I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about why, more surely than ever, I think it is essential for school leaders to teach.
What a difference a year makes! I’m back teaching Economics A Level after a year spent teaching General Studies and English instead. I had the whole of this summer to prep for the Economics teaching but I had other stuff to do and I needed a break. I knew it was a reformed A level but I calculated that it couldn’t really be THAT different – Economics is Economics, I reasoned. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oh my goodness! The increase in both the volume and depth of content is remarkable. This tiny comparison between the old OCR-endorsed Economics A Level text book and the new one exemplifies the ramping up of the academic challenge for our students. In the old text book, the mathematical explanation of the Harrod-Domar model of savings and investment ends with an explicit message to students that they don’t really need to know, use or master the mathematics at all:

In the new OCR A level Economics specification the mathematics matters, a lot. In the new text book there are pages and pages referring to the Harrod-Domar model and a worked mathematical example, because the students may well have to execute these calculations in the final examination:

Different, eh? And every topic I taught on the old specification has been transformed like this on the new one. I have found the shock seismic.
So, whilst as head teacher I had heard colleagues discussing the more challenging GCSEs and A levels and whilst I had taught some (cherry-picked by me) elements of the new English Language GCSE, I had no genuine understanding of the challenge my colleagues have grappled with these past two years or more. We had allocated as much time as we could to planning for the new specifications, but it was, clearly, nowhere near enough. Hours of their own time has been spent in preparation for teaching the new GCSEs and A Levels. And I can only, retrospectively and with a huge dose of humility, tip my hat to my brilliant colleagues for doing such a tremendous job in both prepping so well and helping our students secure some excellent results in this summer’s examinations.
More surely than ever, I think it is essential for school leaders to teach. Teaching school leaders can only, genuinely, understand the challenges of the classroom teacher if they teach themselves.
BTW, instead of attending researchED 2017 today, I am planning my Economics lessons for the rest of this half-term…

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This post has 6 Comments

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  1. Honesty and realism that I think a good number more in senior positions would do well to emulate. Thanks for that.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! As a head myself I see this as a crucial aspect of my credibility with staff. I enjoy debates with my trust about this and can only hope I might continue to lead lessons.

  3. As per usual, another great blog John. I once read another blog about developing leadership skills which advised working closely with colleagues at ground level. I wondered how slt could do this timewise but, as you say, the new specs are so challenging they make it imperative! Hope the planning goes well!

  4. John’s spot on, as are the other trails, sweating the good stuff to understand quite what the work looks like at ground level. 42 years of experience instructs me not to deskill in the basics of teaching. I am teaching Year 8 history , whilst watching the reintroduction of A level ICT. 350+ staff and 3 sites in my school, every excuse not to worry about lesson prep; but as I work as a Reporting Inspector for ISI as well as leading learning, profoundly understanding problems in the classroom are essential. Deep knowledge remains the bedrock on which to draw out solutions for the myriad of challenges we face each day.

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