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Middle Leadership Blog Series: Case Study Post

Middle Leadership in Schools: Case Study Post

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Who is this blog post for: A current or emerging middle leader

Author:  Stephanie Bingham

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


In the first blog post of this series we outlined some of the pressures but also the opportunities of middle leadership, with a particular focus on its 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 to 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 Early Years. This first extract illustrates how their plan fitted with the strategic priorities of the school: 

Choosing an initiative which focused on a pupil-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 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 more 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 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 goals and vision. 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.   

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 managing 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 identifiedbarriers’. They used influence, and 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 pupils. 

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

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 pupil 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.