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Letters extra: Do heads have a sell-by date?

Your report of John Howson's research that shows that headteachers who stay with their schools for longer than six years may be more effective in their jobs ( Do leaders have a best-before date? TES, 21 February ) resonates with a finding from my own research associate work on spiritual and moral leadership in headteachers to be published by NCSL next month.

Many of the 25 serving headteachers I interviewed referred to "a sea-change" in their headship after around five years in post, when there was a perceived move from "doing headship" to "being a head". Significantly, this change was detected even by colleagues who were on their second or even third headship, which may imply a need for time to get to grips with the specific context of a school before taking it further forward.

Once this sea-change had occurred, however, its effects were not time-limited, ie there was no "sell-by date", provided that the head has conscious personal sustainability strategies to withstand burn-out or drop-out. Heads interviewed, with headship experience ranging from one to twenty years, asserted the value of belief networks which maintained high levels of self-belief in the rightness of their underlying value system, support networks of families, friends and colleagues, and external networks of engagement with interests and experience beyond the world of education, without which they would have found it difficult to continue to sustain the headship role.

Alan Flintham

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