Headteachers are most effective when they are working at their natural social level, according to an experienced school leader writing in the 13 February issue of TES.
Oliver Joseph, a pseudonym for a secondary headteacher working in the North East of England, says that school leaders are suited to leading “certain types of schools”.
“If we venture too far away from our natural social level, things get trickier, our leadership is less assured and the job becomes overwhelming. Finding the right level is crucial if you want your headship to be successful – both for you and your school,” he writes.
His argument is that headship is tricky enough without forcing yourself into situations that your particular skills are not compatible with. To be truly happy and successful as a headteacher, you need to find a school – or more specifically a social environment – where you can naturally excel.
“School leaders cannot be everything to everyone,” Joseph says. “I’m fortunate enough to know what I’m good at. I can take schools that have a significant capacity for improvement to the point where students are at least getting the results they should have achieved all along. I know I couldn’t survive in the extremes. I’d be hopeless at tackling a deprived inner-city sink school. I would be equally inept at leading a fee-paying school.”
Your teaching social level, he says, does not necessarily have to be the one in which you were raised. “This is not a justification for the snobbishness – in both directions – that is often found in schools. Nor is it a call for headteachers to work only at schools that serve pupils of their own social class. Quite the opposite.
“Of course, it will be harder for a privately educated student to become the headteacher of a tough inner-city school, and vice versa. But that doesn’t mean that the leaders who make the leap aren’t at their ideal social level. It just means that when they find the right level, it may be more challenging for them to become a successful headteacher.”
To those who would argue that this is defeatist and that headteachers should have transferable skills, Joseph would answer that this misses his point.
“Of course a headteacher should be able to do their job in any circumstance. I am sure I could survive in other environments comfortably enough. But forcing yourself to change is not always enough. As a headteacher, you have to react naturally to the situations in front of you and do so with confidence. You need to enjoy what you are doing. You need to embrace the challenges. If you truly want to thrive and be successful, you need to be in a situation where you feel comfortable.”