Ofsted blog: Leadership is more than one person

7th July 2017 at 09:02

Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsted Regional Director for the West Midlands, on her presentation about women leaders in education

If you’re looking to make the next step into school management, what do you need to know?

Earlier this week I spoke at a conference about women leading in education. It took place in the beautiful Staffordshire village of Acton Trussell.

Effective leadership in education is an important subject. That's because good leadership makes the biggest difference to raising school standards.

We live in uncertain times. But we can be as good as certain that schools will have to keep a close eye on what they spend in coming years. HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has said the challenging financial climate is another reason why schools need effective leaders.

But where do good school leaders come from? As someone who worked in primary schools before going on to become a senior manager at further education colleges, I have no doubt that people are not born destined for leadership. Good leaders are made - shaped by their experiences.

The most effective leaders determine the culture of their schools. They are aspirational and uncompromising in their ambitions. They value the professionalism of their teams and are committed to staff members’ personal development. And they challenge myths - including those about what Ofsted does and does not require.

All good leaders know that leadership is not achieved by one person. Leadership is about doing things for other people and bringing out the best in all members of staff.

So good leaders think about succession planning and actively look for development opportunities for promising staff members. And the best head teachers don’t just support their teams. They challenge them too, setting high expectations for both staff and pupils to excel.

These leaders trust their teachers to innovate in ways that are right for their pupils.

At Ofsted, we're always keen to bust myths about our inspections. But what are the myths about leadership?

Well, the first is that there is no finite list of skills and behaviours, which, once ticked, turn you into a great leader. Leadership is all about context. A style that works in one set of circumstances may not work in another. And as the school environment changes, leaders have to show that they are flexible and can adapt.

It's also a myth to say that leadership is a destination. Instead, anyone who aims to be a great leader must also be eager to keep on learning.  

One of the most important strengths of any leader is honesty. If a person cannot get others to believe in them, then they cannot lead effectively. And when people believe in their leaders, they are trusting them to be honest.

Of course, leaders keep their eye on the big picture. They understand that accountability measures and exam results are important. But they have a wider vision, focused on giving pupils a rich and deep education that prepares them for the life in modern Britain.

Above all, head teachers and school leaders must do the right thing for their pupils and classroom teachers, not for Ofsted.