Sarah Wardle, Assistant Headteacher at Benfield School
Sarah Wardle
Assistant Headteacher at Benfield School

Doing the NPQSL made me think more like a leader

Assistant Headteacher Sarah shares how the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) helped her make wellbeing a priority in her school in Newcastle. 

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I started off my career as a food preparation and nutrition teacher, which I still teach now. My passion for health and wellbeing really stems from that.

For the last six years I’ve been head of curriculum for creative arts and design technology. Last year I was at a stage where I wanted to push my boundaries, particularly in terms of personal learning and development, but also because I knew there was a need for improved wellbeing in my school and I wanted to lead on that.

My school is in a highly deprived post code. I took the NPQSL as a platform to push for real change – not just for the students, but for the whole community.

Teachers are naturally self-reflective, but the NPQSL took me out of my comfort zone.

A core element of all NPQs is designing and delivering a project that supports the school's improvement priorities. For my project on the NPQSL, I decided to focus on the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) curriculum. For me this project was the natural next step, embedding more of a strategic plan to make PSHE part of the fabric of the school.

The project arose from several factors amongst the students – poor attendance, poor mental health and less resilience to stay in the classroom and participate in lessons. We also had a core group of kids across all year groups that just didn’t want to engage. I knew we needed a really good quality PSHE delivery for the whole school, but we also needed to look at those core students who weren’t coping.

As a leader, it was all about delegation.

Because it was a whole school project, it made me realise that other people are just as accountable for achieving the bigger picture as I am.

The NPQSL programme helped me identify stakeholders so I could start key conversations about implementing and leading on PSHE. And then I got everyone involved – the senior leadership team, teachers outside of my department, cleaning and kitchen staff, TAs, the headteacher – and our relationships have blossomed even further this year. Bringing the whole school together has really elevated the importance of PSHE.

Now we have time every week dedicated to wellbeing.

Wellbeing is addressed in assemblies, with drop-in sessions, bespoke intervention groups, guest speaker sessions and staff CPD. We have resources online to help with the staff’s wellbeing too.

And with that core group of students who were struggling to cope, there has been a significant reduction in alerts and the number of times they’ve been sent out of class, which I’m so pleased about.

You can get quite insular with your school, but it’s been great to have an outside perspective.

I can’t fault the online help and support I’ve had from Teach First, especially from my Development Lead, who I had one-to-one support and coaching with. Whether it’s been a few quick questions, catch ups or advice, I can’t thank them enough.

The people on the other end of the line are so well-trained and really helped guide me through some of the harder moments. Once or twice at the start I did wonder if I was doing the right thing. I questioned whether I was being over-reflective and pushing stakeholders too much when I hadn’t had much to do with them until that point of my career, but the encouragement and guidance I received was brilliant.

Because of the NPQSL, I’m now an assistant headteacher.

I chose Teach First over any other provider because of their fantastic reputation. I also knew from doing my middle leader with them that it would be a very clear process, there would always be someone I could contact, and the modules would be set out in a simple, easy to follow way. I get so busy at school, so it was great to be able to pick the modules up on an evening or weekend whenever I got the chance.

With the professional delivery, high-quality resources and the sheer amount of contact you get, I’ve recommended the programme to so many people at my school. In fact, there’s three members of staff doing the NPQSL this year! 

 

Learn more about our senior leadership programme and how it could help you to solve your school’s specific challenges, here:

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