I have been a Headteacher for over nine years now and, at the age of 48, this much I know about the type of Headteacher I want to be.
I am increasingly unsure about what kind of Headteacher I want to be; my first Headship was at a school where, as Headteacher, I was seen as a pillar of the community (at times I felt more like a pillock of the community) along with the Doctor and the Vicar. The role harked back to Goldsmith’s “village master” (http://tinyurl.com/2vq3crj). But now the landscape for Headteachers looks very different; so complex and so contradictory.
I have never had a career plan, I’ve just moved on because I want to do interesting things. I’ve never stayed anywhere more than six years, but I’m not sure where I go next, because I don’t know which version of the job I want to do.
I didn’t enter the teaching profession to be an expert on employment law. I went into teaching because I loved English and wanted to share my enjoyment of literature with young people.
I don’t want to be the Headteacher who steams into a so-called failing school, and improves the school’s examination performance by the whole of Year 11 taking the BTEC First Diploma in Sport in a week. Leading genuine school improvement is so much more than that.
I once heard Tom Bentley, when he was at Demos, say, Change your structures to accommodate your core purpose, don’t contort your core purpose to fit with your existing structures. There are so many different forms of Headship now, I feel that the core purpose of Headship has been blurred to the point where I need to clear my head and refocus on what I went into this job to do.
The demands of being Headteacher are huge and disparate. Teacher colleagues want you to walk the corridors and be about the place; Bill Bratton’s equivalent of riding the electronic sewer where he made the top brass and middle brass (including himself) of the NYPD ride the New York subway to see the challenges of everyday life at first hand. You need to keep an eye on the strategic direction of the school too. I think I can undertake both of those roles by ensuring that I never do during lesson times what I can do when the students have gone home.
I think you have to teach, no matter how demanding the role of Headteacher has become. And I don’t mean cherry-picking the small Year 13 class, I mean teach the tough classes, team teach, teach out of your subject if necessary. Whilst I am gut-wrenchingly worried about the school’s headline figures on results days, I always sneak a look at my own students’ results first!
I know I’m a Michael Fullan bore, but he does get it when he says you should, Judge the quality of leadership in a Headteacher by the leadership s/he develops in others. And the leadership that matters most is the leadership we develop in teachers when they are in their classrooms.
Headteacher or Business(wo)man? That is the question. We have a Premises Manager, Human Resources Manager and a Finance Manager – all experts in their own field. We don’t have a Business Manager with a portfolio so broad s/he has to manage a Premises Manager, Human Resources Manager and a Finance Manager. This team of three and I comprise our Operational SLT, meeting for just an hour a week.
I never wanted to be a Businessman. I do, however, learn from business practices. A few years ago I adopted what’s called Blue Ocean Strategy in order to have a structure for implementing change. We spend more time now thinking about how we implement change than what that change might be. It works brilliantly and has helped us improve teaching and learning no end. The nub of our Blue Ocean Strategy implementation process is outlined in the attached Powerpoint and pdf.
This year all our Performance Development (aka Appraisal) interviews have been undertaken by the SLT; 107 teachers between eight of us. And it’s been great to have lengthy discussion with colleagues about students and the intricacies of teaching and learning. I feel it’s been a hugely valuable CPD activity for all concerned.
Is the SLE/LLE/NLE system just school improvement on the cheap? As the Local Authorities collapse at the centre, is school-to-school support merely replacing the LA Advisory Service? If so, that might be a good thing, I don’t know? What I do know, however, is that the Tories’ determination to adopt norm-referencing, or even comparative outcomes, for setting examination grade boundaries militates against anyone helping anyone else. The purity of our moral purpose to be systems leaders will be thoroughly challenged over the next few years.
We need to be setting up systems in schools which allow us to develop excellent young teachers. I think the Teaching School system might just work and I am excited about being on the Executive Board of the Ebor Teaching School Alliance.
The Executive Headteacher model clearly works in some cases, but it is a model which looks increasingly unattractive to me. I think the Family of Schools model we are creating in York, which sees me working collaboratively with colleague Headteachers from our partner primary schools on an equal footing, setting up structures which help improve teaching and learning and ensuring the best possible pedagogic continuity for our students, has the most impact on students’ well-being and life chances than any other Headteacher model. Does the £100,000+ p.a. Executive Headteacher have £100,000+’s worth of impact on student progress? I genuinely don’t know.
Whatever kind of Headteacher you are, keep your eye on the day job. Are there Executive Headteachers who don’t know how the measures for 3 levels of progress in English and mathematics are calculated? I know at least one…
BOS at Huntington School

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This post has 2 Comments

  1. Really interesting blog. Found this when looking into the exec head model for two small primary schools in Cumbria, but your thoughts are much more broad, and revealing than that. Thanks

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