‘School Leaders learning about leadership in other workplaces’

The ‘Follow the Leader’ programme was launched in February 2015 after approval by the Teaching School Council. Its aim was to inspire potential special school head teachers and leaders of the future by offering candidates an individualised programme which included coaching from an experienced leadership coach and a placement in a non-educational setting. Many special school leaders have already completed leadership courses but our aim was to build on this by giving them a chance to step out of education and into other settings, refreshing their knowledge of generic skills but also picking up new knowledge of what constitutes successful leadership.

You will see from the two case studies below that the programme invigorated and inspired these two hardworking deputy head teachers who relished the opportunity to think ‘out of the box.’

My experience – JB, Deputy Head Special School –Westland Sea King Helicopter Project

“Fantastic, unique opportunity – I followed an inspirational leader”


The first workshop and coaching session were incredibly valuable in establishing my thoughts on leadership, my future and the aims for my placement.

At this point, on a scale of ten I would have placed myself as 5 out of 10 in my ambition for headship.

My initial contact with the placement at the Sea King Helicopter project at Westland was related to security and vetting procedures; the unfamiliarity of this created a certain anxiety related to the different worlds my leader, Captain K and I inhabited! When I arrived at the office it also contrasted from school in having a very quiet atmosphere, flexitime and lunch hours rather than the fast paced, responsive environment of working alongside pupils with varied needs.

It was clear from the start of my placement that I was following a committed and high achieving leader who managed his staff with skill. He ran meetings with the rule of reporting by exception which was a light bulb moment for me, delegated duties to staff with excellent communication of expectation and trust, acknowledged the contribution of others on a regular basis and planned ahead so that work was proactive rather than reactive.listening

Captain K was managing a period of change at Westland and this required a high degree of sensitivity to staff anxieties about the future. He was a very good listener and made sure he kept contact with his team by being approachable and generous with his time.

Watching his leadership informed me of a range of new skills from Day 1. A useful analogy he gave me was to think of the organisation as a ship.  

“It isn’t the person on the wheel or the person rushing about on deck giving orders.

It’s the one on the deck; standing, observing and planning who is able to be the leader.”


Conversation with Captain K about leadership was one of the most useful aspects of the placement, he was very clear about the need for moral courage to do the right thing for the organisation even it is unpopular.  Sharing the long term vision for the project is a key aspect of good leadership. We also talked about having a CV of reputation, thinking ahead and planning a career. Sometimes there may be sacrifices to be made but they are often worth it in the long term. By the end of the week, I felt reenergised and had moved from a 5 out of 10 in my desire to move my career towards headship to a 9 out of 10. I am now interested and more confident about applying for headships.

Preparing my feedback for the post placement coaching and final day of Follow the Leader, consolidated my learning and I look forward to finding opportunities in the future. Thanks to David Higham for his coaching and to TADSS for this unique opportunity.

My Light bulb moments

  • Openness in discussion is essential
  • Leadership is a privilege not a chore
  • It’s a strength to be open to support and input from others
  • Change in meeting conventions – report by exception, Chair update last
  • Decisions need to be correct even if not popular, follow what is morally right to do.
  • Be available for staff and generous with your time.

My experience – DT, Deputy Head, Special School – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

The whole experience was absolutely brilliant and as a concept I would thoroughly recommend it.”

At the beginning of my Follow the Leader experience I was at a crucial point in my career, thinking about my future in education and where I wanted to be heading. I did apply subsequently for a headship but the experience went much deeper in establishing my strengths and understanding of how to value, develop and encourage the staff you are leading. mayflower

The coaching experience was valuable at all stages of this process and I emerged from the experience with a much clearer sense of direction and what my future as a school leader might look like. Thanks are due to David Higham, for his skilled support.

My placement was brilliantly organised by Sarah Houston, Head of HR at the Mayflower theatre, the technicalmajor theatre tour centre in the South, with each day spent in two different departments of the organisation. I spent time with marketing, finance, human resources, front of house management, technical management and backstage during preparations for the production of the musical ‘Top Hat’.

The Mayflower organisation follows the ‘Fish’ philosophy of work which emphasises motivation and enjoyment in employees – being present in the moment, choosing how to respond and react to situations FISH!with a positive attitude, having fun and making sure staff feel appreciated with small gestures and thanks. Meetings would often start with a humorous activity or quote which supported openness and creativity between colleagues. Once a week there is a no email rule so that staff members are encouraged to move around the building and meet others in person. Having said this, their use of innovative ICT was a great learning curve for me.

Leaders in this organisation are very aware of other peoples’ jobs and what their working life is like. They are encouraged to develop their understanding of what makes other people tick in order to inspire them to be effective in their work tasks. Being able to stand in other people’s shoes is essential for techleaders in education too and I was able to observe countless examples of managers showing understanding and perception of their staff.

Returning to my leadership coach after this experience I was able to reflect on where my future lies. It had shown me that my real knowledge, expertise and passion lie with supporting staff and managing them to develop their skills and enjoy their work. Headship might not be the path for me but some kind of leadership definitely is, possibly within a larger educational establishment, education authority or college. Thank you TADSS for this opportunity at a crucial part of my career in education.

Lightbulb moments

  • Be clear about others roles, responsibility and accountability
  • Focus on your own area of leadership
  • Rotate chair of meetings to share sense of responsibility
  • Coaching is a powerful mode of supporting change
  • Be sure there are intrinsic incentives for staff
  • Humour is never wasted, happiness and productivity are linked
  • Value and invest in people
  • Facilitate improvements with investment in IT and new technologies – keep ahead of the game.


03May 2013

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