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Supporting diversity and teacher career progression: One grammar school’s journey

Written by: Desmond Deehan
9 min read


Townley Grammar School is an 11–18 selective girls’ school in the London Borough of Bexley. It is a large grammar, with approximately 1,500 students in a selective authority with three other grammars. The school has an ethnically diverse population with approximately one third black African, one third white British and one third Asian, of whom Indian is the largest contingent.

In September 2018 it became the founding member of the Odyssey Trust for Education, becoming the sponsor for King Henry School (formerly Erith School), a large co-ed secondary modern. I subsequently became the CEO, having previously been the headteacher of Townley Grammar for 10 years.

This article refers to Townley Grammar School rather than the Trust; however, the decision to form a trust had intended consequences for teacher career progression at Townley Grammar.

In our work on teacher progression, we referred to the four-part institutional typology developed by Professor Paul Miller (2016). Miller (2016) notes that there are four types of institutions: engaged, experimenting, initiated and uninitiated.

  • In an engaged institution, there are black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff at all levels of its hierarchy, including in (senior) leadership roles
  • In an experimenting institution, there are a small number of BAME staff in posts and a smaller number of BAME staff in leadership roles
  • In an initiated institution, there exists a framework for meeting its legal duty; BAME staff recruitment is restricted, with few BAME staff in posts, but no BAME staff in leadership roles
  • In an uninitiated institution, no framework or plan is in place to meet its legal duty and no BAME staff are in posts.

Applying this model to our own institution, we placed ourselves in the ‘initiated’ category, i.e. we were meeting legal obligations and had a framework in place, but the impact was negligible. Our activities moved us into the ‘experimenting’ category, with a wider range of opportunities for progression available to all staff, and some way towards the ‘engaged’ category. This took place progressively from 2017 to 2020, and has been documented in Miller (2019) and Miller (2020).

The challenge

The Department for Education’s analysis of the teacher workforce found that retention rates increase with age and experience, and are higher in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted (Foster, 2019). Similarly, there were found to be more upper-pay-scale teachers in schools with ‘outstanding’ behaviour and fewer in schools with ‘satisfactory’ or ‘inadequate’ behaviour (DfE, 2011). The former schools inevitably include a significant number of grammar schools, which are most often rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. As a result, it is often mistakenly assumed that grammar schools do not have a recruitment or retention challenge. Certainly, Townley Grammar has high levels of retention, which subsequently means that there is less pressure on recruitment compared to schools that have higher turnovers. However, this masks the challenge in recruiting specific posts, especially within core subjects. Furthermore, greater retention brings its own challenge – the ceiling on progression that it can create. With lower staff turnover, fewer opportunities arise for the progression of newer staff members, resulting in many moving schools to seek promotion. Broader progression pathways are needed in order to address this and provide opportunities for all staff members in order to help support retention (CooperGibson Research, 2018)

A further challenge in recruitment and progression relates to diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. The student population of Townley Grammar School was becoming increasingly diverse ethnically and in terms of socioeconomic status. This was a strength of the school, but while the student population diversified, the staff body had largely remained unchanged. As recognised in the DfE’s ‘statement of intent’ in their 2018 policy paper on the diversity of the teacher workforce, a diverse workforce is valuable in creating greater social cohesion and supporting pupils to grow and develop in an environment of diverse role models.

Townley Grammar increasingly failed to represent the community that it served. Despite being an advocate of grammar schools, I do recognise the need to help make them more relevant and effective on a wider educational platform. Being non-grammar educated and finding myself the only such individual interviewed for a deputy headship post at a grammar, it has been apparent to me that some grammars risk becoming too insular. This is not necessarily due to design but is almost an inevitable consequence of their unique context. It was therefore personally important to me that Townley Grammar actively developed its leadership capacity through a more diverse leadership pipeline. From a professional standpoint, it was clear that greater diversity in staffing and in leadership was necessary to better serve communities and the ambitious aims of the school.

The challenge therefore was:

  1. to build a more ethnically diverse workforce that better represented the community that we served
  2. to shift the balance of highly experienced staff and those newer to the profession
  3. to retain new entrants for longer by creating progression pathways and opportunities
  4. to capture a broader range of experience and diversity at leadership levels.


Specific interventions


The fundamental issue with recruitment is that you have to get sufficient candidates to apply for positions if you are to recruit them. To assist with this, we began a long-term strategy of raising the profile of the school, both locally and nationally. It would not be enough to simply be known, though; what we were known for would be equally important.

We used social media, the national press and teacher conferences, achieving national coverage that aimed to broaden our appeal beyond the traditional, rather narrow pool of applicants. Emphasising school policies relating to equalities provided a more rounded view of the school for prospective candidates. In particular, a three-part BBC2 documentary transformed our platform. By engaging in educational debate through social media platforms, we aimed to appeal to a new body in the teaching profession, and this was coupled with hosting and presenting at education conferences.

Although we had been reluctant initially to recruit former students, since this might perpetuate the ‘closed shop’ perception, it became apparent that this had potential. Furthermore, in the longer term we hoped that this would enable us to better represent our communities, with teachers well versed in our vision and ambition.

We also opened up greater opportunity for unqualified teachers, providing assessment-only routes for teacher training in addition to PGCE and Graduate Teacher routes.


The formation of a Teaching and Learning Team enabled us to create development and progression opportunities other than the hierarchical promotion ladder. Amounting to four members of staff, it was intended to support the development of pedagogy for colleagues and was supported with specific TLR points. Secondments to SLT provided a useful preparation for future senior leadership opportunities and gave candidates some vital experience. Accredited training opportunities were provided for all levels of staff, ranging from part-funded Masters programmes and NPQs through to National College courses.

Structural reorganisation and flexibility

A more flexible approach to organisational structures was introduced to provide a wider range of pathways. For example, an Extended Leadership Team, comprising cluster leaders with responsibility for wider curriculum areas, provided a potential development pipeline into senior leadership. This gave experienced colleagues who had already served as heads of department the opportunity to take a wider subject responsibility and contribute to strategic planning with SLT. They learned the importance of leading across teams, which is the foundation of SLT work.

In addition, greater flexibility around part-time working at middle leadership level enabled us to retain strong middle leaders with family commitments. Over time, every level of leadership had at least one member of staff on a part-time timetable, from middle leaders in subject or pastoral roles up to and including senior leadership.


Some of these interventions were more effective than others, and some had unforeseen consequences.


Raising our profile to boost recruitment certainly provided candidates with a greater knowledge of the school and its mission. The calibre of candidates therefore improved – although the numbers overall remained the same, new candidates were frequently more engaged in educational debates and offered greater potential for future and earlier progression.

The recruitment of alumni was an unexpected success. With very little deliberate campaigning, appointments from former students quickly doubled. There are currently 10 teachers who were former students. This also contributed to our efforts to develop a more ethnically diverse workforce that better represents our community. There are currently 56 per cent white British staff out of 203 staff members. Twelve per cent are BAME compared to eight per cent nationally.


Secondments did result at times in promotion to senior leadership. Out of four secondments, three eventually joined senior leadership permanently. Where they did not, the experience provided valuable feedback for the candidates.

The Teaching and Learning Team established the concept of lateral progression, providing valuable experience for those who wanted to seek promotion as well as an alternative for those who wanted to remain in the classroom. A Career Progression Pathway was created for staff, but the formation of the Trust caused us to rethink this more widely since it allowed for the movement of teachers between schools as well as the potential formation of trust-wide school improvement roles, and this is still in progress. The CPD programmes, particularly accredited, were popular but presented a further challenge to coordinate and evaluate. We are currently assessing the range and take-up of CPD opportunities in order to map their impact on later progression.

In summary, the strategies described above had a positive impact, in that we:

  • attracted candidates who were more engaged with educational debates and seemed to have more potential for earlier progression
  • recruited alumni, enabling us to improve the ethnic diversity of our staff body
  • promoted three teachers into senior leadership roles after secondments
  • began work on a Career Progression Pathway.

However, it was clear that as a single academy trust we were limited in the pathways and opportunities that we could provide. Access to both a range of experience and a breadth of possible routes could only be achieved within a larger multi-academy trust. Therefore, teacher progression became a key factor in the decision to form a multi-academy trust with a neighbouring secondary modern school.


Odyssey Trust for Education

In forming the Trust, we were able to create movement at the senior level at Townley Grammar School. I relinquished the headteacher role to become CEO/executive headteacher and we eventually appointed a new headteacher from a minority ethnic background, one of only two within the grammar schools network, and creating a better representation of our community.

A deputy headteacher eventually became Director of Education in the Trust, creating further progression. A new Central Education Team was formed, with Director positions filled by system leaders.

The Teaching and Learning Teams evolved into Research and Development Teams, enabling us to develop research-informed practice and CPD opportunities that served the needs of our schools, and Lead Practitioner posts were established to support school improvement work. This has become part of the Odyssey Future Teachers Programme.

Finally, we introduced Associate Teacher roles for graduates wishing to enter the profession but not yet qualified. This was a natural development of the unqualified entry and former student recruitment taken to a broader stage.

We now had the means whereby teaching staff could gain a broader educational perspective and experience without leaving our employ. We could also provide progression routes that extended beyond the individual school and, most importantly, created the development pipeline for future system leaders.

For other leaders wishing to address diversity and career progression, I would advise beginning with researching your own context, and then developing and evaluating pilot programmes. Don’t be afraid to change plans – contexts can change quite rapidly, bringing new opportunities and challenges. Ultimately, being part of a wider trust structure has given us the scope that we needed to support career progression for teachers and recruit a more ethnically diverse staff body that better represents our community. Finally, while your context might be unique, building networks is the best way to develop practice and serve your community.


CooperGibson Research (2018) Factors affecting teacher retention: Qualitative investigation: Research report. Available at: (accessed 14 December 2020).

Department for Education (DfE) (2011) A profile of teachers in England from the 2010 school workforce census. Available at: (accessed 15 December 2020).

Department for Education (DfE) (2018) Diversity of the teaching workforce: A statement of intent. Available at: (accessed 15 December 2020).

Foster D (2019) Teacher recruitment and retention in England. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper. Available at: (accessed 15 December 2020).

Miller P (2016) ‘White sanction’, institutional, group and individual interaction in the promotion and progression of black and minority academics and teachers in England. Power and Education 8(3): 205–221.

Miller P (2019) ‘Tackling’ race inequality in school leadership: Positive actions in BAME teacher progression – evidence from three English schools. Educational Management Administration & Leadership 48(6): 986–1006.

Miller P (2020) BAME teacher progression in England: Towards a conceptual model. International Studies in Educational Administration 47(3): 18–35.

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