A Vision for Inclusive Middle Leadership

Professor Sonia Blandford, CEO Achievement for All , argues that an Inclusive school needs vision, and in particular a vision for inclusive middle leadership who will be asked, after all, to do most of the heavy lifting.
Professor Sonia Blandford

Today, more than ever before, this impacts on the school community, from the head teacher to middle leaders, teachers and other staff; for in the future over 40% of the young people they are teaching will be in jobs which have not yet been created. Part of their job is to imagine the future and prepare learners and citizens for the world of tomorrow.

This is reflected in the following comment made by the head teacher of Dwight School, Seoul:

‘(one of our greatest challenges is) the knowledge that what we are offering will prepare students for an uncertain future…. Innovation drives thinking processes more now than ever before. A world where creative, non-mechanical jobs play a more significant direction, I struggle at times to understand what today’s middle school students will be prepared to face in the next twenty years.

Many of the challenges facing inclusive middle leaders in international schools are not dissimilar to those faced by middle leaders at the national level in England and Wales, the international slant reminds middle leadership of the global cultural perspective. Nonetheless, outstanding schools are characterised by aspirational, inclusive middle leaders. They have high expectations for all learners, strive to remove barriers to learning and enable all pupils to attain high goals.

The seminal work of Rutter et al. (1979), set out the basic attributes of effective middle leadership, which also applies to all schools across the world. They defined these as: strong positive leadership, staff involvement and positive school ethos. Inclusive middle leaders enjoy and encourage good practice directed towards developing and retaining these attributes within their team and school. Whatever leadership style is adopted, inclusive middle leaders know that all endeavours are directed towards achieving the best possible outcomes for all students.

To know how to lead is an ongoing process. The development of the knowledge and understanding, skills and abilities required to lead others takes time. An inclusive middle leader is a reflective practitioner, a professional leader who evaluates their role.

This is a two-way process; leaders knowing themselves and their team members, and the team knowing their leader. However, being an inclusive middle leader does not mean being ‘all things to all people’. It means knowing what is required and getting things done across the three key areas of: implementing school-wide strategies, policies and aims; being a role model for staff and passing on good practices (Blandford, 2006). Inclusive middle leaders are central to raising standards, and creating an inclusive ethos by building leadership capacity and sustainability.

Learning-centred leadership

West Burnham (2006) points out that middle leaders are central to two key areas of leadership in schools; that of learning-centred leadership and distributed leadership; he clearly emphasises that leaders, at any level, are models of effective learning. They are also models of inclusion, where every child and teacher can succeed.

The underlying culture which is developed within a school will impact on its vision. Culture is the ‘personality’ of the school, the way that work is done. Every school is different and has slightly different expectations of its management. Sergiovanni (2001:76) comments that ‘a school has character when there is consistency between that school’s purposes, values and needs and its decisions and actions’.


The culture of each school is determined by individual and collective beliefs and values. Schools do not consist of homogeneous groups of people with shared identities; schools are collections of individuals within a shared culture. The modelling of a school will require improvement plans and policies that acknowledge established practice.

A measure of a school’s effectiveness is the ability of the staff to work as an organisation towards achieving the school’s vision underpinned by a shared set of values and beliefs. This is of particular importance in the context of an international school, which encompass many nationalities and cultures.

A vision embeds the philosophy underlying professional and organisational practice within the school. Vision statements are critical to the effectiveness of strategic and operational plans. A vision moves an organisation forward from where it is now to where it would like to be. A vision would be reflected in the school’s aims and organisational practice. Visions are notably achievement-orientated, inspirational, and aspirational and, as such, should be shared by all members of the school community.

In practice this means developing: a strong vision for all pupils, supported in equal measures by commitment, collaboration and effective communication with parents, pupils, teachers and leaders; strong values demonstrated by the behaviour of staff, governing bodies and pupils; effective leadership strategies; professional development for all leaders, teachers and support practitioners to engage pupils and parents in learning and a focus on the achievement, access and aspirations of all pupils.

Inclusive Middle Leader

The role of an inclusive middle leader is based on a sound knowledge of all operational aspects of the school which encompasses curriculum issues, teaching and learning, assessment and planning, pastoral issues, research and development and policy and practice, underpinned by a strong aspirational outlook for all learners.

At the same time, as well as being a teacher and team member, an inclusive middle leader is also a leader of his/her team. In this role, team management is an important consideration, along with delegation of tasks, motivation of others, managing student behaviour for learning and management accounting.

Discussion and conclusion

To know how to lead in an inclusive way is an on-going process. The development of the knowledge and understanding, skills and abilities required to lead others is developed over time. An inclusive middle leader is a reflective practitioner; a professional leader who evaluates his/her role.

This is a two- way process; leaders knowing themselves and their team members, and the team knowing their leader. Essentially inclusive middle leaders are responsible for the implementation of school wide inclusive strategies, policies and aims, being role models for staff, ‘living’ the vision and the passing on of good practices. This is based on a sound knowledge of all operational aspects of the school which encompasses curriculum issues, pastoral issues, research and development and policy and practice, underpinned by a balance between an inclusive and strong aspirational outlook for all students.


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