Skip to main content

Five royal rules for school leadership from five former British rulers

News article image

What is a school but a rowdy, squabbling nation in miniature? And as a result, are there not lessons that our glorious kings and queens can bequeath to us for the year ahead?

Indeed there are. Whether we be middle and senior leaders or headteachers, here are five lessons in leadership from five former rulers.  

1. Live your values

With the possible exception of our present head of state, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) has probably the “cleanest” public reputation among British monarchs. In public, she portrayed herself as the very embodiment of royal authority – glorious, aloof and inviolate.

Elizabeth I

Of course, I’m not suggesting that any school leaders out there need to don the white face paint, red wig and a tight corset every time they’re outside the office. Unless that’s your thing. However, I do suggest that if you want to bring about change in a school, be seen to be the change. Serious about attendance? Be one of the crew ringing the usual suspects and booting them out of bed. Want to nip the uniform thing in the bud? Make sure you’re looking immaculate. Be the very picture of what you want your school to be and students will understand better what’s expected of them.

2. Don’t play favourites

James VI and I (1566-1625) squandered much of the political capital that his predecessor Elizabeth I had accumulated over the course of her reign, mostly because of the attention he paid his favourites at court. Those outside the gilded halls saw a king hopelessly in thrall to a few young men who manipulated his affection in exchange for gold and land.

James 1

It is vital as a headteacher to have as many dissenting voices around you as assenting ones. Never fall into the trap of rewarding those who agree with you or creating a cohort of yes-men. By doing this, you’ll avoid being seen to surround yourself with a clique – and you’ll get better advice to boot.

3. Stay calm when things get tough

We all know that Henry V (1387-1422) led the English to victory at Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War, but Ol’ Hank’s victory in France was not always certain. During the French campaign, the English often found themselves on the brink of starvation when supply lines were cut, as well as being mercilessly attacked by diseases such as dysentery. And sometimes they had to fight the French, too.

Henry V

As a school leader, know that there will be hard times. Show staff you understand what that would mean for them. When something does happen, take the time to be supportive.

4. Remember to have fun…

Although Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) can’t rightly be called a British monarch (he styled himself Lord Protector), he did spend five years overseeing the country. They were fairly dreary ones, though – Christmas was banned, the theatres were closed and dancing and merrymaking were punishable in painful ways. When Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard took over, but everyone was so sick of the miserable place England had become that Charles II was welcomed back with open arms.

Oliver Cromwell

Always remember that you are in charge of an institution made for young people full of life, hopes, dreams and a lot of pressure. That pressure needs to be relieved, for your sake as well as theirs. Getting down among the student body and showing your silly side can do a lot to humanise you and build important connections with your charges.

5. …but not too much fun

You don’t want to end up like Henry VIII (1491-1547). Although the legend of him exploding in his coffin from the vile diseases plaguing his body was probably a Catholic invention, a lifetime of boozing, jousting injuries and a hugely unhealthy diet meant that he was a miserable, crippled, nigh-incoherent wreck when he died. Watch your diet, get enough sleep and stay away from the cakes the secretary brings in.

Henry VIII

Mike Stuchbery teaches geography and history at Lea Manor High School, Luton

This is an edited version of Mike's feature. You can read the full article in the 4 September edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you