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Case study: Derek Davies

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Case study: Derek Davies

I started teaching in 1987, thinking I was just going to do one year then go off to be a theatre director. My first school was in Trafford, South Manchester, which still operates selection system at age 11; so effectively a ‘Secondary Modern’ school. I suppose that started what was to be a career in working in schools in challenging circumstances where building students’ belief in themselves and what they could possibly achieve is fundamental.  

After 17 years of staying in the same school (and by then the Deputy Head), with the bright lights of the West End but a distant memory, I had an an amazing opportunity to be part of a Trainee Headship Programme, where I was seconded to another school for 12 months to work alongside an existing Headteacher. Jan Shadick (another United Learning Regional Director) was also on this programme and we both reminisce at what an amazing programme it was - effectively learning the job as you go. I know Jan is developing a United Learning Trainee Head Programme on a similar line and I really would recommend anyone interested in being a Head to look at this opportunity. 

My 12 months on the programme only lasted two terms, when I was asked by the Local Authority to be Head of a school that has just been placed into Special Measures (I wasn’t sacked!). 

I was in my first Headship for 5 years and, along with wonderful staff and students, took the school from Special Measures to Outstanding. I became a National Leader in Education (NLE) and Leadership Director for the Greater Manchester Challenge, which started a new direction for me, supporting and mentoring other leaders. 

In 2004, I entered the academy system by becoming Principal of a new Academy which was to be formed by the closure of a girls’ school and a failing boys’ school. As well as the demands of bringing two schools together, operating on split sites for two years and rapidly driving improvements, I had the fantastic opportunity of working with architects to design a brand new academy building. I also worked with the National College of Teaching as a facilitator for the Associate Principal Programme, which, ironically, was based on the Trainee Head Programme that I was once a part of. In 2011, I also became a Lead Inspector for OfSTED. 

I first started with United Learning in 2013 as Executive Principal of the two Carlisle academies that were bring rebrokered to the Trust, both in Special Measures. This was a completely new direction for me and, initially, I found it quite strange not actually being the Head, especially not having the direct contact with students.There are many models of Executive Leadership, but I clearly saw my role as developing leadership capacity, setting expectations and standards, coaching new leaders and making people believe that they could achieve; but this time it was targeted at staff, not students. 

It is the old cliché, but it really was ‘to make a difference’. Whereas before it was all about making a difference to the students, this time I wanted to make a difference to staff and on a much wider level. I was also really keen to be part of developing the leaders for tomorrow. 

I suppose the most exciting part of the role was being part of a Trust that was going to do what others had either failed at, or not wanted to consider. I have always been driven by a sense of moral purpose and this is exactly why United Learning was the Trust that I wanted to work for. It goes back to the original vision of the Group, to provide quality education where it is needed most. 

Now I am Regional Director in the North, with responsibility for the 12 Northern Academies. I had already started doing some work other academies within the Group, so the transition to Regional Director was quite smooth, although with much more travelling! 

Being a Regional Director is really no different to being a classroom teacher or being a Head; it’s all about setting your expectations, challenging everyone to do their best, providing support where required, developing talent and recognising and rewarding good work when you see it. 

Being with United Learning has meant the opportunity to work with some great colleagues, but for me, the values and ethos of the Group is the crucial part of what makes us really great. Unlike many Trusts, United Learning celebrates the uniqueness of each school and supports and nurtures their development. Crucially, there is a team of really committed professionals in the background who are there to work with you when support is required. I feel quite privileged in my role to see both sides of the system – what goes on in schools and what goes on behind the scenes; however, all share that commitment to improving the life chances of our students. 

Moving forward, in some form I would want to contribute back to the system and support our next generation of leaders. I may even consider going back into the classroom at some point - or should I see if those West End lights are still shining? 


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