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What is the Role of a Middle Leader?

January 20th 2019

Are you ready for a new challenge? Maybe you have been teaching for a while and feel you have a good handle on life in the classroom. Perhaps you sit in meetings listening to your Head of Department thinking you could do that job too. The natural response to this situation is to scour the job adverts for middle leadership posts and apply.

If you are looking to

• shape and drive an area which is your passion

• use your creativity, problem solving and thinking skills to knock down barriers and achieve goals

• grapple with a challenge and lead a team to success

then you will enjoy middle leadership. Before you send off those applications, however, gift yourself some time to consider your next steps carefully. Truly understanding the core purpose of this role will ensure that they lead to the right job for you.


Firstly, let’s clear up a few misconceptions.

When I’m Head of Area, it will be easier because we can do it my way.

You and your team will not work in isolation; your team will be one of a range of teams which make up the whole school. Each team leader is responsible for delivering the whole school development plan and vision in their area. In other words, you will be accountable for turning the school vision into reality in your area of responsibility.

When I’m Head of Area, I will protect my team.

When you become the Head of an area, you become part of the leadership team. Many people refer to middle leaders as having a foot in both camps; needing to work directly with the staff in their area and with their line management in the senior leadership team; you become the piggy-in-the-middle. This perception, however, will lead to confusion, mis-communication and frustration. The reality is, when you take on the role of a middle leader, you must be prepared to “cross the fence”. You will be a leader! When the Ofsted Framework refers to “Leadership and Management” they mean middle leaders too.


So, when you accept the position of middle leader you:

• have been employed to drive forward the whole school agenda within your area of responsibility

• have made the move from main scale to leadership.


The Core Purpose of School Leaders

Every leader in the school, whether they be senior, middle, pastoral, cross-curricular or a leader of a classroom has the same core purpose; leading learning within their specific area of responsibility.

The core purpose of a middle leader, therefore, is to ensure that all students, irrespective of their starting points, enjoy and are successful in learning within their subject area.


Whilst this statement is easy to aspire to, the reality of achieving it breaks down into a number of concrete skills, strategies and very clear processes. Getting to grips with the points in the following checklist will not only help clarify whether this job will bring you satisfaction, it will also help you to thoroughly prepare for any forthcoming interviews.

• Can you identify what constitutes outstanding teaching and learning?

If you intend to deliver outstanding teaching and learning across the area, you need to know exactly what it looks like when it happens. What are the components of an outstanding lesson? What aspects of the teaching make it outstanding rather than good?

Can you articulate this effectively to others and help them to plan for it to happen?

Can you explain this to others in a way that they, too, have a clear and shared understanding of what you are aiming for? Can you explain it in concrete terms rather than vague notions?

Can you identify and then prioritise the correct areas for improvement to maximise effective development?

You will need to be able to formulate a confidant, robust and honest assessment of the current position of teaching and learning in your area. You will need to know how to use and promote the strengths you identify; you will need to be able to create clear plans for supporting growth in those areas that do not yet meet the standards in your vision of outstanding teaching and learning.

Can you create, implement and evaluate a concise, SMART action plan to tackle these gaps?

Incisive thinking, clear communication, organised planning, determined implementation and rigorous evaluation, all skills required to be effective and efficient against a busy backdrop of daily teaching.

Can you engage, support, challenge and motivate your team to get on board with achieving the goals of the vision?

This is perhaps the biggest challenge of moving from the classroom to the role of leader. Not only do you have to think about your performance; you will now be responsible for the performance and outcomes of the colleagues in your team.

If this all feels like an awful lot to contend with, then yes – it is. However, lots of people do it and do it very well.


A key to success is to have an accurate understanding of the actual core purpose of middle leadership from the outset. By taking time to reflect on the points above before you apply, your preparation for application and your performance at interview will be much more focused and relevant and your future career more satisfying and rewarding.