placed to provide that, so we run the qualification based on how we do it in Harris, we access research and reading and other practices but we’re essentially saying, come and see how we do it in Harris – it is not the only way but it is a way we know is successful. We share all our practices, we open up and share how we do things to whoever chooses to come on the programme – it’s once again, a way in which Harris can genuinely provide support to schools beyond the Harris Federation.

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What would you say is your vision for the future of the Teaching School?

The Teaching School Alliance is the Harris Federation Teaching School Alliance so it is important that the core mission of the Federation, which is to be a group of schools that serve the most disadvantaged young people in London, is something we never lose sight of.

Fundamentally, it is about leadership development for the most disadvantaged young people in London to have new and better opportunities. So, in that sense, my vision is about being a service organisation to the prime purpose of the organisation; which is to improve the life chances of young people. I genuinely believe that if all the adults within the school system were better leaders, that interacted and worked efficiently, effectively together – that the kids will get a better deal. So, in simple terms, I would see the teaching school as a leadership college for London. It’s about creating ‘leaderful’ schools, jam packed with quality leadership practices and through that young people will benefit tremendously from their experiences at our schools.

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Nurturing leaders to shape academies

According to the Education Policy Institute, “Trusts have much higher rates of promotion from teacher to middle leadership, particularly at primary. Across all state funded schools, around 1 in 10 classroom teachers achieves a promotion in any given year. In some trusts, this increases to as many as 1 in 3.”

Our Teaching School Alliance plays a key role in driving professional development both across the trust’s academies as well as offering school-to-school support. Led by some of the most talented principals in the country and delivered by high-performing executive, middle and senior leaders with exceptional track records. We also spoke to Peter Groves, Principal of Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich about his time at the Teaching School gaining his NPQH.

What was your experience like training with the Harris Teaching School?

I did my NPQH with the Harris Teaching School and learning through the programme contributed to making me the headteacher I am today.

What was interesting about the programme was that you were in situated in outstanding schools, in very different contexts, with very different leadership styles while undergoing the standard programme the NPQH had in place. This meant that the modules themselves were directly from the National College, but where you saw them in action were potentially in environments where there is a grammar system or a state modern system, where there are mixed schools, single sex schools, primary schools – it was really interesting to see the different leadership models and leadership styles and the impact they can have. It also allowed insight into schools in their individual cycles of their journey - some were start up schools, some have been established for a long time. There was a lot you could gleam from it. The other part of it which was great, was being able to work with colleagues who were working in different schools while doing the NPQH. You would meet up with on a termly basis and go through the training but also build up quite a good network to work with and learn from.

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What advice would you give to aspiring principals?

The key thing is it’s the best job in the world, I can’t imagine doing anything else, because you can have such influence on so many people’s lives. And it is visible from right in front of you, it happens immediately. So, I think it is important that you really want to do the job. Because it is a job that is all encompassing. There are so many different levels of school management that occur simultaneously.

I did the key aspects of the role as Vice principal. Which meant I had the opportunity to lead on safeguarding, curriculum and SENCO. Having done all the aspects the school could offer, I had a really good secure level of knowledge and from that good secure level of knowledge, I was confident in picking up the other parts of school leadership. I couldn’t imagine being a head of school whether knowing about finance, without knowing how a timetable works, those sort of things – it would be quite difficult to do. One of the things I really like about the Harris model, is that before you become Principal, you become Head of Academy, which is a really good way of experiencing what it is to run a school, with the support of an Executive Principal there who will be able to support you, to make some of the difficult decisions or to sort of suggest where to change your tact and approach. By doing that, you learn very well and very quickly, on a 1-1 coaching basis. This means that where you are sat on your own as Principal, and you’re never alone in the Harris Federation, but where you are day-to-day, the Principal, you’ve got the experience to go back to. And if even if you on your own like I am now as Principal, there are lots of people I can get on the phone to and get sound advice from which is great.

It is also important to keep learning. If you are an aspiring Principal, find the area that you’re not knowledgeable on and ask your school leaders to give you a role in that area. Challenge yourself. And that way, you learn from what you don’t know. You need to have an arsenal of knowledge on the aspects of the school, you need to have a really good mentor and that’s what the Harris Federation do for myself. The Principal who is now Assistant Director, Chris Everitt, he was an excellent mentor in my initial steps. It is the sort of mentorship where when you’ve got a question, they don’t just give you an answer, they challenge you to find the answer. It’s the sort of leadership where they allow you to make your own mistakes and realise how you learn from those mistakes. It’s a trusting leadership, allowing you to try confidently.

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Exceptional Leadership is at the forefront of transformative educational practice.

Our leadership programmes ensure that all our federation staff can benefit from a vast network of support and expertise from effective leaders. With regular meetings to touch base on key professional development priorities across specific specialisms, phase and support for NQTs, TAs alike. The annual October conference brings this altogether, allowing all our leaders to share best practice, offer support and guidance.

To us, professional development is one of the most important aspects of working at the Federation. Providing a space for learning and professional development means we can continue making a difference in education with the inclusion of exceptional, highly skilled individuals at the centre.

Embarking on your next step up in Education? Click here to learn more about our Teaching School and for more information on our training programmes  or to search our vacancies click here. Connect with us on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook and stay up to date with all things Harris Careers!

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