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Socialisation process important for heads

New headteachers often spend their first years in the job becoming bogged down with resolving small-scale problems and disputes, rather than developing teaching and learning in their schools.

But two researchers have discovered strategies to overcome these problems after conducting long-term studies with new heads.

Michael Cowie, of Edinburgh University, and Megan Crawford, of the Institute of Education in London, asked heads to keep detailed logs over six months. These revealed that many were overwhelmed by the demands of the job, but were ashamed to admit it.

One said: "I feel totally exhausted, but ... you keep going because you do not want to appear to lack the drive needed."

Many also found themselves faced with daily situations that were emotionally taxing, such as supporting single parents through family disputes, dealing with upset support staff or handling ineffective teaching staff. This left them no time for working on broader strategies.

The researchers said: "While the headteachers in this study are enthusiastic and seem to be able to deal confidently with the multiple demands on them, they made no direct reference in their logs to the significance of 'vision' and longer-term strategies."

The researchers suggest heads should seek out networks of others in a similar position. One head said she valued "the opportunity to discuss things like this with other professionals and to realise that these things happen all the time".

The study concluded that heads should realise their competence and confidence would increase over time. "Completion of a year or so in post is only a beginning of a much longer socialisation process ... particularly if new headteachers are to be open to change, and have the confidence and ability to question accepted notions."

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