Skip to main content
The Facilitation Impact Awards (FIA) honours organisations that have used facilitation to achieve a measurable and positive impact as well as the facilitator(s) who worked with them. More about FIA
Silver award
North Ayrshire Council
Irvine, Scotland

Developing school leaders to practice facilitation


The organisation has saved £86,000 by implementing a self-sustaining model that reduces the need for external presenters and deliverers.

We have trained 16 school leaders as process facilitators and 28 have embarked on the Future Facilitator programme. To date these leaders have facilitated over 70 staff meetings and professional development workshops which has had an impact on 1190 teachers and school staff. There are a further 32 school leaders waiting to be trained.

The pyramid model has proved an effective way to achieve the numbers quoted above, and to make the model self-staining and self-improving, with the core team of 4 and the Lead Facilitator providing a range of on-going opportunities for other facilitators to build and maintain their professional knowledge. The increase in skills development in our establishment leaders has demonstrated the impact the model has had across the organisation.

Forty-four per cent of trained facilitators have been promoted or moved into different roles and there has been a 75% increase in the number of session participants applying to study at university to gain the Standard for Headship.

Andrew McClelland, Head of Service said “Our work on leadership development and professional learning is sector-leading due to the focus on continual improvement for our own people, by our own people. We have made significant progress in the last 24 months and are proud to share this work widely.”

An educational leader said “Very impressed with the facilitators ability to distil the brief, open up thinking and help us achieve a sense of direction… where we are now more focused on improvement and recognise that the ownership is very much with us. The opportunity to collaborate and critically evaluate practice has been invaluable.”

Context and challenges

The Professional Learning and Leadership Workstream is part of North Ayrshire Local Education Authority which comprises 66 educational establishments, 2240 staff, 20,000 pupils and covers a geographical area of 341 square miles in the South West of Scotland. The purpose of the Workstream is to develop effective leaders in schools at all levels – senior, middle, aspiring – through sustainable, high quality professional development opportunities.

A new Senior Manager, Alan MacDougall, was appointed to lead the Professional Learning and Leadership Workstream in June 2019 with the remit to introduce more effective and sustainable development of leaders in North Ayrshire educational establishments.

The challenge was to change the status quo. Teacher professional development has been lecture-style presentation for many years, with the emphasis on knowledge, information transfer and passive learning. The new Senior Manager saw the need to change the model from shallow learning to deeper more profound development of skills, knowledge and understanding. The challenge was the present system and the mindset around teacher professional development, especially considering that the current school leaders came through the ranks to positions of leadership based on the previous model. There was a need to shift it from pedagogy to andragogy and from presentation of facts to facilitation of understanding.

Project objectives

The Professional Learning and Leadership Workstream wanted to develop a skill-based programme, based on the competencies leaders need to develop a culture of collaboration, participation and consensus within their schools. We knew that the skills and competencies of a facilitator were relevant and useful for 21st century leaders and married well with the principles of andragogy. We also knew from extensive research, demonstrated most effectively by Viviane Robinson (2007) where she said that:

“In high-achieving and high-gain schools, teachers report their school leaders to be more active participants in teacher learning and development” where “the leader participates in the learning as leader, learner or both. The contexts for such learning are both formal (staff meetings and professional development) and informal (discussions about specific teaching problems).”

We wanted to combine facilitation with the role of school leader, so the focus of the project became two questions:

  • How can we help school leaders develop relevant and appropriate skills (facilitation) to lead adults (andragogy) in their own context?
  • What type of roll out model will make the solution sustainable, participatory and inclusive?


The project was welcomed and approved by the Senior Officer in charge and became live by bringing in experienced International Association of Facilitators member Joyce Matthews to train facilitators with her School Leader Facilitator programme, endorsed by Education Scotland, the executive arm of the Scottish Government.

A pyramid strategy was devised to train a core of three facilitators who are the Leadership Development Workstream, to model and demonstrate facilitative processes in action at meetings, professional development sessions and consensus building opportunities at local, regional and national level.

At the next level, three cohorts of school leaders were trained as facilitators to work across schools in different geographical regions building a network of facilitators who could share designs and resources while customising processes to the needs of their own schools.

The next level is school staff who are the recipients of the facilitated sessions which creates a collaborative relationship with the teachers and a curiosity around the processes and skills, inspiring the next generation of facilitators to be trained, signing up to the bite-sized Future Facilitators programme, making the model self-sustaining.

Two cohorts were trained in 2019 with a third being trained in early 2020. Momentum was gathering and even when face-to-face facilitation was no longer possible, the facilitators adapted to online facilitation, and the training continued.