The executive head's unique role

The call from the National College for School Leadership for would-be executive heads to step forward sounded rather like another push to recruit superheads. However, the National College has recruited 68 heads to the scheme and stresses there will be no ‘educational tourism’ or superheads.

Richard Thornhill’s story
Richard Thornhill, headteacher of Loughborough primary in Brixton, south London, together with his management team at Loughborough agreed to step in at nearby King’s Avenue primary in November 2006. It had been announced the head at King’s would be leaving. Both schools are in deprived areas. But while Loughborough is thriving, King’s Avenue was on Lambeth council’s ‘causing concern’ list. Motivated to volunteer for the project because he was upset by children with potential being let down by the system, Richard became executive head of both schools.

The priority was to transform the appalling standards of behaviour. Richard laid down strict rules and made sure everyone, from staff, to pupils and parents, knew what they were. He says control has already been re-established in the corridors and the next task is to focus on the school’s management and curriculum.  He hopes that by 2009 the school will be able to recruit a permanent head.  “This way, King’s Avenue doesn’t have to start from nothing,” Richard says. “We are developing leadership capacity so that improvement is sustainable.”

Hazel Pulley’s story
The head of Caldecote primary in Leicester reports that becoming a national support school for nearby Braunstone Frith infants had given staff a common purpose. “It’s not just about me going in and giving leadership advice,” she says. “We’ve been sharing knowledge on all levels. Even our teaching assistants and office staff have been demonstrating good practice to their counterparts.” Hazel applied for the scheme in order to share her years of experience working in challenging schools. “It’s very fulfilling,” she says.

Lawrence Montagu’s story
The extent of involvement a support school has with its ‘client’ can vary from full-on management to a head simply providing a sounding board. Lawrence Montagu, head of St Peter’s high school and sixth form centre in Gloucester, sees himself as a catalyst for establishing teams at his two nearby client schools. Both of these are in special measures. But Lawrence is keen not to intervene unnecessarily. “We assist only where there is a problem,” he explains.

Professor Bernard Barker’s view
Professor Barker, of the Centre for Educational Leadership and Management at Leicester University, is unsure if the concept is sustainable. “Having a good headteacher advising a bad headteacher will not necessarily help. The scheme can achieve short term results, but the leadership solution is the lie that papers over the cracks.” Professor Barker adds that leadership could not solve fundamental problems such as poverty, which have more impact on school performance than anything else.

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