Big Education: Insights from Liz Robinson’s Leadership Journey

Big Education: Insights from Liz Robinson’s Leadership Journey

Big Education: Insights from Liz Robinson’s Leadership Journey

Big Education: Insights from Liz Robinson’s Leadership Journey

Big Education: Insights from Liz Robinson’s Leadership Journey

Liz Robinson’s journey and the Big Education Leadership Programme demonstrate the power of visionary leadership in transforming education. Through her experiences and the impact of the programme, Liz offers valuable lessons and inspiration for current and future educational leaders.

The Big Education Leadership Programme is a nurturing space that brings together headteachers and senior leaders across the education sector. The programme equips leaders with powerful strategies to ensure schools and trusts can better support the communities they serve and enable young people to thrive.

Big Education Leadership Programme

In this spotlight:

  • Early inclination towards leadership
  • First steps as an education leader
  • The Big Education leadership programme
  • Participants and impact
  • Liz's advice to aspiring leaders

Early Inclination Towards Leadership

Liz Robinson's leadership journey began early in life. She always had a natural inclination towards leadership, often taking on roles such as form captain during her school years. Her initial career aspiration was to become a music therapist for children, combining her passion for music and a desire to make a difference in young lives. However, once Liz began working in schools, she fell in love with the educational environment and recognized the profound impact schools could have on social change, especially in underserved communities in London.

Liz’s passion for education leadership was further fueled by her experiences and observations as a teacher. She saw firsthand the pivotal role a headteacher played in shaping a school community and enabling positive change for students. This realisation set her on a path to becoming a headteacher, a goal she achieved with the help of the Fast Track teaching program—a New Labour initiative aimed at fast-tracking high-potential individuals into leadership roles.

Liz's First Steps as an Education Leader

In her late 20s, Liz became the headteacher of Surrey Square, a school in South East London. During her time at the school, she focused on creating an inclusive and nurturing environment that encouraged both academic excellence and personal growth. Her approach to leadership was deeply influenced by her belief in a holistic education that integrates core academic learning with personal development and practical skills.

In 2018, Liz co-founded Big Education, a multi-academy trust, where she continues to advocate for a broader vision of education—one that encompasses the head (academic learning), the heart (personal development), and the hand (practical skills). Her leadership journey has been marked by a commitment to working within and on the educational system, striving to bring about meaningful change that benefits all students.

What's in the Programme?

The Big Education Leadership Programme, formerly known as the Big Leadership Adventure, is designed to support and nurture educational leaders in the UK. Launched five years ago, the programme aims to equip leaders with the mindset, skills, and tools needed to drive change and innovation within the education sector. Liz emphasizes that all significant change is rooted in great leadership, and the programme is built around this principle.

The programme focuses on developing leaders who can think creatively and critically about complex issues, ask bigger questions, and design innovative practices. It aims to foster a sense of agency and confidence in participants, empowering them to enact their vision skillfully and with rigour. The client-centred coaching leadership toolkit is central to the programme, which encourages leaders to create space for others to think, express, and develop their ideas.

The course materials were developed through research with a psychologist into change makers and innovative leaders, across different sectors. By reviewing the commonalities across them, the team came up with their competency framework: the Big Education Leadership Wheel. The focus on a head, heart, hand model, summarised in the Wheel, provides a thread that runs throughout the course and enables clear and open communication.

The Big Education Leadership Programme

Participants and Content

The Programme is open to senior leaders in the education sector, including headteachers, CEOs, deputy heads, and other senior leaders. It is open to leaders from across the sector and not just schools - many join from charity and third sector, and even some from the Department of Education. It attracts individuals who are looking for ways to innovate and make a broader impact. The programme brings together like-minded leaders who share a commitment to asking bigger questions and exploring new possibilities in education.

Since its inception, the programme has evolved significantly, starting with its name. Initially, the strong emphasis on pioneering and innovative approaches felt necessary to highlight, reflecting the challenging context of the trust system’s centralised, prescriptive educational policies in the early years. Over time, as the educational landscape has become more open to change, the programme has adapted to these shifts.

The content has been refined and improved each year based on feedback and participants' evolving needs. One notable evolution is the increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which integrates these dimensions more deeply into the programme. Additionally, the programme has shifted towards a more flexible approach in how participants reflect on and share their learning, moving away from rigid reporting requirements and towards more meaningful and context-appropriate methods.

How Has Big Education Impacted Its Participants?

The programme has had a profound impact on its participants. Many leaders who join the programme feel isolated or constrained by the system and leave with a renewed sense of purpose and agency. They gain confidence in their ability to lead change and feel more connected to a community of like-minded leaders.

Participants also report significant growth in their leadership skills, particularly in areas such as creative problem-solving, strategic thinking, and inclusive leadership. The client-centred coaching approach helps them develop a more empowering and supportive leadership style, which in turn fosters greater engagement and innovation within their own teams and schools.

Key Learnings from Leading the Programme

Creating Psychological Safety

Leading the Big Education Leadership Programme has provided Liz with several important learnings. One of the key insights is the importance of creating psychological safety for participants, allowing them to express their ideas without fear of judgment. This involves building trust and genuinely listening to others, a skill that Liz admits requires leaders to "shut up" and make space for others to think and explore.

Value of In-Person Interactions

Another significant learning is the value of in-person interactions. Despite the logistical challenges and the shift to online formats during COVID-19, participants consistently expressed a preference for face-to-face sessions. The rich, personal connections and the dynamic environment of in-person meetings have been crucial for the programme’s success.

Modelling Leadership Qualities

Liz has also learned the importance of modelling the leadership qualities the programme aims to develop in others. This includes being reflexive, adaptive, and open to uncomfortable conversations about what is and isn’t working. These practices are essential for fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

Professional and Personal Transformation

For Liz, leading the Big Education Leadership Programme has been both professionally and personally transformative. It has reinforced her belief in the power of leadership to drive change and has provided her with a platform to share her vision and inspire others. The experience has also deepened her understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the educational system, making her a more effective and empathetic leader.

Liz’s Advice to Aspiring Leaders

Liz’s advice to aspiring leaders is rooted in her own experiences and the insights she has gained from leading the Big Education Leadership Programme. She emphasizes the importance of being authentic and true to one’s values. Leadership, she believes, is about making a positive impact and staying committed to one’s vision, even in the face of challenges.

She also highlights the importance of continuous learning and reflection. Aspiring leaders should be open to feedback, willing to adapt, and committed to personal and professional growth. Building strong relationships and creating a supportive, inclusive environment are also crucial for effective leadership.

Finally, Liz encourages aspiring leaders to be courageous and take risks. Innovation often requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone and challenging the status quo. By embracing change and fostering a culture of curiosity and creativity, leaders can drive meaningful improvements in education.

More About Big Education

The programme is recruiting for its next two cohorts, which will start in October, one based in London and one based in the North West. The program is aimed at senior leaders across the sector, from MATs to school leaders to education charities and other organisations. 

More information is available here.

Want to learn more about how we work with schools and multi-academy trusts? We would love to hear about your school improvement goals and see how we could help — you can also send us an email at hello@edurio.com.

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