What are your leadership ambitions?

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A lot is said about the teacher recruitment crisis and the difficulty in finding school leaders – but what about the essential middle tier? Louis Coiffait explains

Should every teacher want to be a head? In a word – no. But every teacher should be ambitious, both for themselves and for each of their students.

That’s not necessarily about going for promotion or job titles. That might be about being amazing at teaching English, or at teaching children who have English as a second language, or at leading an English department.

Additionally, we do also need a significant proportion of them to want to become more senior and to take on greater responsibility. The question is whether our current system helps with either of these things, or not.

Alongside current concerns about the quantity and quality of new teachers entering the profession, we often hear parallel worries about the “supply” of good headteachers. 

Research by NAHT Edge last year found that only about half of deputies wanted the top job, and only one in five middle leaders. 

We don’t have figures about such ambitions among classroom teachers but might guess the proportion is lower again.

If we are to sustain improvements in our education system, both for students and staff, then obviously both of these areas, new entrants and heads, are highly important and will need serious attention from the next government, whoever that may be. 

I also sincerely hope any such focus is a little more sophisticated than that coming from Number 10 in recent months, especially in regards to headteachers. 

However, it isn’t NQTs or headteachers I want to focus on. Of the nearly half a million staff working in English schools, the vast majority fit within neither category. 

The research that NAHT conducted last year found that the most challenging roles to fill are actually middle leadership positions. Time and again we heard of schools advertising and re-advertising vacancies for such posts, sometimes to no avail. 

There seems to be a growing challenge, especially in some parts of the country, finding the quantity and quality of TLR (teaching and learning responsibility) holders that our schools need. 

If that is the case then to my mind that is where we should be focusing most of our attention, for two reasons.

First, it is a sub-group of those middle leaders that will be the ones who will then go on to be future senior leaders and, in some cases, headteachers. If there is already a recruitment squeeze at that level then this will mean further challenges getting enough talented headteachers in the future.

Second, it is this group of middle leaders, those such as heads of year, subject leads and SENCOs, who are in turn the ones who will need to nurture and encourage the classroom teachers, NQTs and teaching assistants within their teams. 

It is good management, coaching and leadership that encourages each generation of leaders to take on greater responsibilities and drive future improvements, for both students and colleagues. Conversely, if middle leaders are in short supply, underdeveloped and unsupported – the opposite would be more likely. 

So does every teacher (or middle leader) need to want to be a headteacher? Definitely not, but do we need to create the right environment, incentives and support so that every teacher can be the best they can be? Yes, and it starts now, in the middle.


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