Witton Park Academy is a mixed secondary school for children aged 11-16 in Blackburn, Lancashire.
Senior managers at the school are coached by Oasis developers. In 2017 the school was in the top 7% of schools in the country – a reflection of the approach to leadership and culture.
Headteacher Dean Logan said: “Pupils and parents are very positive about school. Our reputation has grown over recent years.
“The relationships we build with pupils are fundamental to us, and the one-to-one development is an extension of that. It’s about developing relationships and giving people confidence. Coaching gives people a good opportunity to reflect on some of what we do and it fits in with our culture of developing relationships and developing trust.”
Dean approached Oasis for support with coaching and development of his senior team. He’d taken over the headship at Witton Park in 2010, and had experienced coaching for himself. He decided to implement the theory and practice of coaching into school.
He said: “Once you realise something is good and determines improvements in what you’re doing, then you should model that.
“I realised the benefits of coaching for myself and I want to model that behaviour through school and enable others. You can’t underestimate the value it places on people.” Dean wanted to encourage, support and inspire senior managers to:
- Take more ownership of their roles
- Distribute leadership more broadly
- Help move the academy towards an Ofsted “outstanding” judgement.
“It was about middle leaders growing in stature and expertise and beginning to have difficult conversations, being able to hold people to account, and to do that in a way that they can sustain and build relationships rather than people being fractious with each other,” said Dean.
Seven developers worked with 21 leaders for the first year, and some chose to renew their contracts for subsequent years. Dean also worked with a coach himself.
Staff appraisal: holding others accountable
One of the key aims was to develop the Academy’s middle leaders so they could hold other staff to account. It was identified early on that people found facing confrontation and holding others to account – for example, those not meeting expectations or with unacceptable attitudes – to be a drain on their personal resources.
Dean said: “I wanted the coaching to encompass that type of decision making where the staff were held accountable by middle leaders. Because without middle leaders growing in their expertise and ability to lead their teams, we won’t become an outstanding school.”
The school has made progress towards this goal, with the latest Ofsted review finding them good with outstanding features. Ofsted inspectors commented on staff appraisal: “The management of staff performance is robust; links between performance management and salary progression are strong.”
Early on Oasis identified some of the key challenges staff were facing. These included:
- work/life balance
- career choices and development
- role transitions
- managing people
- difficult conversations.
Some managers wanted to learn how to motivate others, how to develop management skills and how to prioritise workload. Others needed support with communication, managing conflict and gaining confidence. Managing people – whether that was dealing with personalities, having difficult conversations or dealing with conflict – was highlighted as the most challenging aspect of the senior role.
Changes at the Academy
There have been positive changes in both the workings and the culture of the Academy.
Those receiving coaching have noticed an increase in collaboration with deeper conversations taking place. They highlighted the positive impact of the sessions – including learning a greater range of strategies for communicating with colleagues, coping with stress and achieving a work/life balance.
By giving managers the opportunity to reflect, they found insight and different perspectives. This led to increased self-awareness, finding their voice, being more pragmatic, more positive and more effective.
Benefits of Coaching
Managers articulated the key benefits of Oasis coaching as:
- a better work/life balance
- more self-awareness and self-belief
- a greater perspective
- more confidence in challenge and being able to have open discussions
- being able to manage workload better
- having trust in other staff and allowing time for staff to develop own thoughts
- reduced stress levels
- a clearer, more focused mind.
Oasis evaluated the service using questionnaires to gather anonymous data. These showed that the service is seen as having a highly positive impact on the individuals and on the school as a whole. 90% of those that responded report the sessions as an excellent investment of their time.
- developing a whole school approach to values and the culture, ethos and vision
- learning how to communicate effectively
- establishing reflection time
- making time to develop new ideas and to share ideas more widely
- more resilient staff and improved staff wellbeing.
Education watchdog Ofsted said in a recent report: “Leaders have successfully developed a culture that fosters continuously high aspirations, harmonious relationships, self-discipline and the mutual respect of all members of the school community. This culture is evident in every area of school life.”
The inspectors noted the investment in the professional development of leaders: “Leaders invest heavily in the professional development of middle leaders. For example, the school commissions 10 hours of one-to-one coaching for 21 middle leaders per year. The leadership of teaching and learning is a significant strength of the school. They have in place high-quality mentoring, coaching and training to support improvement that teachers willingly access.”
Insights from Practitioners
Oasis coaches have peer supervision to ensure their practice is ethical, follows best practice, and serves clients’ needs. In supervision sessions, practitioners noted that developees were finding their voices within new roles, exploring how to approach challenging conversations, and working out how to reconcile the demands of work with family life.