Amanda Arnold
Executive Head at Delves Junior School (Walsall, West Midlands)
Programme cohort
2020 Leading Together

Building a school leadership team from the ground up

The Leading Together programme helped Amanda establish change at her struggling school and build the foundations of strong leadership. 

Amanda Arnold was Headteacher at the outstanding neighbouring infant school when she was called as an emergency replacement to improve leadership and learning at Delves Junior School.  

Delves Junior School, now part of the Delves Federation with its neighbouring infant school, is a three-form entry school in urban Walsall, West Midlands. Many in the local community experience high levels of social deprivation, and when the headteacher and chair of governors left without notice in 2017, the school needed a lifeline.  

Amanda quickly realised she needed support and appointed a Head of School, Erica Tilley who has been instrumental in the school’s improvement journey. After an early Ofsted inspection with a ‘requires improvement’ judgement, they began a period of rapid intervention. As part of this journey, they signed up for Leading Together to help transform expectations for the school. 

It was a difficult situation going in  

Staff had been through a very difficult time and there were pockets of poor practice. The school was in a pretty bad place when I first arrived. It was a difficult situation to go into, but we moved forward quickly.  

In my first year, there were a lot of staff changes. I think eight staff members left. Having the Ofsted ‘requires improvement’ judgement at the beginning of the journey gave us somewhere to start from. 

We made some new leadership appointments, and then the Leading Together programme just came along at the right time for us. That was when we really needed to start to build our leadership team from the ground up. 

Leading Together is unique for every school

From day one at Delves, we had to really take control and lead from the front. The next stage on from that was to distribute that leadership – to get more people involved and enable them to make decisions.  

With Leading Together, we were able to include all our senior management team. Because of our school’s particular structure, that was really important to us. No one at Teach First said, “No, sorry, you can only have three people signing off.” Instead it was, “Whatever works best for your school.” 

We started looking at the whole picture, not just elements of it

We spend a long time looking at the why. And for some people that’s almost taking a couple of steps back and relearning what they think they know. We have disseminated that out to all staff, and that’s actually gone federation-wide – this real focus on how children learn. 

And while we’ve always had really high expectations for our children and our staff, we suddenly realised, “We need to raise our expectations for parents too.” Now we have stopped making excuses and our approach expects 100% engagement from parents for parents evening, and for remote learning we're seeing numbers equivalent to school attendance. 

Coaching helped our teachers during lockdown

The coaching from our Achievement Partner, an experienced school leader, has helped leaders be prepared to support their teams emotionally. Not only with their professional lives, but also to make sure they feel like they are valued and looked after, and that they have a place they can express their emotions about the situation. 

The staff have really pulled together, and the difference with our year group leaders is how they are able to steady the ship. They manage the team and keep everything under control. There is no longer micromanagement of every single decision that is made in the school. We knew that wasn’t the way we wanted to lead, and we knew that it wasn’t sustainable either.  

Our middle leaders feel more valued as well, they see the investment in their own professional development and that we’re allowing them the time to engage with this. We can now clearly see that leadership in action, and when we suddenly got tested with this whole lockdown situation, we saw that training coming out in all staff. 

Actually, the really difficult part around COVID-19, apart from the logistics, has been managing people’s emotions and their responses to it. There’s a massive spectrum of how people feel about it. And over time, how people feel about it can change, depending on their own personal experience. 

Getting support from our Achievement Partner 

It feels like we’ve met Clare because we know her so well now! And I’m sure she feels like she knows the school inside out as well, but ideally Clare would have been in and seen the school first-hand. It’s a shame that that couldn’t happen. 

That said, it has worked well online. It’s meant that we can connect easily and frequently and it’s not quite as big a commitment as giving up the afternoon to go somewhere, you can just log on online. We’ve had recordings of things that we can go back to and revisit and keep the momentum going.

Looking forward  

We’re excited about where we’re going next. As our head of school Erica, says “on the second year of the programme I think our focus would be embedding our approach to teaching, learning and curriculum for all staff.  We know that our senior management team have really benefitted from the Leading Together training and now we need to make sure that their understanding and belief in our approach is shared effectively with all of the other staff.  In this way, we can make sure the gains we have made are secure and sustainable in the future.”  

If you’re looking for expert coaching and training for your entire senior leadership team, find out more about our fully funded Leading Together programme. 

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