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Kathryn Archibald - principal teacher, secondary

Kathryn Archibald

I work at Ross High School in East Lothian as Principal Teacher of Classroom Practice. I have responsibility for whole school teaching and learning and my remit has evolved in the last year to also include behaviour. I am in the first year of studying for my Masters in Leadership and Learning at the University of Edinburgh (Moray House).

Like a lot of the students on my course, I had been thinking about embarking on a Masters course for a number of years. I used to work in West Lothian and engaged in their ‘Next Steps into Leadership’ programme which was designed to lead into a Masters course, but soon after completion I moved to London to teach. I then began working for a large multi-academy trust. They offered Masters courses with affiliate universities to their teachers but they just weren’t right for me. They were very focused on leadership for leadership’s sake rather than the specific nature of leadership in education. After moving to another local authority I undertook a year-long course called ‘Developing Your Talent for Leadership’ and this made me determined to find a Masters course that suited my interests.

When I moved back to Scotland I considered different courses at different universities. All appealed me in some aspects but again, none were quite right for me. I couldn’t quite articulate what I was looking for in a Masters course but I decided to keep looking rather than jump into a course I wouldn’t enjoy or be fully committed to.

After coming to work in East Lothian, I saw the ‘PGCE in Leadership and Learning: Middle Leadership and Management’ in an internal CLPL document and immediately the title of the course jumped out to me. The nature of education means that leadership of learning is complex and distinct from leadership in other contexts; I immediately contacted our Training and Development Officer at the local authority and started my application.

Even at this early stage of the course I feel that my practice in school is changing and growing. I have become aware of leadership theories and frameworks that I hadn’t heard of before but they are immediately recognisable to me. I have seen effective leaders use these ideas and structures to create effective change and reading about the research and academic principles behind them has been eye-opening. Evaluating my own practice as a school leader has also been invaluable in giving me an insight into endeavours that have worked and those that have been less successful.

Going forward I feel that my work on this course will help me to be more confident in decisions I am making but I will also be able to make more informed choices. Leadership is the leading of people and at the heart of every decision in school is learning. These should be the key drivers in any process if it is to be effective and sustainable.

The academic reading for the course has been more time consuming than I had imagined but it has also been much more interesting than I had thought it would be. If someone were to apply for this course I would ask them to consider if they have the time to commit to their studies and also to make sure they are choosing the course for the right reasons. If you are not passionate about school improvement and leading learning then it will be very difficult to justify the time you need to spend on the reading and assignments.

Having said this, I am hugely enjoying the course. I am so happy I decided to take the leap and apply. Working with other middle leaders from different areas in Scotland, and some from more local schools, has been a brilliant way to exchange ideas and connect with people who can become part of your professional support network.

If you have been out of formal university education for a while – for me it had been 13 years – then the step back into the world of articles, journals and essays can be daunting, but I’ve found it to be like riding a bike! Once a student, always a student. I’m just sad that in Covid-times I’m not able to visit the real-life library or the student union!