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"How else does one begin on their headship journey if only certain types of experience are prized?"

Karl Mackey, principal Droylsden Academy in Manchester, responds to accusations that young school leaders are promoted too fast too young:

How soon is too soon to become a school leader? An interesting question and one I have asked myself many times on my fast-track journey to headship. It certainly is not a question that keeps me awake at night, but maybe that’s only because, as a new head, I have far more important things keeping me awake!

Four years ago I was a curriculum leader. This week I have entered my seventh week of headship and I couldn’t be happier. In September I took over as principal of a struggling inner-city academy with 1,000 students. Some may argue that this is not a job for an inexperienced fast-track leader. However, having replaced a national leader of education, I believe that experience is not the only key to success.

After my initial appointment, I spent many nights lying awake wondering if I was up to this huge task. This is simply a sign of typical self-doubt any emotionally intelligent leader would experience after being given the responsibility of changing the lives of thousands of students and shaping a community.

Yes, I am inexperienced, but certainly not as a leader. How else does one begin on their headship journey if only certain types of experience are prized? We must all start somewhere – and prior to this appointment I was busy practising for the role, as a deputy headteacher in a community school where I believe/evidence suggested my impact was significant. The combination of real leadership experience and intense training on the Future Leaders programme prepared me for the honour of headship. And with the Future Leaders Headship Institute network that surrounds me and stretches across the country, I am only a phone call away from a wealth of experience that I need.

So I am sometimes kept awake wondering if we have enough chairs to seat the new lunch arrangements; if the security of the exterior doors has been sufficiently improved; if the tablecloth for presentation evening has arrived; if our guest scientist will make it back from his latest dinosaur fossil expedition in time for his presentation; if the reception team have reduced the number of abandoned calls; where the students will stand for the fire drill; if my weekly blog has been uploaded to the website; if the parent I invited for lunch on Twitter will get back in touch; how to get out of the extortionate contract for the ICT managed services; if the answering machine message is sufficiently professional; and if the ‘on hold’ music is calming and soothing enough.

But most of all I lie awake wondering how soon I can ensure that every lesson is good enough for my own children and therefore the children in my school. As a principal, my biggest priority is leading the learning: leading staff to success through a shared vision and ethos and creating a culture of high expectations that brings with it outstanding outcomes for all. Teaching and learning is the core business of schools and although the need to lead on a whole variety of aspects is critical, I know that I must have a relentless focus on leading learning. I believe that in my first or fifteenth year of headship, this is what will keep me awake at night.

I fully agree with the previous blogger that heads need to understand the challenges of the classroom, but ultimately it is leadership competence, outstanding training and the ability to listen and learn that provides these things, and not just time served.


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