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Innovative leadership in colleges recognised in £1k award

Revived award recognises innovative educational leaders 

School, college and university leaders whose leadership of a project made a real difference to their institution are being encouraged to apply for an award.

The Reflective Practice Award It is open to individuals and teams in schools, universities and colleges who can show their innovation had a significant impact, and demonstrate some element of critical reflection. 

It will be presented at the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) conference in July 2017, with the winner leading a workshop on their innovation for academics and practitioners attending the event.  

BELMAS chair Gill Howland has been pushing for the award, last made in 2012 to Alison Elliott of The Laker School, to be revived. “BELMAS is unique in that it is for both academics and practitioners, encouraging us to share information, research and best practice. We give awards for outstanding academic work, and we want also to recognise outstanding work in leadership – in particular in recognising the learning and development that leaders go through on their path to becoming better leaders. 

“I think it is hugely important to recognise all the efforts, heartache and soul-searching – as well as the euphoria – that leaders experience when they are testing out and developing their own skills. I want to see authentic, human, thinking leaders, who are courageous, honest and open to new thinking and ideas and who have a clear moral purpose and values. 

“Leaders tell us there is less time and less of a culture for practice-led research, reflection and debate. Our practice award aims to stimulate reflection and learning as well as recognise and reward thinking leadership practice.”

Rehana Shanks won the award in 2011 when she was depute head of Dean Park Primary in Edinburgh, for a project which helped raise teaching standards at the school. She has since become its head, and also vice-chair of BELMAS itself. “I was really pleased to win the award for my staff – it made a real difference that what we did was recognised externally in this way,” she said.

Mrs Shanks’ project supported teachers to work in small groups to look at practice in other schools, sharing research and innovative ideas. Later, they discussed how they could use some of the new ideas for themselves, and reflected on what they had learned from the project.

Just six teachers initially signed up for the project, but 21 more joined as it went on. “All staff noticed a substantial difference to the quality of teaching and whole community learning experiences in the school.  The school was being transformed by the leadership of teachers as a collaborative empowered group of practicing professionals,” said Mrs Shanks’ paper. Dr Colin Russell, then head of Dean Park, said the project had transformed the way teachers improved their own practice and that he had never seen anything else with quite the same effect. 

The BELMAS Reflective Practice Award for Leadership of an Innovation in an Educational Setting is open to all members of the organisation, and membership is free for the first year. 

Entry is initially through a 500-word submission outlining the evidence which would be provided if the candidate or team was long-listed. The next stage is to provide a 2,500 word paper discussing how the innovation was led, demonstrating the improvement made, and with critical reflection which might include considering and using published research, self-evaluating leadership, or examining wider learning or policy implications. 

The prize is worth £1,000, including a funded place at the BELMAS conference in Stratford-upon-Avon to present a workshop session on the innovation. An article on the innovation may also be considered for publication in a BELMAS leadership journal.

Full details of the award are available at, and the closing date for submissions is 28th April 2017


BELMAS is an educational leadership research association open to school and college leaders as well as academics, and encourages members to generate and share ideas and good practice. BELMAS is an independent voice supporting quality education from effective leadership and management, and membership is free for the first year. Find out more at


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