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Since being designated as a Specialist Leader of Education in November 2014 I have had two distinct reactions from people. From family, friends and also some people in education I’ve had ‘What’s an SLE’? From people who know what an SLE is and who know how much effort I put in to my role I’m being asked ‘Why on earth do you want to add more work to your already busy life for no extra money’? I thought I would answer both of these questions in one post. I apologise if you already know the first part of this, but please bear with me as I have a couple of questions at the end of the post.

An SLE is an outstanding (not my use of the word!) middle or senior leader with a particular area of knowledge who can help to develop the leadership in other schools. Currently there are just under 5000 in the UK. SLEs must be successful leaders in their own right. They are not ‘experts’ parachuted in to help schools which have fallen in to a category. Coaching and discussion is the preferred method and solutions will be found by working in collaboration. You can read some examples of the work of SLEs by reading National College for Teaching and Leadership.

SLEs are designated and brokered by Teaching School Alliances (TSAs). Support can be given in any aspect required by the individual school. SLEs are designated in all curriculum areas, leadership and management, pupil achievement, Behaviour and Safety, CPD and SEND to name just a few areas. TSAs are also responsible for Schools Direct Trainees, the next generation of teachers. It is my opinion that SLEs are more credible than many external CPD consultants because SLEs are all currently working as leaders. It is difficult to maintain your credibility if you no longer have a teaching/leadership role.

My own TSA is ‘The Fylde Coast Teaching School Alliance‘ and as you may guess my area of knowledge is SEND. The Fylde Coast TSA offers many courses as twilights to local schools and schools across the region. We also offer the NPQML and NPQSL courses to help to train the next generation of leaders. We are also currently recruiting for the 2015 cohort of Schools Direct Trainees. This is a wonderful opportunity to train with our local schools. I myself am proud to mentor the special needs aspect of the course.

So we know what an SLE is, on to the second part of my reason for posting. Why do I want to be an SLE for no extra money? That is simple! I have no intention of becoming a Head teacher. Many of them are too busy to teach at all. Their job is a long way from the one I trained to do. I love teaching. I’m enthusiastic about helping the special children to achieve their utmost in terms of academic achievement, independence and for some, simply enjoying life. Head Teachers are often deprived of that aspect as their time is taken up with appraisals, finances, discipline, meetings, in fact anything apart from teaching. At the moment I have a healthy mix of teaching, leadership and now SLE work. I like it. It is exhausting but it is fulfilling too. It makes me happy to go to work each day.

That leads me to my questions. At our SLE conference last week we discussed the use of the word ‘specialist’ in the title. Most of us are of the opinion that the word ‘specialist’ is rather off putting. If I wanted to enlist the help of someone with a proven track record I’m not sure that I would choose someone who calls themselves a specialist. Personally I know I am not a specialist. I’m a listener and a thinker and part of being an SLE is listening to and helping others to think things through, to reach better outcomes between the two of you. Some people said that SLEs had to be specialists or no one would enlist their help. I’m not convinced. We haven’t chosen the name ourselves, that came from the DfE and we are therefore not at liberty to change it but it was a big talking point at the conference. Would you enlist the help of someone who set themselves up as a specialist?

My next question concerns the use of SLEs. Put simply, what would encourage you or deter you from requesting an SLE visit? That was another big talking point. Is there anything that TSAs can offer that they currently do not. I would be very pleased to hear people’s opinions on this one.

There is a new development in the world of SLEs today. I have noticed that a brand new #SLEchat is about to begin on Wednesdays at 8 PM. At the moment I do not know who is running this but I’m quite sure I will find out. It looks promising.

My final sentence on this topic is that being an SLE is a two way learning process. I have already discovered that it helps me to develop my skills further and it helps the middle and senior leaders I am working with to clarify their thinking. We can work together and have a big impact on the school’s leadership.