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Middle Leadership Blog Series Case Study Post 1

How to transform learning in your context

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Who is this blog post for: Current or emerging middle leaders and for senior leaders or Headteachers who are developing middle leaders.

Author:  Stephanie Bingham

Posted on: 24th March 2023

Keywords: process; transformative; vision; values; goals; influence; challenge; opportunity; modelling. 


In the first reflection post of this series we outlined some of the challenges but also the opportunities of middle leadership, with a particular focus on it's transformational potential. 

In the following case study, we provide an empirical illustration of effective, transformational middle leadership. As you read, think about the pointers we provide and the ways in which you can transfer the learning into your own context. 

Case Study 

The teacher in the case study works in a small rural first school in the North East of England. They chose to lead an intervention to improve spelling, firstly in lower Key Stage 2 and later in Key Stage 1 and the Early Years. This first extract illustrates how their plan fitted with the strategic priorities of the school: 

The focus of my initiative was to improve overall spelling ability across Key Stage 1 and 2. I chose this focus as it was highlighted within my school data and school improvement plan as an area for development. It was also emphasised by Ofsted as a stand-alone weakness across our Key Stage 2 writing, despite overall good attainment in writing. 

Choosing an initiative which focused on a learner-centred school priority ensured support from the senior leaders in the school, combined with a strong imperative for the rest of the teachers involved. This is a good illustration of effective navigation of Middle Leadership as the teacher chose a focus which utilised the ‘sandwich’ nature of the middle leader’s position as an opportunity rather than a challenge. 

The setting of a phase or subject-specific vision and goals can therefore be very challenging; however, it can also provide a uniquely holistic perspective from vision to implementation. Middle leaders are therefore opportunistically positioned, or ‘sandwiched’, to be able to listen and influence up and down the hierarchy in order to effectively implement, and this position could also allow middle leaders to influence and contribute to the wider vision and goals. How a middle leader capitalises on this opportunity, could prove beneficial to the setting of more phase and subject-specific goals so that they positively impact change.   

I led the lower Key Stage 2 (KS2) teachers and a supporting level 3 teaching assistant initially, then integrated the Key Stage 1 (KS1) and EYFS staff into my initiative at a later date. All staff involved were responsible for facilitating a weekly verbal ‘Spelling Bee’, instead of a spelling test, as well as using specific spelling activities from a spelling programme - ‘Bee a Speller’ - three mornings a week. I also sent out an informative parents’ guide at the beginning of the school year to advise parents on the theory behind my 'Spelling Bee' programme and to demonstrate the best way to facilitate spelling practice at home with their child. As a result of the tailored spelling programme, the percentage of pupils achieving expected spelling standard across KS1 increased dramatically, with a rise of 35% compared to the previous academic year’s summative data. I am continuing to monitor this data and develop our approaches to suit our school as the pupil numbers grow. The level 3 teaching assistant involved in the project was quoted as saying that the changes “have put spelling on the map and made it fun for the children”. All members of our school team have seen an overall improvement in pupil attitudes as well as team spirit, perseverance and resilience which form some of our school values.  

As the initiative took shape the leader learnt some practical aspects of effective leadership – the operational aspects – but was also reflective about their own actions and those of their team. They remained focused on the long-term strategic goal, but also realised the importance of strong relationships and of leading individuals. They ensured there were opportunities to use the skills of the different team members, and saw the opportunities behind the initial challenge of the identified ‘barriers’. They used influence and modeling as they leant on their own pedagogical expertise to ensure there was a measurable impact on pupil progress and skills. This initiative is a clear example of someone combining their skills as a teacher with their developing leadership, and of leadership as a process. As a result of the initiative there was transformation for the leader, the team and the learners. 

At the beginning of my initiative I was goal focused and was particularly enthusiastic about promoting change and performance results. In reality there were some barriers, such as getting all members of staff on board to increase the capability of the team. Throughout my initiative, these barriers have developed how I plan collaboration as a middle leader and have helped me to have self-awareness of my strengths and weaknesses that I have developed. I found that the leadership of my in-school initiative had to consider the implementation of routine teaching strategies within subjects and the careful planning and timetabling of teaching to consistently embed learning. I thoroughly planned my meetings to utilise my teams’ skillset to make positive improvements. As a result, I am more aware of the different personalities and skills of members of my team and how to support these to promote team work, cooperation and learner impact. 

 The improvement in spelling in the school was a result of strong, practical, goal-orientated and transformational leadership. As the leader themself states: 

My initiative has generally improved the capability of my team as it has drawn a greater focus and awareness of fun ways to teach spelling and how to inspire pupils to want to achieve in a frequently unpopular area of the curriculum.  

Another key feature of this leader’s initiative was the process of implementation. They understood the need to plan, and to start small and scale up. They also understood the need for some quick wins and for methods which would ensure the sustainability of the initiative. This included embedding new classroom practice, timetabling the activities across the curriculum, and using and then building on the skills of team members. Effective implementation is essential for any leader seeking to implement lasting change. 


Aligning the focus to a school priority which itself was learner centred enabled the leader to bring their team ‘on board’ - as they put it - and ensured that the merits of the initiative were inarguable. Momentum is always easier to maintain if the planned change is purposeful and aligned to the teachers’ day-to-day priorities. Where a weakness has been highlighted as an area for development across the school, teachers will always be grateful for someone setting a clear pathway to achieve the improvement. 

In addition, leading any change will provide opportunities for the leader to learn and develop, and this benefits them, the team they lead and the school as a whole. 

Case studies can be a helpful tool for seeing how individual leaders implement change. They are useful for reflecting on how to transfer the learning from one kind of setting to another, in terms of both the operational and strategic aspects of leadership.