Diary of a headteacher: The tyranny of the result

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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We are in danger of losing our way under the pressure of accountability and our results-driven culture, but we must never let go of our educational principles...

The professional life of a headteacher can hinge on fine margins, often balancing unsteadily on the knife-edge of success and failure. Too often we are able draw comparisons between the world of football management and the unstable tenure that can be associated with school leadership.

I have witnessed far too many colleagues falling by the wayside because the board members of a multi-academy trust have decided that their time is up. A dip in results or an Ofsted inspection not going the right way can be the end of a career for some. There is no doubt we are operating in an increasingly cut-throat, results-driven business.

Leading a school is an incredibly complex job and I find it profoundly insulting to suggest that we can measure the quality of an individual’s leadership through inherently flawed statistical nonsense.

Our profession is about developing people, enhancing their lives through learning and providing them with opportunities to develop themselves and those around them. In education I think we have lost sight of that.

The following quote is from Edward Griffiths, the CEO of Saracens rugby club and it fascinates me: “Too much of sport operates under the tyranny of the result – the core principle at Saracens is that we gather talented people together, treat them unbelievably well and in return they try unbelievably hard. That is it. Everything else – winning or losing matches, winning or losing cups – are just outcomes. They are not the primary aim. We exist to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.”

The first time I read this I instantly drew analogies with education. Too much of education operates under the tyranny of the result: league tables, Progress 8, SATs, Ofsted, EBacc, this list could go on.

In fact I could probably lift a series of statistical targets from the performance management objectives of most headteachers across the country and we could see how much our profession is driven by grade-chasing. We should be ashamed of what we have created and what we have allowed to happen.

I see schools and school leaders who are obsessed with what their Progress 8 score is going to be. I see them changing their curriculum to make sure they enter a high percentage of students for the EBacc – would they do this if it wasn’t a headline measure? I see schools and school leaders cutting creative subjects because of our accountability system. I see them even “off-rolling” students and delivering GCSE equivalent qualifications in the space of one week to massage their Progress 8 score upwards. It is madness.

I have to remind myself that the people I see engaging in this madness aren’t bad people. They’ve just lost their way. They have let the pressure of this results-driven culture cloud their judgement, their morals, ethics and principles going missing in the fog.

As school leaders we are in a privileged position where we are able to positively influence a great number of people. We are able to influence the young people in our schools and our colleagues. We must learn from Saracens – the statistics we create each year through our examination results are just outcomes, they are not the primary aim. We should exist to have a positive impact on as many people as possible. I say repeatedly in my school – our educational outcomes will be a by-product of us collectively committing to our core principles.

So how do we measure success for heads? How will I look back on my career as a headteacher and reflect on my effectiveness? Will I look back on my Progress 8 or EBacc scores? Not likely.

I will think about the teachers who I supported in developing their classroom craft. I will think about the teachers who felt so incredibly demotivated and how I helped re-ignite a fire in their bellies. I will think about the boisterous, brash and inconsiderate young lads who I helped mentor into kind, empathetic young men. I will think about the culture I established in my schools and how I ensured we retained our commitment to our core principles.

As headteachers we should be pillars of our communities and uphold the highest standards, but we should never lose sight of the fact that we have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of our profession.

We came into this profession as teachers and it is inherent in our DNA as educators to support people in their development. If we lose sight of this then we will lose our way and succumb to the tyranny of result.

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


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