Fast-track to headship

Recently there has been some publicity in the Daily Telegraph and the TES about a scheme whereby new entrants into education will be prepared for headship after just two years of experience. Now, I am not clear whether this is a scheme to be aimed at either new graduates or career changers with significant amounts of management experience or a mixture of both.

However, after more than 30 years of studying leadership appointments in all types of schools, I wonder if this is an interesting new attempt to solve a problem governments often don’t fully understand. The Blair government attempted to tackle a shortage of leadership candidates by introducing a civil service style fast-track scheme for entry into the teaching profession: it lasted a few years and was then quietly dropped. One of the intentions behind Teach First was to attract potentially high flyers in the hope that some would stay in teaching and progress to headships. In recent years there has also been the ‘future leaders’ scheme. So, why another new initiative?

It may be that in looking ahead to an all academy world the government or at least its friends at the University of Buckingham have realised that if there are to be between 500-1,000 multi-academy trusts in the future then there won’t be enough leaders available within the present system capable of running these trusts effectively without seriously affecting the numbers of school leaders available to run individual schools, whether as heads or deputies. Filling such positions might argue for a scheme aimed at career changers rather than new young graduates. However, such a scheme might face recruitment issues, since only the highest paid positions in schools and MATs are in any way comparable with the sort of salary and benefits a successful graduate can earn in many other sectors. This will, possibly, be less of an issue outside London and the Home Counties where graduate salaries are often less different to those in the public sector, but there are often fewer graduates working in some of these areas to attract into teaching.

There are other issues that will face a scheme of this sort if it is to attempt to become a national scheme. How will vacancies be offered to candidates on the scheme? Will it be an extension of the National Teaching Service with, perhaps, certain types of school being required to place a request for a leader with the scheme based upon a school’s location, achievements and perhaps other factors? Will the two main faith groups the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, buy into such a scheme or will it only be for schools and MATs with no religious character and background? How will existing teachers view any narrowing of their possible promotion opportunities; will more decide to go and seek promotion abroad?

Of course, it could be a scheme that comes to the aid of MATs and schools that have tried to recruit a leader and failed to do so. Over more than half a century of detailed analysis of leadership recruitment, I have seen trends showing such schools facing recruitment challenges to have been overwhelmingly in the primary and special school sectors and frequently to have been schools that have had a religious background. There are schools in coastal and the more remote inland areas where small primary schools can face recruitment challenges, but in the secondary sector there is usually a further factor such as poor performance of a school behind recruitment difficulties. So, will the scheme be aimed at filling these types of vacancies where I would have thought more experience of teaching than a mere two years in a school might have been required?  Even the late Sir Rhodes Boyson was thirty before he achieved his first headship, and he is often held out to conservatives as an earlier achiever of leadership. Like many early achievers, he didn’t stay in headship but eventually entered parliament: here lies another challenge for such a scheme, not only selecting those that will be successful candidates, but also finding those that will stay in education leadership.

I am sure that the government has consulted its friends and advisers about how any such fast-track systems work in other people-focused sectors and how much support those on fast-track schemes need after appointment to a leadership post.

Perhaps talking to the churches and other faith groups about such a scheme might not be a bad idea for the DfE since many clergy acquire significant management responsibilities for churches and congregations very early in their careers. Might we learn from their experience? Of course, the whole scheme could be a mere speculative venture by a private university and a small number of individuals. Time will tell and no doubt the DfE will make it clear whether such a scheme has their backing.



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