How I… support the provision of Religious Education across a Teaching School Alliance – Adam Holdsworth

What is a ‘Specialist Leader of Education (SLE)?’ This is a question I have been asked dozens of times by both teaching and non-teaching friends and family. The role of an SLE is often not clearly defined and can be easily misunderstood, so in this blog I am hoping to answer that question, and also explore how SLEs can support the provision of RE across a Teaching School Alliance.

The DfE has defined SLEs as “experienced middle or senior leaders interested in supporting middle and senior leaders in other schools”. The impression I get is that even when schools employed ‘Advanced Skills Teachers’, there were varied examples of how these teachers were used, often with mixed degrees of success. The vision that I want to communicate in this blog post is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to being an SLE, and hopefully I can give some ideas as to how this might look. I think that the role can be defined by three Cs: collaboration, communication and context.

Let’s start with the first of our Cs: collaboration. When I was asked to put together this “How I…” blog, my initial reaction was to ask to change the title to “How we…”. I think that the days when an SLE will swoop in to provide the expertise to save the day for a failing teacher or department are gone. The absolute key to this role is empowering others to make positive change. Expertise does not just lie with an SLE, but with every single teacher of RE across every Alliance school. My role is to tap into this expertise and allow schools to work in a more joined-up way to share key ideas coherently.

In this situation an SLE is primarily a leader, someone who may have expertise but also the qualities to inspire change by developing the abilities of others. Coaching and mentoring can play a very important role in this school-to-schools support that SLEs can offer.

The second of our Cs is communication: this is vitally important in many different ways. Without a structure of communication, it is impossible for SLEs to offer any kind of lasting, meaningful collaboration between different schools across their TSA. One way of creating effective communication is the use of regular teach-meet style events. As a group of RE teachers we usually meet within our Alliance hub once a term. The purpose of this can be to share resources or subject and pedagogical knowledge. As an SLE it is my role to facilitate this session: this sometimes involves me delivering ideas myself, but often also involves me leaning on the shared expertise of others. To ensure this contact is ongoing, and not just once a term, we use Google classroom as a dialogue stream and a platform to continued sharing.

Context, the last of our Cs, is arguably the most important aspect of an SLE’s role. At the Chiltern Teaching School Alliance in Bedfordshire where I work, we serve a wide variety of schools. Our Luton schools have a large majority of Muslim pupils, whereas our Central Bedfordshire schools have a higher proportion of non-religious and Christian pupils. This is important because teaching RE in these different contexts carries its own sensitivities and challenges. In order to understand these contexts, the best thing an SLE can do is speak to the teachers from that school – in this situation they are the experts because they work within these particular settings on a daily basis. SLEs can also reach out to local community and religious groups to bring these contexts into greater focus thus enabling better support.

Being an SLE is a job that I truly enjoy. The reward is enabling the provision of high-quality RE, which undoubtedly benefits all. I hope that some of the ideas in this article are useful. If you would like to ask any questions, feel free to contact me on twitter (@AdamHoldsworth1) or email me (


Adam Holdsworth Specialist Leader of Education for Religious Education, Chiltern Teaching School Alliance



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