Diary of a headteacher: Growing your own…

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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What opportunities do you afford to your staff to ensure you are growing the leaders of the future – for your school and for the wider system?

As schools have become more autonomous with our supposed academy freedoms, I have noticed a change in the way career progression is possible. The evolution of multi-academy trusts (MATs) has spawned the creation of large national chains where progression through the leadership ranks for successful teachers can occur at a rapid rate.

It is not uncommon to see assistant heads in their mid to late-20s, or deputy heads under-30; it seems if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. This is no bad thing either. The teaching profession needs fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm, and while I am not saying that more experienced teachers don’t exhibit these characteristics, there is certainly a noticeable trend emerging.

The concept of “growing your own” leaders isn’t a new one and for decades the most successful schools have developed their most talented teachers, enabling them to take on whole-school responsibilities, complete leadership qualifications and climb the career ladder two steps at a time. My own experience has been similar. I have been extremely fortunate that several leaders did not see my young age as a barrier to promoting me quickly into senior leadership roles.

I am forever indebted to a number of people who gave me opportunities early on in my teaching career and helped me develop into the leader I am today. Without those chances afforded by open-minded leaders, I would have felt stifled and under-valued.

As such, since becoming a headteacher I’ve felt the same obligation to have faith in people, regardless of their age, and give them the opportunities to develop and flourish into great school leaders.

I have always been interested in how schools can offer their own “talent management” programmes in relation to retaining their most effective staff. For a long time I have felt strongly about schools growing and developing authentically and from within the organisation. I believe this is only possible when school leaders genuinely invest in high-quality training for their staff on a personalised level. If you don’t give talented people the opportunities to progress their careers, you risk losing them.

Equally, I know that there are going to be occasions where a talented and effective member of staff receives considerable investment through training and maybe even secondment opportunities, but because there is no substantive leadership role available for them in the school, they will inevitably move on.

In large MATs there is the advantage of there being many schools within the organisation for this progression to occur. My school, as a standalone academy, risks losing great people due to our small size. Despite having 1,500 pupils, I have small senior and middle leadership teams.

Financially, this leadership model is cost-effective, however it does mean that there is an “opportunity ceiling” that certain members of staff will hit if my senior and middle leaders remain in post.

I have set out my long-term vision for sustainable and authentic growth for the school by investing in high-quality training, a coaching infrastructure and through personalised professional learning pathways for all my staff. I am three years into this vision and already I am starting to see the benefit of staff development, particularly through the coaching culture and personalised CPD model.

However, this year I have lost some great teachers who have gained promoted posts elsewhere (I would have loved them to stay and progress with us, but I know it was the right thing for them as they were ready for a new professional challenge which we couldn’t provide within our staffing structure).

I have reflected on this and concluded that it is healthy for the school to have a fairly regular turnover to ensure we bring in fresh blood and I think it reflects well on us that our staff are able to secure leadership posts elsewhere due to the high-quality training and opportunities they have experienced at our school.

I know that from a personal perspective, developing staff and enabling them to progress is one of the great pleasures of being a headteacher, but I have to be realistic enough to understand that at times, this means letting them go and spread their wings elsewhere.

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


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