A version of this article was published in Education Investor (September 2016)
Last April, it was reported that No 10 was in talks with the University of Buckingham about funding a new school leadership college. Although details were sketchy, the aim seemed to be to fast -track top graduates fresh out of university, into leadership positions. With structured support from the college and experienced mentors they could serve an apprenticeship, and be accelerated into Headships, where they are needed most. (mainly in Coastal and Rural areas, as it happens)
The discussions reflected growing unease in the government about a looming Leadership crisis in schools. These concerns remain. There is a dearth of good heads, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Supply is not matching demand.
Heads are increasingly hard to find. A 2015 survey by the National Governors’ Association (NGA), found that 43% of respondents reported that it was difficult to find good candidates when recruiting senior staff. Perhaps more alarming, many good teachers and potential leaders, eschew Headship. In 2o15 The Key found 86.8% of school leaders believed headship was less attractive as a career choice than it was in 2010. Another survey of headteachers, by The Future Leaders Trust , saw less than half of respondents saying that they still planned to be a headteacher.
It’s not hard to see why. Though still rewarding for some, too many are being put off by the challenges and lack of support. School budgets have reduced in real terms by about 7%. Pupil numbers are on the rise, with a capacity shortage. There are too few specialist teachers. Schools are also subject to relentless changes to the curriculum, assessment and accountability frameworks, while the accelerated academisation programme brings new pressures.
Meanwhile, the focus on structural reforms has shifted attention away from Leadership, though it and the quality of teaching, have the most impact on outcomes Indeed, the one factor that all good schools have in common is good leadership As Professor Michael Fullan said “effective school leaders are key to large scale sustainable education reform’. It’s a given, if you want to transform a failing school, change the leadership. Everything else follows. What we don’t have is proper career planning for Heads. And our system lacks an effective end-to-end model for identifying, encouraging, training and developing the best leaders over time.
We pretty much know what we want from Heads. A clear vision and ability to see it through. While research also tells us that the closer leaders get to the core business of teaching and learning, the more likely it is that they will have a positive impact on their students.
So what we need, in short order, is to identify the best ways of developing this. There is probably no silver bullet, there rarely is in education. But look at the Buckingham apprenticeship model, and its focus on accelerated routes to Headship. Also, The Future Leaders Trust and Teaching Leaders are doing interesting work creating a joint network of 5,000 school leaders at all levels working in the most challenging schools in the country. Make sure that Heads and Governors are actively identifying potential leaders, and supporting their development. Look at what successful MATs are up to-the Harris Federation recruits 80% of its Heads in-house. The DFE is reviewing Leadership qualifications, about time too, as they don’t seem to have much credibility in the profession. Teach First is good at spotting leadership potential. Alumni of its two-year teaching training programme, are over seven times more likely to progress to senior school leadership. What are they getting right? The ASCL, is developing its own Foundation for Leadership in Education, how can this contribute? All these elements may have a role to play. But there needs to be a coherent vision, with these elements working towards the same goal as part of a seamless effort. That will require ‘political’ leadership. But we need to act now if system- wide improvements in outcomes are to be delivered and sustained.