The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

In the middle

Kathleen Kerrigan from SCEL explores the potential of middle leaders

When I read statements such as “School leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning”, I reflect upon the pivotal role of middle leaders in Scotland’s schools; a role that includes a unique and valuable opportunity to contribute to school leadership and also enhance the life-chances of Scotland’s children and young people by ensuring high-quality teaching and learning.

The importance of building leadership capacity at all levels was highlighted in Teaching Scotland’s Future and is reflected across the education policy landscape in Scotland. The challenge for middle leaders is to transform policy into effective practice that makes a difference for the young people with whom they work. In order to achieve this, middle leaders have a key role in shaping, supporting and developing high-performing teams of educators, building a positive culture of self-evaluation, ensuring quality teaching and learning and delivering ongoing improvement within their area of responsibility and across the school. Effective middle leaders are catalysts for positive change.

Crucial to success in middle leadership is the ability to engage positively with others, to inspire, motivate and challenge staff teams, as well as children and young people to give their best. Through their positive relationships and the focus upon ongoing improvement, middle leaders help build a school culture in which pupils, staff, teaching and learning can thrive.

The quality of aspiring and current middle leaders is excellent, Louise Sanders, Former Headteacher

Louise Sanders, SCEL Fellow and former headteacher, currently works with middle leaders undertaking the Postgraduate Certificate in Middle Leadership and Management at the University of Glasgow. Louise considers the role of middle leaders as becoming increasingly important in leading teaching and learning as the role of school leaders changes dramatically.

She said: “I think that the quality of aspiring and current middle leaders who I work with is excellent. They have a sound understanding of their unique role as that layer of leadership between the classroom and young people and the school improvement planning process and wider policy and politics. The middle leaders I work with are keen to collaborate to develop their practice to really make a difference for the young people of Scotland.”

Louise adds that it is vital we support our middle leaders in ways that are flexible enough to meet the range of professional learning needs. Some middle leaders are keen to take on formal learning at SCQF Level 11 Masters level, while others welcome a more informal, experiential approach. 

SCEL’s professional learning opportunities for middle leaders

The Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) provides leadership professional learning for all Scottish educators wherever they are in their leadership journey: teacher, middle, school or system. SCEL is keen to ensure that middle leaders are aware of the variety of opportunities available that might be relevant to them.


The SCEL Framework a self-directed, online resource, is fully funded by Scottish Government for Scottish educators and contains a variety of high quality learning activities and endorsed programmes at all levels of leadership. Middle leaders and aspiring middle leaders will find a range of professional learning activities that are designed to develop leadership in a number of key areas including the leadership of colleagues, learning, change, culture, collaboration and self-evaluation.


To enhance the professional learning of recently appointed and aspiring middle leaders, a resource entitled “Into Middle Leadership in Schools” is available on the SCEL website. The resource was originally developed by former headteacher and education consultant Dick Lynas, who lends his experience of delivering professional learning for leaders in education.


Based upon current research that purposeful collaboration can lead to enhanced outcomes for learners, the Collaborative Middle Leadership programme (CML) recognises the transformative contribution that a cohesive middle leadership team can make to school improvement. Tailored to suit the needs of the school or setting, this programme seeks to develop middle leaders as individuals and also cultivate skills and powerful relationships across a middle leadership team that will enable impactful professional collaboration for school improvement. The CML programme is currently in the prototype phase and feedback from participants so far is very positive.

 The programme is delivered through a series of in-house workshops which can be supported by a SCEL associate and is complimented by coaching between each workshop. The final session of the programme promotes reflection upon the collaborative learning journey and provides an opportunity to plan next steps for the school or setting.


Committed to the provision of leadership learning at all levels, SCEL recently offered a series of events to engage with middle leaders and explore their leadership learning needs. Participants at the events valued opportunities to hear from inspirational speakers, engage with leaders in similar roles and also enjoyed sessions during which they collaborated to share and explore aspects of effective middle leadership. Further events for middle leaders are planned for 2018.


The vital role that middle leaders play is also reflected in the provision of postgraduate certificate courses that are offered by several universities. The certificate in middle leadership equips them with knowledge and skills that inform and enhance their leadership skills, ensuring that they feel more confident in their middle leadership role. For some individuals the certificate in middle leadership is the beginning of a journey towards school leadership. Information about these programmes is available on the SCEL website and from individual universities.

Teaching Scotland

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins

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