Weaving the ‘golden thread’ is key to its impact

A growing set of leadership programmes is nurturing leaders who can weave the ‘golden thread’ of professional development into rich local tapestries

A growing set of leadership programmes is nurturing leaders who can weave the ‘golden thread’ of professional development into rich local tapestries

4 Mar 2024, 5:00

The ‘golden thread’ of evidence underpinning the DfE’s teacher and leadership development programmes is hugely valuable. But for its true value to be realised, it needs to be woven together with other threads – contextual understanding, deep relationships and clear purpose. And to achieve that, we need skilled weavers in full control of their materials and with a view of the whole fabric. Without that, the golden thread risks becoming ‘educational bling’ rather than real gold.

So how do we support school and trust leaders to weave strong, beautiful fabrics? How do we create the conditions where leaders have sufficient understanding and ownership of the evidence to deploy it in ways appropriate to their context? And how do we enhance leaders’ sense of possibility so that they can collectively lead change for the benefit of all children?

These questions have been central to the development of a set of leadership programmes, co-ordinated by the Reach Foundation and co-created with 30 partner trusts across England. SW100, West100, Yorks100 (and, from September ‘24, East100) focus on developing aspiring headteachers regionally. Meanwhile, LeadingTrusts caters for aspiring trust CEOs nationally.

The programmes complement the knowledge gained on NPQs. Each has a distinct local flavour, but all prioritise developing leaders with a commitment to children experiencing disadvantage in their local area. They are designed with three core principles in mind.

Locally rooted, nationally connected

Each programme starts with understanding local context. Asking how we can develop headteachers to run great schools in the West Country, for example, demands a more nuanced answer than a generic or universal approach to the problem.

A deeper understanding of the assets and challenges in our communities invites us to consider specific problems and to create specific solutions, drawing on contextual knowledge as well as nationally available evidence. Mapping assets in our communities in Yorkshire, for instance, has opened our eyes to new opportunities to support our children. Starting with a local focus pushes us to understand how to make effective use of evidence in our schools. By making this a collective endeavour, we reduce the burden on individuals to translate evidence into their own context and build shared ownership and understanding of what is effective locally.

This focus on understanding the local context is combined with a commitment to helping all programme participants to feel ‘nationally connected’. Through visits to a wide range of schools and trusts across the country, participants have the chance to gain new perspectives on their own struggles and successes. These visits are about stimulus, not solutions. Long bus rides home provide plenty of opportunities for long discussions and deep reflection, a chance to plan how beautiful, newly-discovered threads might be woven into their local fabrics and help the golden thread shine a little brighter.

Relationships matter

Second, we invest heavily in relationships between aspiring leaders in a local area. Residential elements of the programme are held in self-catered houses where participants cook together, learn together and build the trust required to challenge each other’s thinking.

These relationships galvanise leaders around the shared purpose of challenging disadvantage in their region. Several alumni of the programmes who are now headteachers have said they would not have applied for their roles without the support of peers in their local cohorts.

More than that, fostering a collective will to lead local change builds and sustains motivation among participants. Theirs is a shared courage to act and to support each other to make the bold decisions needed to meet the challenges in what is a high-stakes environment.

Clarity of purpose

Finally, the ‘100s’ programmes are designed to help participants clarify what really matters to them as leaders before they step into headship or trust leadership. This clarity of purpose is more important than ever in a rapidly changing system with schools often cast as the ‘last institutions’ in their communities.

This presents a significant opportunity for schools and trusts to re-imagine their roles. But to influence widely and partner successfully so that all children can thrive, leaders need a very clear direction and the agility to navigate untrodden paths.

The golden thread provides some but not all the answers about how to do this. To be really impactful, it needs to be woven. This is what the ‘100s’ programmes help leaders do.

This article was co-authored with Tim Coulson, CEO, Unity Schools Partnership, Tim Rutherford, Deputy CEO, Ted Wragg Trust and James Townsend, Executive Director, Reach Foundation

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