There is a shortage of head teachers so should Governors take a greater interest in developing potential head teachers and if so are there more effective ways? This is the first of a series of articles which will explore:
- developing potential heads;
- developing and supporting new head teachers.
New Heads Feel Under Prepared in Key Aspects of the Role
A recent report  indicates that new head teachers felt less prepared for these aspects:of a Head’s role:
- The breadth of the responsibilities of the role;
- Managing their time and the priorities;
- Budgeting and financial management;
- Managing their external accountablity e.g. Ofsted inspections, exam results, relationships with stakeholders;
- Working with Governors;
- Their own work/life balance.
Let us unpack the implications of the above. Many Governors believe that when appointing a new head, the focus should be on:
- raising and maintaining the school’s performance;
- the attainment of students;
- injecting new ideas into the school.
That focus is not surpisiing given the scrutiny that Governors find themselves under from: their stakeholders such as the LA or Trustees of an Academy; external monitors such as Ofsted; the school’s reputation amongst parents/guardians. Governors will often persuade themselves that the right candidate will have a track record at a similar school and that a head teacher should have many years teaching experience in various roles and the ability to lead others.
Exposure to Issues not Just Length of Experience
Governors need to reconsider the above beliefs. The accelerated development of potential head teachers has led to a new generation of heads who have gained the necessary skills in 9/10 years compared to an average of 18 to 20 years of previous head teachers. The key is not to be fixated on a set length of teaching experience but what an individual has been exposed to in his/her roles that has led to development of his skills, leadership abilities and adaptability . What counts is the issues that an individual has had to deal with and what he/she has learnt and been able to apply to other situations. Hence, some individuals can gain both deep and wide experience of issues in a relatively short career span while others may spend years without having been exposed to a similar range and depth of issues.
Leadership requires a head to be able to re-invigorate the contributions of staff. That may be because of a period of change or because an individual has lost their spark, so to speak, and needs to find the interest and drive and/or confidence again. Such leadership skills are often developed in the thick of dealing with issues and gaining intuitive approaches to win back individuals. Teasing out whether a potential head has been exposed to such issues and has addressed them effectively is important.
Managing and Leading the School Entity
The role of a Head extends beyond classroom teaching. When I ask Heads about their first appointment, a common concern emerges – they understand what needs to be done about the attainment of the children but have little knowledge about managing the rest of the organisation e.g the premises, financial trends, culture shifts, marketing and PR and compliance issues such as data protection, health and safety, security. Some Governors believe those skills can be provided by the employment of a seasoned business manager or contracting out more specialist skills. Even so, the Head needs to be able to see the bigger picture as:
- the school is competing for children/students hence the need to have some grounding in marketing;
- the Head needs to determine the priorities, such as being familiar with key financial trends so that issues can be dealt with at an early stage rather than walk into a major problem e.g. a redundancy situation.
Relating to School Governors and Stakeholders
The Head must be able to provide the Governors with an appropriate level of management information on the finances and attainment levels. The Head should be able to identify trends, anticipate significant questions and be able to accept and address challenges to the conclusions about such information. That will require investment of time by key Governors and the Head in understanding each others’ information needs and concerns.
A Head will need to develop relationships with other stakeholders such as the LA or Trustees according to the nature of the school. Nurturing such relationships is a skill that has to be acquired.
The question is how many potential head teachers will have been exposed to such situations in their careers to develop a wider and deeper range of skills?
The Head – Enabler, Modeller and Intervenor?
Since 2001, Head Teachers have not been required to Hold QTS. In the last few years, the idea of executives leading schools has been mooted. Many Governors would feel such an appointment is too much of a risk as it raises the issue of who would be responsible for modelling teaching practice and driving up attainment levels. Effective leaders are often portrayed as enablers – individuals who can gather a team around them with complementary skills to ensure that the goals of the organisation will be achieved. At times, a leader has to intervene to correct the direction of the organisation or draw the attention of managers to performance and other issues.
Are Governors willing to explore different leadership arrangements? Even so, we should not under estimate the challenge to professional teachers of developing the children/students in the care of the school.. A solemn question to consider is “What should the Governors expect legitimately of a Head Teacher?”
The following qualities of a potential Head are offered as a starter:
- An enabler who understands the bigger picture of what has to be achieved across the school and can break that down into manageable chunks of actions for others to implement;
- A questioner – thinking ahead of what are the next steps, challenging the priorities and timing;
- Managing his and the SLT’s time to ensure that appropriate attention is given to attainment of students as that is critical to the school’s reputation, the lives of the students but also that adequate attention is given to the wider demands of managing any organisation;
- Exposure to managing complex situations or projects which necessitated construing data correctly, selecting the best team to implement plans and keep both progress and performance under review to ensure effective outcomes;
- Willingness to take risks in developing others e.g. allowing individuals to have exposure to the wider responsibilities of managing a school.
Our next article will examine ways in which Governors and Head Teachers can develop the breadth and depth of skills of members of their SLT or others with the potential and willingness to become a Head Teacher.
Comments are welcome on this series of articles.
 New pathways into headship? June 2015 National College for Teaching and Leadership © Institute of Education, University of London & Sheffield Hallam University 
 Exposure v Experience – the better way to identify capable, adaptable staff – an earlier article on our HR Management Dimensions blog.
Note: some typing errors were corrected on 12/08/2015.
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© 2015 HR Management Dimensions