Cultivating the lead practitioner role

Cultivating the lead practitioner role

Headteacher and MAT CEO Stephen Dean created a maths improvement strategy as part of his CPD studies – an approach that created immediate, notable results. Yvonne Gandy learns more.

When you are about to make the move from headteacher to trust CEO it might be tempting to put aside considerations such as professional development until you have got your feet firmly under the table.

Stephen Dean, head of Highnam CE Primary, says the possibility was considered for a moment and then quickly dismissed during discussions with colleagues as they planned the creation of Primary Quest, a multi-academy trust made up of four rural primaries near Gloucester.

“It was a question of, do I go on some professional development now or wait until we are finally up and running?” Mr Dean explained.

“I felt that I wanted to do it straight away so that we could use what I was learning during the creation of the trust.”

Colleagues agreed and Mr Dean enrolled on the National Professional Qualification for Executive Leadership (NPQEL), keen to gain an understanding of the strategic leadership skills he would need as trust CEO. Primary Quest was finally launched last summer and Mr Dean completed the programme at the end of the year.

Mr Dean was able to apply his learning practically to a trust-wide school improvement project which helped the trust’s four primaries make impressive strides in maths outcomes at key stages 1 and 2.

The project was given support and guidance from Chiquita Henson, CEO of Cirencester-based Corinium Education Trust (CET). Mr Dean took part in an external review of maths at the trust she leads, meeting subject leaders and pupils, observing teaching and then giving feedback to subject leaders and the senior leadership team. The review, which led to the creation of an improvement plan, formed the basis of Primary Quest’s own review.

One of the key strengths identified during the CET review was the position of maths lead practitioner in each school, each with responsibility for monitoring the quality of teaching and supporting staff to improve.

One area identified for the development of these roles was to ensure that the lead practitioners consistently observed all teaching of maths to get a thorough overview of teaching quality.

These findings encouraged Mr Dean to consider how the lead practitioner role could be enhanced across his trust. He prioritised giving the practitioners non-contact time so that they could observe and coach teaching colleagues.

This was supported by key stage specific training on maths teaching techniques such as the use of manipulatives to deepen children’s mathematical understanding, and followed by training run by primary maths consultant Gareth Metcalfe. The session explored evidence-based research and the practical use of equipment and images and how to interweave reasoning into lessons.

Action plans for the implementation of the manipulatives approach were the next step. This phase was reviewed by the trust’s head of school improvement, Mr Dean and maths subject leaders, who made “enquiry walks” to check that the aims of the improvement strategy were being met.

Developing a communication strategy made an important contribution to the success of the project. Mr Dean met the executive teams regularly and invited feedback from class teachers and teaching assistants to help shape further training and joint CPD opportunities.

Curriculum reviews completed across the trust showed that staff were more confident teaching maths and English than foundation subjects. Mr Dean believes that the priority placed on maths CPD has been a crucial factor in this.

The results of the project have been impressive. At key stage 2, there was a nine per cent increase in pupils at age-related expectations in maths, with a 22 per cent increase in pupils reaching the higher standard. The average scaled score increased by 1.0. There was a five per cent progress uplift for the pupils in year 6 in 2019 (FFT data dashboard).

In key stage 1, there was a 10% increase in pupils reaching age-related expectations in maths – to 81% in 2019. There was also a 10 per cent rise in pupils reaching the higher standard to 31 per cent.

The maths improvement strategy remains a focus for the trust, says Mr Dean, with additional training, joint moderation opportunities, sharing good practice and maths subject leader non-contact time an on-going priority.

“This project has helped me see the importance of leading well and visibly, the importance of building capacity at all levels and the importance of partnership for mutual benefit,” Mr Dean said.

“Finally, I have a strategic overview of the trust’s strengths and weaknesses and where I need to focus my time and the resources available to me to ensure all pupils are receiving high-quality teaching and learning in maths and in all subjects.”

Yvonne Gandy is programme director of the National Professional Qualifications at Best Practice Network, which supports Outstanding Leaders Partnership to deliver the four National Professional Qualifications for school leaders. Visit and