A shortage of leaders?

Is there a shortage of school leaders that will become even worse over the next few years? This was the gloomy message from the report issued on Friday jointly by Teach First, Teaching Leaders and the Future Leaders Trust. https://www.teachfirst.org.uk/sites/default/files/The%20School%20Leadership%20Challenge%202022.pdf

As someone that has spent more than thirty years looking at leadership turnover, I have read the report, whose analytical support was provided by McKinsey, with interest. The report calls for a range of different interventions under four main headings:

  1. Develop a new generation of school leaders
  2. Expand the pool of candidates for executive roles
  3. Drive system change to support leaders more effectively and provide clear career pathways
  4. Build the brand of school leadership

These required interventions reflect the lack of government action ever since the Labour government abolished the mandatory NPQH qualification for headship and the coalition created many new leadership posts with the development of MATs and executive headships. The latter issue has been dealt with by this blog in previous posts, most notably in July this year with the post headed ‘Can we afford 2,000 MATs?

The figures in Friday’s report, if accurate, are challenging with, it is suggested, a possible shortfall of more than 20,000 leaders in the coming decade. Now that may be the case, but it depends upon all the factors identified by the compilers of the report coming true. As noted, the greatest risk is the uncontrolled expansion of MATs creating a significant number of new posts.

While in the school sector, the growth in pupil numbers may lead to a development of more assistant head roles to recreate those abolished when roles were falling the likelihood of that happening is probably going to be governed by the degree of finance available to schools; a point largely ignored by the writers of the report. The report also misses the extent to which assistant head numbers have been inflated by what are essentially difficult to fill middle leadership posts such as head of mathematics and science departments being paid as assistant headship in order to be able to recruit to those positions.

Where I am with the writers of the report is in the need for creating not so much clear career pathways, they already exist, but in helping young teachers and especially returners develop the necessary skills to be appointed to a leadership post. With teaching increasingly a profession for women in both primary and secondary schools, someone, and it may be the three groups that commissioned this research, has to develop a strategy that allows the very large number of young women now in the profession to take up leadership roles both before and after any career breaks. If the profession doesn’t do that then we truly will have a crisis in a few years’ time.

One solution suggested by the report is to recruit outsiders to senior posts. I doubt that will work for most headships. In the past when asked my view of this solution by journalists, I have always asked if I could become their editor with no knowledge of journalism. You can image their answers.

Where I do think there is a possible direction of travel is for larger MATs. After all, there are example of CEOs of MATs currently without either any or any recent school experience. The larger the organisation the more leadership requires general not specific knowledge. Teaching and learning can be the responsibility of a second tier officer, whereas overall strategy remains the responsibility of the CEO. In effect, CEOs of MATS become very similar to Superintendents of US School districts, some of whom are recruited from the worlds of business and commerce.

Where you cannot recruit easily from outside the profession is where the leadership role requires hands-on experience of teaching and learning.  Despite the comments in the report, the majority of problems in recruitment in the past has been in the primary sector where the ratio of deputies to heads is much smaller than in the secondary sector.  Filling a faith school headship in an inner-city schools seeking a new head teacher in April has always been a challenge. This report doesn’t show whether it as actually any harder than it was twenty-five years ago.

In summary, the report is helpful in reminding everyone of the need for sufficient good leaders for all our schools and some of the risks ahead. The need for action over preparation is also vital, but the report doesn’t deal with who should take on the task? Presumably, the three organisations that put their names to the report would all like to play a part.





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