The Secret Teacher, senior leadership, management and focus

A Secret Teacher writes....

A Secret Teacher writes….

‘Senior leaders are drowning in paperwork rather than inspiring others’, says Secret Teacher, in the Guardian‘s ‘School Leadership and Management Hub’ on Saturday at

Senior staff need to be brave enough not to be distracted from the focus; that of creating a culture of good learning. We need to keep in mind what’s important and shift the focus back to enabling students to do the very best they can and getting teachers to feel as empowered and motivated as possible..”

The WEA isn’t a school but we face similar issues. We’re a voluntary sector adult education organisation with more than 1700 tutors across England and Scotland. The quotation above is a good guide for our senior educational leadership and management. This blog is about what we’re doing to ‘shift the focus back’ following a recent restructure and review of priorities.

We’re usually swimming against a tide of emails, deadlines and competing priorities as Secret Teacher says. We do risk drowning in paperwork but we’re trying to make careful choices along the way as we develop new ways of working.

10 things we’ve done recently to focus on a “culture of good learning”

1. We refreshed our vision and reaffirmed our commitment to adult education for social purpose. This gives clearer direction for our teaching and learning.

2. We cut the number of posts in our Senior Management Team. This aimed to cut overheads.

3. Trustees took part in a development event in October, using ‘active learning’ methods to focus on their roles in promoting excellence in teaching, learning and assessment. They wanted this to be at the forefront of strategic planning as the restructured Senior Management Team began to work with them in new ways.

4. Trustees now have a standing item on ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ on the agendas for all their meetings. Using this precise wording is creating space to ‘shift the focus back’.

5. ‘Teaching, learning and assessment’ is also a standing item on the agenda for all Senior Management Team meetings and teleconferences, reinforcing colleagues’ deep and shared interest and ambition for the WEA.

Our senior managers care about teaching and learning

Our senior managers care about teaching and learning

6. Trustees have changed the way that they run their Education Strategy Committee. They concentrate on an individual aspect of teaching, learning, assessment and impact for part of every meeting. Committee members have agreed that they will always ‘challenge the status quo’. Chris Morton, the Chair, invites people with a range of roles within and beyond the WEA to take part in these sessions so that the Committee members learn from different perspectives.

7. We have rooted our self-assessment, improvement and development processes in our work. Many people take part in determining what’s good about our teaching, learning and assessment and what we should improve. Using the AfL approach (Assessment for Learning), our self-assessment is FOR progress and not just OF progress.

8. We now manage student services and support from within the Senior Management Team so that we know about students’ needs, opinions and learning experiences as we make plans and check progress on teaching and learning.

Fiona Parr, Director of Student Services

Fiona Parr, Director of Student Services

9. We are encouraging people to exchange views about theories and practice of teaching, learning and assessment so that we’re actively thoughtful and thoughtfully active about how our students learn.

10. We are continuing to develop Community Learning Volunteers who work beside some tutors and provide classroom support. (This direct learning support is in addition to many Branch volunteers who organise courses and to other active volunteers.)

We’ve got a lot of work to do and I don’t underestimate the challenges but Trustees and senior education managers are regularly asking the question that Secret Teacher poses: “Is it going to directly improve learning?” We need to keep asking the question throughout the WEA, no matter what distractions there are. It’s also a message that all education policy makers, from Government Ministers to teachers, should apply whenever they make professional decisions.

We have to rely on colleagues with expertise in other specialisms to run excellent services alongside education. Teaching and learning would be impossible without them. Their vital roles and professional skills deserve equivalent status and the more that they do to free up educators to educate the better.

It would be interesting to know how senior managers ‘keep the focus’ in other educational organisations. We’re unusual in having such a dispersed and democratic model but we try to be open about what we do and we’re always willing to learn from others’ good practice as we develop.

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn:

3 Responses to The Secret Teacher, senior leadership, management and focus

  1. John Williams says:

    A timely reminder of how far we’ve come in modernising and focusing our activities. It’s a useful reminder also, that teaching and learning, and the learner, must always be the focus of our activities. Yes, we need bureaucracy to make the machine function, but the bureaucracy is always a subsidiary mechanism to ensure our core activities are the best they can be.

  2. joaniepthemadhatter says:

    How true! It can be really difficult to stay focused and keep everything in perspective – the learner must always come first and I think that is something that WEA have achieved!

  3. Pingback: The Secret Teacher, senior leadership, management and focus « JoanieP The Mad Hatter's Corner

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