In light of our School Leadership Conference 2021: Driving School Improvements in Uncertain Times, we explore the ways that headteachers and academy leaders can build productive school culture.

Effective School Leadership

We heard from Tom Rees, former Headteacher and current Executive Director for Programmes at Ambition Institute. Tom’s work focuses on the professional development of school leaders [1].

According to Tom, ongoing professional development is likely to be the most impactful tool at our disposal for improving teacher quality and boosting pupils’ learning.

They highlighted the importance of good teaching and good school leadership in ensuring the success of students through 3 key points:

  1. Teachers have the greatest impact on pupil outcomes: their impact is three times that of any other school-based factor [2]
  2. Improving the performance of serving teachers is three times more effective in raising standards than the combined effect of all the attempts to improve teaching through replacement [3]
  3. School leaders create the professional environments where teachers can keep getting better [4]

Transformational Leadership

In their presentation, Tom introduced the transformational model of leadership as an example of how school leaders can develop their leadership style. According to the Education Development Trust [5]:

‘This model of leadership is most often associated with vision; setting directions; restructuring and realigning the organisation; developing staff and curriculum, and involvement with the external community

The Education Development Trust outline the key traits of a school leader when engaging in Transformational Leaders:

  • Building vision and setting directions
  • Understanding and developing people
  • Redesigning the organisation through building collaborative cultures, restructuring and reculturing the organisation and connecting the school to the wider environment
  • Managing the teaching and learning programme

An example of Transformational Leadership: Embracing School Culture

We heard from Rob Williams [6]. Rob has been headteacher at Malton School in North Yorkshire for the past 14 years. He won the Gold Award for Headteacher of the Year in a Secondary School at the Pearson National Teaching Awards of 2021 [7].

Rob has been praised for developing a ‘front foot’ approach in his leadership style. The Malton School have created a learning environment that aims to benefit from the advantage of engaging in school culture.

They have led the school community to a point where it has a reputation as an inclusive school with exemplary behaviour and where students achieve excellent progression routes to their desired career destinations.

A statement from Rob on the priorities of the school:

“Our approach is not designed to be instead of exam results, neither is it intended to be simply on top of exam results.

We see a child’s education as a whole. Nurturing the development of the whole child builds confidence and self-belief and links inextricably to improved performance in exams.

The child stops seeing the exams as the paralysing be-all and end-all, and they are better placed to put it into a wider context of their overall development and achievement”

Rob persistently highlights the importance of the personal development of a student during their years at school. The school sees personal/character development as key to improving career prospects for students when they leave school.

As a result, they looked at the Confederation of British Industry Report of 2019: Getting Young People Work Ready [8]. The report flags the issue that many workplaces perceive school leavers as not being work-ready.

The  report highlighted 3 pillars that schools should focus on when equipping their students for work:

[8] The three pillars of student employability according to the CBI (2019)

It further states that schools generally do a very good job at developing a student’s knowledge and understanding of getting ready for work, but that character and essential skills are often lacking.

Armed with this evidence, Rob and his leadership team internalised the findings of the report and set an ambitious vision to develop the students’:

  • Transferable Skills
  • Character
  • Knowledge
  • Personal Development

The curriculum at Malton school maintains a strategy that aims to be both pioneering and inclusive. It has been developed with employment frameworks in mind. The school now:

This scheme has received positive feedback from students and parents who have reported heightened confidence and self-esteem.

Additionally, the school introduced tablet-based learning in September 2016. Each student has an iPad. The tablet scheme was fully funded by parents and was implemented to help students with their digital skillset. The tablets are embedded in learning at the school and has improved the dialogue between staff and students.

This foresight meant that a programme of remote learning was in place on the first day of the 2020 lockdown, with systems in place to register lesson attendance, monitor learning and provide parents with a daily report of their child’s engagement.

The potential of engaging in school culture

Rob highlights the main successes in his leadership strategy and decision to change the culture of the school:

  • Increase of scores in student, parent, and staff surveys
  • 25%+ over subscription rate to join Year 7 since 2017
  • Increased number of applicants for jobs advertised
  • Increased recognition for the school
  • Achieved whilst making significant annual repayments to historic budget deficit


Finally, Rob recommends:

  • Strong leadership starts with a lived vision and a clear purpose
  • To consider the benefits of a longer school day, to maximise the potential of students
  • Engage with the culture of the school by focusing on extra-curricular needs of the students
  • The use of a tablet scheme to better equip students technologically
  • Lead your school to engage with the wider community

[1] Rees, Tom. Executive Director for Programmes at Ambition Institute

[2] RAND, 2019. Teacher and Principal Perspectives on Social and Emotional Learning in America’s Schools: Findings from the American Educator Panels.

[3] The Sutton Trust report 2011. Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK – interim findings

[4] Kraft, M.A. and Papay, J.P., 2014. Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development? Explaining heterogeneity in returns to teaching experience

[5] The Education Development Trust. Successful School Leadership Report.

[6] Williams, Rob. Headteacher of Malton School

[7] Pearson National Teaching Awards, 2021. [8] The Confederation of British Industry Report 2019. “Getting Young People Work Ready”

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Ongoing professional development is likely to be the most impactful tool at our disposal for improving teacher quality and boosting pupils’ learning. This case study will examine the characteristics of effective school leadership. It will then discuss the Transformational Leadership model of Rob Williams, Headteacher of Malton School.

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