Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel




One of the slides we use on the Effective Whole School Management face to face day for NPQSL has a number of areas and participants are asked to identify where they think they are involved. I can’t include it here as I’m fairly sure it’s copyright protected (although I doubt I would have enough readers to worry the sign up rate at NCTL!) but it includes things such as curriculum, pedagogical direction of the school, schemes of work etc.

While working through this with a group last week it stuck me that it was similar to the Spheres of Influence model that I had shared with our faculty leaders and more recently our heads of house as we move to raise the profile of this position. Now this I can reproduce – there it is at the top of the post – and I thought it might be interesting to others.

The example above is from a pastoral point of view and even then only deals with a sub section of their role, but the principles can be extended across to subject areas, where it started.

The inner circle – not intended to sound conspiratorial but you can read it like that if you want – deals with those things which are to a large part external. Oftsed frameworks, Progress 8 as a measure, the national curriculum, specifications etc. This is somewhere where our influence is largely limited and we are given direction and need to follow.

The second circle out in this illustration is where senior leaders reside. It’s where we decide how we will follow the direction from the external influences. What will our particular curriculum look like? How will we decide to structure our options in order to mesh the needs of our students with the demands of external accountability? What method of self evaluation will we use in order to make sure we can demonstrate that we know our school and to make sure that its successes are celebrated?

The outside circle and the reason for the development of the diagram in the first place is for middle leaders to see where their influence lies and the areas where they have autonomy around decision making.

In the pastoral example here senior leaders had restructured the management of the school to have four Junior Leadership Teams compromising one senior leader, one head of house and three of four heads of faculty. This then led to the make up of the houses being constructed accordingly with, for the vast majority, the tutor teams comprising the staff of the faculties. This was in place prior to the heads of house being involved but the deployment of these staff within the houses is within their sphere of influence. They can decide which staff are best suited to which year groups as well as whether or not they want tutors to become experts and fixed with a year group to deliver their particular needs (information and guidance around options in year 9, work experience in year 10 etc.) or to move through with the year group building a stronger relationship.

It would also be within the gift of the heads of house to determine what they expect the role of the tutor to look like, how they will monitor this and what measures to use. In a similar vein to how the relationship between senior leaders and heads of faculty works around lesson observations, work scrutiny and pupil perception, we would expect self evaluation to take place and provide evidence of how effective your team is but as long as there is sufficient depth how you choose to carry this out is down to you.

Now, I appreciate that this could look a little like “know your place’” and I can see where that interpretation could come from. I’ve also heard this referred to as ‘The Circles of Obedience’ and while I wish I’d have thought of that as a title I suppose it comes down to how you choose to view it and the mindset with which you wish to approach things. You can either use the clarity to feel empowered to make a difference over the areas that you have control and autonomy in or spend your time debating the issues that aren’t yours to discuss without making progress in your own sphere. There are some circumstances where things aren’t going to be as democratic as we might like and we can choose to be frustrated by these or empowered in the areas we can influence or control. And I write this as much as senior leader with external influences to contend with as a senior leader explaining a framework to middle leaders.

That’s not to say though that the things that sit in the spheres are fixed. At times we will see where we can exert influence on things that initially sit outside of our sphere and I’m sure that in different schools the spheres include different things with more or less being in any particular circle. The Junior Leadership Teams for example will provide opportunities for discussions and consultations that span across the circles and if we look nationally we can see groups such as The Heads Roundtable working to influence policy and we have seen examples of both Ofsted and the DfE inviting groups to discuss direction with them. The Spheres aren’t designed to be restrictive or say “know your place” in a negative or restricting way but rather to help identify the rules of the game and what position you play in the team. I suppose they go some way to enabling us to fulfil Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer and not lose our minds.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

And for anyone wondering where the classroom teacher is in all this and if they have any influence then I would direct you to this earlier post which shows just how much power we all really have if we decide to go for it!

Lots of Love