Diary of a headteacher: Are you really in control?

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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You may hold the title of headteacher, but are you really the one calling the shots? Our headteacher diarist reflects on a new era of school leadership…

Question: when is a headteacher not a headteacher?

Answer: when they’re a Principal, Executive Principal, Executive Headteacher, Associate Principal, Head of School or a Headteacher Designate.

As with many aspects of our education system, things just aren’t that straight-forward anymore. Without going into the semantics of what the specific responsibilities of the aforementioned school leader job titles might be, what constitutes being a headteacher is now a very complicated business indeed.

And “business” is the key word here, because it is the privatisation of our education system through academisation that has had the greatest influence in shaping new ways in which headteacher roles have evolved.

If you have read Drive by Daniel Pink then you will be familiar with the premise that we are motivated by three key drivers:

  1. Autonomy: The desire to be in control of our lives.
  2. Mastery: The desire to become more effective in our professional roles.
  3. Purpose: The desire to make a difference towards something greater than ourselves.

This book had a huge influence on the way I have approached working with and alongside the staff in my school as trusted professionals.

Alongside a firm commitment to developing the professional capital of my colleagues through distributed leadership, this concept of autonomy, mastery and purpose has shaped my strategies surrounding motivating staff and focusing their attention on the things that make a difference in schools.

Crucially, I have been able to shape these strategies in the way I believe are going to be most effective because I myself, as the headteacher, have got autonomy in developing the school I have responsibility for in the way I see fit.

I view this autonomy as a huge privilege and I have come to value this greatly because of the way in which I see other headteachers having their wings clipped by others higher than them in the chain of command.

So when is a headteacher not a headteacher? Sadly, for many of my colleagues working within large academy trusts, they frequently have to ask for permission to implement a school improvement strategy to ensure it fits in with whatever the trust wants, or what the business model dictates.

I have reflected on how I would feel if I were to be working in such an environment where I held significant responsibility as the head, and was highly accountable for delivering impact and outcomes, but where at the same time I did not have full autonomy for the strategies which I would be implementing.

Worse still, what if the strategies I was being instructed to deliver were not aligned with my educational philosophies? What if they compromised my educational morals? How would this affect my motivation, considering the way in which I buy into Pink’s premise of autonomy, mastery and purpose?

I’m not sure I would be able to work in such conditions.

Being the headteacher of a school is a huge privilege and a responsibility that I take very seriously.

It is without question the best job I have had, but I understand that I am extremely lucky to be working in a context that allows me to deliver school improvement strategies that I am able to shape with my leadership team and other stakeholders in the way that is right for our school.

This feels right to me, it feels authentic and it feels like it is the only way to truly make a difference for our school community in the long term.

I fear, however, that many school leaders, in an increasing number of cases, are being forced to deliver an education strategy-by-numbers model that is a one-size-fits-all approach to school improvement – this approach is most certainly not for me.

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


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