A huge impact on a primary school with great ambitions
Leighton Primary School is a two-form entry school in the Ortons, Peterborough. On her appointment as the new headteacher, Emma Ward and her Senior Leadership Team recognised the need to strengthen their working relationships in order to become collaborative as a team, improve their communication and look to each other to develop their ways of working. That's when Emma approached SPP.
SPP worked with Leighton’s Senior Leadership Team to explore and then implement the key principles of effective collaboration. Through three bespoke workshops, Emma and her team were able to successfully establish a more collaborative culture among themselves. They are now beginning to share the practice of impact-focused collaborative working across all staff.
Emma Ward has been headteacher of Leighton Primary School since September 2020. Up until this appointment, her career had been largely focused on helping to improve schools in challenging circumstances, which required her to adopt a more direct leadership style. Moving to Leighton, a stable and good school, Emma found that she had to adapt her approach to leadership.
Having experienced SPP in a previous school, Emma knew that helping herself and her team develop a more collaborative way of thinking would have a positive effect on how they worked together and help them achieve even greater progress and impact. Through her experience of peer review, she knew that enquiry-based curiosity was the best way for them to develop the skills and culture of collaborative school improvement. To affect this sharpened focus, even greater trust and transparency among the team was needed.
"I don’t think any of us can underestimate the power of trust. I couldn’t ever assume that trust was going to be just given."
Emma Ward, Headteacher
Engaging with SPP
The foundation of Collaborative Culture workshops is rooted in research, which for Emma and her team adds credibility.
The process of engaging in these sessions – involving the processes of active listening, the giving and receiving of feedback, and the scrutiny of each other’s work – presented joint professional challenge. This ultimately led the team to deepen their mutual trust; a rewarding and worthwhile exercise.
The most challenging aspect of the process was the active listening and feedback activity. Emma and her team, as with many senior leaders, were used to having the answers. They were now encouraged to hand greater responsibility for finding answers to the wider leadership team. This gave the staff the space and time to work together to find the answers to issues for themselves. They worked through their own ideas, explored and analysed others, and arrived at a mutually agreed solution – a highly empowering process.
Assessing the impact
The senior leadership team at Leighton Primary has made gradual changes in their style of communication during meetings. Their SLT meeting agenda now factors in practical exercises and workshop-type activities to encourage discussion in greater depth. This has given each staff member opportunity to voice their viewpoint and then, in turn, listen as colleagues do the same. It has generated greater equity of voice across the leadership team.
As a result, the team has a greater sense of collective responsibility for agreed actions. They are now more aware of each other’s skills and knowledge and are willing to share, support and learn from each other in their day-to-day work. This lateral sharing of practice now goes beyond SLT meetings. The journey to a new school culture is underway.
The next steps planned for this school are for the whole staff body to engage in collaboration, creating a sustainable, collaborative way of working. This has become the foundation for Leighton Primary’s next phase of development, establishing a distributed approach to leadership and increasing confidence to lead across all staff.
Despite a challenging start to the academic year in the midst of a global pandemic, at the end of her first year with this school Emma reflected that she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than with her amazing team at Leighton Primary. There is a true sense of personal satisfaction in what she and her team were able to accomplish. Emma herself has been able to introduce a more collaborative leadership style and culture that she always knew would make a difference.
Since completing this process, Leighton Primary School has gone on to engage in SPP as part of a partnership of schools, meaning they are now able to embed and sustain their collaborative practice even further through a structured approach to peer review.
"Thank you to everybody at SPP. You developed this programme of CPD because I asked for it…something that actually has had a huge impact on a primary school in Peterborough that has great ambitions.”
Emma Ward, Headteacher