“I’m proud to be helping to develop the next generation of Headteachers for schools. We need them!”
Headteacher of Oreston Community Academy in Plymstock (Westcountry Schools Trust) since January 2019, Esther Best has long been a champion of school leadership.
Esther is one of our National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) Facilitators working with national delivery partners, Teach First and Leading Schools South West (LSSW). The fully-funded NPQs are part of the Department for Education’s post-Covid-19 recovery essentials. Recruitment for Cohort 2a - due to commence in the Autumn Term - is now underway and take-up from middle and senior leaders across the region is higher than ever.
As a seasoned NPQ Facilitator we asked Esther about her role.
1. How did you come to be an NPQ Facilitator?
I was approached by Bob Mitchell (now Leading Schools South West’s Managing Director) who I knew from when he was my Facilitator when I was undertaking the NPQH myself back in 2013.
That was when NPQs were part of the now obsolete National College for School Leadership. Prior to this, I also participated in the Leadership Pathways programme as well as completing the FastTrack Teaching Leadership Programme, both part of the National College. These were both invaluable leadership stepping stones to support my move to Deputy Headship, and then to the role as Headteacher here at Oreston.
The lovely thing was that I’d been part of Bob’s first NPQH cohort as a participant when he was a new Facilitator. I then had the privilege of delivering alongside Bob as a new Facilitator whilst he was delivering his last ever cohort. It felt like I was taking up the mantle and following in his footsteps. I then reapplied to deliver the new NPQs and I was pleased to be successful in being able to continue my role.
2. What made you accept the role as an NPQ Facilitator?
I was excited, honoured and delighted that Bob invited me to take up the role! Bob and I have similar leadership styles and I’ll always be grateful that he could see my potential to do this role. Bob had a secondary background and so I learned a lot from him that has since supported my delivery to colleagues from the secondary sector.
I’ve always been passionate about school leadership development and I’m fortunate that someone invested in my development through the NPQH programme and other programmes that I mentioned earlier. Plus, I’ve always been keen that future leaders have their opportunity to develop and am really glad and fortunate to be part of this process.
I’m also an impassioned advocate of selling Headship! We need to tell the world that it’s a very rewarding job and I think it’s the best job in education with so many positive aspects (but that would be another interview topic).
3. What have been the challenges in the role?
I started Cohort 1a in Autumn 2020 in the midst of Covid – which certainly had some challenges!
Previously, I was a Facilitator for the “old style” NPQH and I’ve had to adapt to the new leadership style of approach and delivery - moving from traditional face-to-face sessions to learning how to deliver virtually.
So, as we’re now opening up again to a blended way of working for the NPQs, I’m feeling well equipped for the new style NPQs: NPQs in Leading Literacy (NPQLL) and NPQ in Early Years (NPQEY); which will have two face-to-face conferences.
4. What have been the drawbacks (if any) to leading online seminar delivery?
When you’re leading online training, it can sometimes be hard to read the room and when you might need to discuss a point in more detail. It also increases the pressure on you to be super-clear about the content as you don’t always have the background; plus, discussion and thinking time can be minimal as the session is more content-led.
But as I’ve adapted and embraced the video conference technology, I’ve used breakout rooms for group discussions and the new programmes are adapted for more interaction for Programme Members.
5. What do you find to be most rewarding as an NPQ Facilitator?
Without any hesitation - seeing the growth in the Programme Members as they progress with their NPQ study and how they tackle scenarios. It has been so rewarding when some have commented how their learning as a leader has fused through the Modules and their experience in school. Also, watching how they have learned to be reflective and how this has successfully developed over time.
Importantly also, as a growing leader, avoiding the situation of challenge before support, recognising that as leaders, we must be reflective to ensure that we have covered all basis and provided support first. I enjoy watching the knowledge, experience and confidence grow with participants and the networking that takes place throughout.
Leadership at its best.
6. How does your role as a Facilitator support your work as a Headteacher?
As a Headteacher who has been in this role for 10 years, it is valuable to revisit the fundamentals of successful leadership and why actions take place when and how they do. The research behind successful leadership is always good to revisit regularly so that we continue to be highly reflective as leaders to ensure we are doing the best for our schools and the children and communities we serve. I’ve really valued facilitating the NPQs to continue to be reflective in my leadership style and of my leadership team in my school. It is also thought provoking as different research is added into the programme such as the COM-B Model for Behaviour Change.
Previously also, I used the funding for my role as a Facilitator to finance my school leaders to undertake an NPQ and fund their supply costs and release time as part of supporting the leadership cycle. But obviously, all the NPQs are currently fully funded by the DfE, which is a great bonus as it means we can use the funding for supply and more staff can access the NPQs.
7. Have there been any other additional benefits for your role as a Facilitator?
I couldn’t do the role without my co-Facilitator, Simon Spry, Chief Executive Officer of the Learning Academies Trust. I’ve valued how we’ve complemented each other in our delivery with our different skill sets and I’ve also learned from his experience of working for a Multi Academy Trust in a different area to my school in Plymstock. Working with Simon has made the experience all the more enjoyable and I’ve gained from working with another CEO and learning from his school and Trust case studies.
8. How have you found the Teach First and Leading Schools South West seminar/conference materials?
The Teach First materials and programme of study have been excellent and in particular the Programme Members have enjoyed the thought-provoking scenarios in conjunction with the Brightspace online learning to support them.
The comprehensive Teach First Modules have meant that I’ve had to do minimal preparation for the content and I can focus on the delivery and interactive elements of the seminars. Equally, the LSSW materials for the conference days have been very instructive and intuitive and a pleasure to use. Both make it easy for me as a Facilitator to bring the learning together and to bring my own experiences to the training and I would like to thank both Teach First and LSSW and for their guidance and supportive content.
We thank Esther for her insights and for being a champion for the NPQs and school leadership and may she continue to relish her role as one of our NPQ Facilitators.
Interview by Jude Owens, PA to the SWIFT Executive Team