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Look, leap and take the lead

Don't let lack of confidence stop you taking the plunge into headship. Henry Hepburn reports

TEACHERS WHO did not see themselves as headteacher material have changed their minds after taking part in the Flexible Routes to Headship programme.

Two South Lanarkshire teachers told an audience of Scottish and international colleagues last week that they lacked confidence and were reluctant to put themselves forward. Since starting the Scottish Executive pilot programme last year, however, there have been fundamental shifts in their thinking.

"Six months ago, I wouldn't even have contemplated being a headteacher," said Robert Stewart, depute head at Uddingston Grammar. "Now I can see myself filling out the application forms."

Mr Stewart, an English teacher, does not appear timid he is 6ft 4ins tall and a confident and articulate public speaker yet he admitted that he lacked self confidence before taking part in the programme, and was "not very ambitious". He saw himself as someone who reacted to day-to-day issues, but did not carry much influence in a wider sense "a doer, not a thinker". The flexible headship programme made him think more about his role in the school, and realise that he had more to offer. "From a confidence point of view, it was a tremendous boost," he said. "I'm going to start to think before I do something, and I'm reflect on what I've just done."

He had been hesitant to take the lead, even in areas where he had responsibility, such as timetabling. "Before, I would have just done as I was told," he said. "I'm more confident about challenging things."

Even before his selection for the programme, the rigorous application process got him thinking more about his job and his own talents.

"The application was quite an interesting one, because it was the first time I'd been asked to pull together my strengths and weaknesses," he said. "The interview was challenging one of the most intimidating processes of my life."

Linda Gardner, principal teacher at Calderwood Primary in Ruth-erglen, said it was easy for teachers to become absorbed by the task at hand. "You just beaver away in your classroom and don't stop to think about the nitty-gritty," she said.

Mrs Gardner who admitted that she had been "not that confident" said the theory covered by participants helped her see the bigger picture. "The academic reading allows you to reflect greatly, and I've been doing a lot of that," she said. "It stops you in your tracks sometimes, when you're just passing the janitor, or when you have to speak to a parent on the phone. It really does make you think a lot more widely."

Both teachers said the programme's flexibility helped organise their study around family life, but that the constant presence of a coach in their case, Barbara Lindsay, a headteacher seconded from West Coats Primary in Cambuslang was also helpful, providing structure and, according to Mrs Gardner, proving "invaluable".

Mr Stewart and Mrs Gardner spoke at the International Summer School on School Leadership in Edinburgh, organised by the Scottish Executive, last week.


Flexible Routes to Headship came into being last year after complaints that the Scottish Qualification for Headship was too rigid and time-consuming. The Scottish Executive pilot programme is intended to offer a less constrictive way of meeting the General Teaching Council's Standard for Headship.

Thirty teachers are taking part from South Lanarkshire, Fife, Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian councils. The programme's organisers say the programme is flexible in that participants consider their own and their school's needs, and because there are full-time coaches providing support.

The programme has encouraged participants to question existing practice and make decisions, and to think about the running of the school beyond their everyday work in the classroom.

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