Q: What does the National Academy for Educational Leadership (NAEL) do?
A: Its mission is ‘Inspiring Leaders: Enriching Lives’, but essentially it’s there to help Wales achieve its ambitions for learners by supporting and developing leaders in Wales. Their website covers it in detail.
Q: So what is an Associate?
A: Associates enable the Academy to deliver on its aims by doing things like helping other leaders develop their capability at school, cluster or consortia level, endorsing leadership provision (or not!), supporting design of provision, and research. Two cohorts are in place, and the next is recruiting now – it’s a real opportunity for colleagues.
Q: When did you become an Associate – and why?
A: In April 2019. I’ll be honest, as a Head for over 20 years I believe the new curriculum and supporting reforms are absolutely right for learners in the future – and I want to support it. I’ve looked at other systems internationally and that just makes me more convinced that our direction of travel is right. But I also wanted to be a voice for the profession – for those not with us yet on the journey – to help reduce the nervousness. And I wanted to speak truth to power, as part of NAEL’s role is to challenge policy.
In short though I’m here to stand and fight the corner for these reforms because I believe in them.
Q: How does it feel?
A: I was incredibly proud to be selected. It was my first interview in 20 years and whilst I’ve coached NPQH teachers, the boot was now on the other foot! It is a challenge – it takes you out of your comfort zone – but it gives you a great perspective on the full range of settings and situations and approaches. I’ve learned so much, through having outstanding access to world leaders in education.
Q: What sort of activities have you been involved with?
A: We’ve had an amazing series of seminars and workshops with top education experts to learn and question approaches and have brought that back and started to share. We also have a ‘Commission’, which is to research and develop a paper on ‘the role of educational leadership in realising a vision of a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language’ with one eye on looking at how we share and disseminate that. Another strand of the Academy’s is the endorsement process for the leadership provision offered throughout wales: for example this year we’re looking at middle leader training bids from consortia and commercial providers – we look at the bigger impact offerings not niche learning – while also identifying potential gaps in provision.
Q: What impact is that having?
A: As well as the core work we’re assessing where leadership is now in real terms, then it’s for me and all the Associates – two cohorts so far, twenty-four of us – to become the engine of the Academy, sharing and supporting good practice. We’ve already started at cluster and local authority level.
Q: How important is it that leadership support is provided during the current reforms?
A: Absolutely crucial. Change can bring a sense of insecurity. This is a world-class opportunity and leaders need clarity on why we’re doing all this. They need training and support, the key thing being the change in climate from outcomes-based to purpose and process-based. Also leaders can be quite insular, so we have to encourage them to work with clusters, regions and where possible work with schools from across the whole nation. And if any are feeling isolated at this point in the reforms I’d like to think we can support them directly or indirectly.
We also need to teach leadership. I believe we can do that – to help people build on strengths and develop weaker areas.
Q: How do you see your Associate role developing?
A: My ambition is to help others, give back to the system after 20 years as a Head. As a group we’ll be helping others less advanced in the reform journey, and encouraging use of the Schools as Leaning Organisations model. We’ll be carrying out more assessment and scrutiny of leadership training, mainly looking at the bigger impact offerings. In part it’s a quality-assurance role linked to our reforms. But we’ll also challenge Tier 1 leadership, for example through our Commission, because this work is so important and transformational in nature.
Of course I’ll also join the others in supporting the next cohort of Associates, and work to maintain the Academy’s purpose.
Q: Has there been any impact on your school from your involvement?
A: Involvement with the Academy has given me even more passion for the purpose of the reform journey, and it’s influential in how you move the rudder in your own school. We had a head start because we were a Pioneer school and have already started working with the new curriculum, focusing on purposes not outcomes. To be honest, even I still had one eye on Estyn and outcomes as we did that, but I put it to one side and on we went. As it happens though, the outcomes are better too!
Q: So is it hard to become (and be) an Associate?
A: Applications for the next cohort are open until 7th February so colleagues should definitely think about applying.
It makes you reflect on your position in the system. For me it asked whether I’m in a position in my career to contribute to the wider system. Which isn’t about age – we have much younger Associates than me – just timing.
After the application is the interview. Just the one and it’s interesting! I assess as part of the NPQH programme, but even so it got the nerves going being on the other side of an interview process. You have to feel ready to contribute.
To be successful I believe you need to be committed and prepared to give time to fully contribute to the Academy. Making the most of the benefits associated with personal growth but also making the most of those opportunities to influence and support the development of the educational future of Wales. Its hard work but it’s incredibly rewarding – it’s a privilege to represent the Academy and we have to repay it through ensuring our schools are equipped to provide world class learning opportunities for all.