There’s never been a more exciting time to become a headteacher. That’s what I told the 300 new heads that gathered in London last week at our National New Heads conference. And yet, as we experience a period of significant change both in education and beyond, many would argue the role is more pressurised than ever before – and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
So why is it exciting you may ask? Because, while this is a period of unprecedented change, it is also a period of significant opportunity, with school leaders at the forefront of this change – the architects of reform.
Increased autonomy and freedom and a drive on raising standards can feel like more responsibility, but with this comes the chance for you to really shape the future of your school, to create a future based on what’s best for your students and the community you serve. It also enables you as leaders to set the standard, to work together to improve attainment, not just in your school but right across the system.
So how do those in their first headship or indeed more experienced heads make the most of this time of opportunity? One of the main factors that emerges when you talk to some experienced and successful leaders is “not to do it alone”. These leaders recognise that leadership is about more than the individual. One head described her leadership team to me as a “headship team” – a group of leaders with talent and expertise to bring added elements to her leadership.
But teams don’t come ready-made and, as leaders, we need to work hard to build and maintain them. Identifying and developing talent is vital and it’s your job to spot the talent and give them the support they need. You have to spend time seeking out those who you feel have the potential for leadership and create the conditions to enable them to grow. You have to support others to step up themselves and lead in their areas of expertise.
It’s also important to look beyond the school gates, and share this talent more widely. We have to recognise our collective responsibility to drive improvements, not just in our own schools, but in all schools. To do this we need to get these talented teachers and leaders using their knowledge and experience where it’s needed most – working with other schools, supporting others to improve.
Specialist leaders of education (SLEs) are an excellent example of this, and in my speech at New Heads, I was delighted to announce that we expect there to be up to 2,000 SLEs designated by the end of the year. SLEs are outstanding middle and senior leaders who support individuals or teams in similar positions in other schools. Drawn from schools across the country and deployed by Teaching Schools, they have excellent knowledge in their area of expertise – which includes leadership and management, pupil achievement, quality of teaching, and behaviour.
These leaders will increasingly play a critical role in school improvement – particularly as so many are close to the core day-to-day practice of improving teaching and learning. So it’s encouraging to see the numbers increasing towards our target of 5,000 SLEs by 2015 alongside a national network of 500 Teaching School Alliances. It reinforces what we already know – that leaders at all levels are increasingly willing and able to step up and contribute to a culture of school-to-school support and improvement.
The key task for heads and senior leaders is to empower your own teams to get involved and support the development of others. The chances to make a difference to even more young people, beyond the single school are clear. It enables great leaders to take their sense of purpose and determination to really make a difference even further. That’s why it’s never been a more exciting time to be a headteacher.