Are we loading the shotgun?

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Schools face a range of challenges, but we do ourselves no favours when we fail to stand up against a flawed accountability system

As I enter my fifth year as a headteacher I find it astonishing when I reflect on the level of change I have witnessed during this period.

As educators we have rolled with the punches while being beaten from pillar to post by qualification and accountability reform. I reflect on the paucity of funding we are expected to deliver a great education with and I wonder how do we manage to do it?

Sadly, we are still shedding teachers from our education system at an alarming rate and we, quite simply, are not recruiting enough new teachers to cope with rising student numbers and the staffing levels required across core and shortage subjects.

We can blame the government and Ofsted as much as we want, but moaning about it is not going to solve the problem. As leaders and as teachers we need to be part of the solution and paint our profession in the most positive light possible. I think headteachers have got a fundamental role to play and this responsibility transcends the walls of our own schools and permeates the whole of the education system in our country.

So, what can heads do to promote teaching as an aspirational, rewarding and enriching career choice for prospective teachers? What should heads be doing to ensure we keep trained professionals in the system? The answers are not rocket science, but they do require us to hold a mirror up to ourselves and question whether we have been part of the problem through our actions, decisions and behaviours as leaders.

Of course, we have been wading our way through governmental dogma for the past decade and we can question the validity and reliability of Ofsted judgements until we are blue in the face, but in the half-decade during which I have had the privilege of leading a school I can see clearly that school leadership is not an innocent bystander in the recruitment and retention crisis. Sometimes we have been the ones loading the shotgun.

I have always been very clear in my approach to leading a school – the decisions we make as leaders should be informed by our educational principles and by analysing credible educational research with a critical eye to ensure we apply recommendations appropriately within the context of our school.

When a school starts to make decisions about educational provision that are driven by an accountability system that is fundamentally flawed then we really must question the morality and relevance of such behaviour. But if we think that this type of leadership is uncommon then we are kidding ourselves.

When the stakes are so high for some leaders and when the margins between success and failure are so slim, it would be delusional to think that all school leaders base their decision-making on a foundation of sound educational principles. Our system has driven some of us to engage in despicable behaviours that do not act in the best interest of our students and this is truly embarrassing.

However, there is hope. I get the feeling we may be edging towards a more sensible approach to measuring the effectiveness of a school. We are anticipating the release of a new inspection framework which may take a more holistic approach. I also get the impression that many schools are adopting policies that are based upon educational research rather than using outdated accountability measures as a starting point.

As headteachers this is where we can play a significant role in reducing teacher workload, by putting into place systems that support student progress and teacher wellbeing hand-in-hand. I believe that if I give my teachers and all my staff the conditions in which they can thrive, then in turn our students will thrive in their learning and their development.

As leaders we must have the courage to do this, to step outside the shackles of this high-stakes, high-accountability culture and be brave enough to lead our schools with integrity and a strong moral purpose.

If we do this then I have no doubt we will make teaching a wonderful profession to be part of.

  • SecEd’s Diary of a Headteacher is written by two different headteachers. The author of this entry is a headteacher in his fifth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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