Diary of a headteacher: Handling the pressure

Written by: Headteacher diarist | Published:
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When hearing someone suggest that school leaders are ‘only as good as their last Progress 8 score’, our headteacher diarist winced – is this why we came into teaching?

As I enter my fourth year as a headteacher, I am determined to use the experiences I have accrued across the past nine school terms to ensure my leadership has more impact on the education of my students and the professional development of my staff.

One of the key reflections from my first three years that has resonated with me is that if I want my school to improve then I need to focus on the staff.

As the leader of the school I need to create the conditions in which staff can thrive and develop; if the staff are able to flourish professionally then the students will most certainly follow.

I have not always thought in this way, indeed if you would have asked me where my priorities were in my first year of headship I have no doubt I would have put students first. Now, with more years on the job under my belt, I have come to understand that I need to place students and staff as equal first in my priorities. Things change quickly in education and if you aren’t prepared to change yourself, you run the risk of being left behind.

Education in this country has changed significantly over the past decade and there is no doubt that the rapidity of reforms has had a detrimental impact on teacher workload.

Qualification reforms have resulted in teachers planning new schemes of work and learning resources, while the removal of levels in key stage 3 left a gaping hole in assessment which has been filled with varying levels of success.

Combine this with the increasingly high-stakes environment created by Ofsted and school league tables, and headteachers have been faced with the challenge of having to raising standards while implementing significant curriculum reforms while attempting all of this with their hands tied by the paucity of funding available to them.

Sometimes our judgement can become clouded and all of this “noise” in education can stop us from focusing on the things that matter and the things that make the difference.

It can also mean that we lose our focus on developing and valuing our staff, and experience has taught me we do this at our peril. I have come to realise that change in education is inevitable and that as a headteacher it is important to ensure we don’t pass the stress and pressure of these changes down onto our staff.

But all of this can take its toll on headteachers, who have a pretty stressful job anyway. There is no question in my mind that there has never been a tougher time to work in education, especially as a headteacher.

High stakes and high accountability have led to levels of job security for headteachers that are akin to a Premier League football manager.

I winced recently when I heard someone say: “You’re only as good as your last Progress 8 score, right?”

I sincerely hope this isn’t what heads think, given the unethical cultures that this type of attitude can foster. Chasing a Progress 8 score through manipulating the curriculum, qualifications and even the students on roll in a school is sadly not uncommon, but is this really the reason why we became teachers. Is this really the reason why I wanted to lead a school?

As a new term begins I think it is crucial for headteachers to have a real sense of perspective about the year that has passed and the year ahead.

You are not your Progress 8 score and you must keep your values as a leader close to your heart and central to everything you do.

Stay true to yourself, do the right thing and follow your instincts.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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