Diary of a headteacher: Losing trust between schools

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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In this era of league table competition, our headteacher diarist has noted that, increasingly, some leaders are not interested in inter-school collaboration and support

Many people assert that headship can be a lonely existence. As the headteacher, you carry a huge responsibility on your shoulders, and although this comes with the territory, dealing with this effectively is a crucial aspect of leadership.

A successful head will build a team around them that they can distribute leadership responsibilities to, but ultimately the buck stops with you and there will inevitably be times in every academic year where this weight becomes a heavy burden.

From my own personal experience, one of the biggest challenges I found when I first became a headteacher was dealing with the fact that I was responsible for everything, but it wasn’t me actually delivering it all. If something went wrong, it went wrong on my watch, and although it might not have been my mistake or oversight, I would take collective responsibility for it because as the headteacher it was my responsibility to ensure all members of my team were effectively delivering in all aspects of their roles.

Establishing trust within your team is key here, but trust works both way of course; and this has got me thinking recently about levels of trust between local schools and the headteachers who run them.

While I always try to establish a strong culture of trust among my team and we talk about problems and dilemmas openly, as a headteacher you need other people who you can talk to. I use a coach who I regularly meet with to help me reflect and improve as a leader, but sometimes talking to other headteachers can be invaluable.

However, I feel that because of the way education has evolved over the past 10 years, this spirit of collaboration is, in some areas of the country, diminishing at an alarming rate.

Because so many schools are pitched against each other in a race to be top of the performance league tables, I have met several headteachers who have zero interest in engaging in genuine collaboration.

One of the main drivers for the academies programme was to attempt to raise standards by increasing the levels of competition between schools. I have not met many people in education who think this has worked, or has been beneficial in any way.

However, there are clearly heads out there who are very happy with their school working in isolation and as a result do not take the opportunities available to work with colleagues from neighbouring schools.

This, I strongly believe, is extremely short-sighted and headteachers should be able to put rivalries, local competition and personality clashes aside in order to focus on establishing a local network of collaboration, not just for themselves, but for everyone in their schools.

In these financially challenging times, we need to find ways of providing staff with opportunities to learn and grow, and local collaboration is a very effective way of enabling teachers to work with colleagues outside of their own institution. But it comes back to this crucial element of trust.

It takes a lot of trust to open up to colleagues in neighbouring schools and if the headteachers do not trust each other because they are afraid of showing their hand to their opponent, then the rest of the staff don’t stand a chance.

I always think that as the headteacher you are merely the custodian of the school for a relatively short time (even if you manage a decade at the helm), therefore you must have a wider scope of vision in relation to creating sustainability and thinking beyond the things that directly affect you.

As heads, I think it is up to us to lead by example, step up and be brave enough open up our doors to local schools in the interest of education.

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


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