Advent of the entrepreneurs

19th May 2006 at 01:00
A new breed of TV programmes is encouraging us to take control of our assets -and our lives. Whether it's selling your semi in Croydon to buy a small estate in Croatia, or moving into your garden shed to rent out your house as a holiday let, the message is the same: there is an entrepreneur in all of us.

The message is not lost on many school leaders as they contemplate future career moves. Aware of the emergence of a sellers' market in school leadership, many heads understand the value of their professional knowledge and experience. Not unreasonably, some are looking for more flexible and varied career structures to put their experience to best use.

And why not? They are only reflecting a well-established trend across senior management as a whole. Look at the rise and rise across the wider public service of so-called "interim management": self-employed senior project leaders and change-managers, brought in to deliver specific outcomes over a fixed term.

Spending on "interims" has been growing at about 20 per cent a year for the past five years, and is said to account for more than pound;400 million expenditure a year.

While interim may once have been something people did between jobs and prior to retirement, it is now seen as a positive career choice. For some, it is a chance to gain experience quickly across a wide range of organisations. For others, it is about flexibility. Highly skilled managers work as independent interims in order to stay close to the career environment they love, but without being handcuffed to the politics and bureaucracy they hate.

Maybe that's why our phone didn't stop ringing for a fortnight when, as a consultancy, we placed an advert in The TES for potential headteacher associates. The response was more than three times the level of even the most successful headteacher recruitment campaign we have managed for a school client.

There is a message here. Perhaps 20 years of education policy which has devolved responsibility and power to schools has made an impact. School leaders have evolved into effective entrepreneurs who are used to taking calculated risks. So it is no surprise that they are exercising those skills in the management of their own careers. After all, the rewards for life inside the system are mixed - even for the successful.

It was striking that the National Audit Office report into school leadership suggested that 45 per cent of schools which had been led successfully out of special measures since the mid-1990s are now closed.

That is a high proportion of successful turn-around ending in a cul-de-sac.

What does all this mean for the next steps in school leadership? It means recognising that concepts of "choice" and "personalisation" are not restricted to students and the curriculum. They also apply to leaders and their career opportunities. Schools must be prepared to tailor roles to people to find win-win solutions. That's why research by the National College for School Leadership into senior teachers who decide not to enter headship is central. Understanding the "supply side" of the recruitment market is just as important as the "demand-side" work which focuses on structural solutions.

It means that the debate at national level must recognise school leaders as people as well as professionals. Alongside their career objectives, potential school leaders have personal goals and aspirations for themselves and their families. So new school structures must create roles which people actually want. Leadership structures designed solely from an organisational point of view are doomed to fail. Structures which take account of trends in the recruitment market will succeed.

Finally, we should embrace recruitment market trends for greater independence and flexibility. We should encourage and reward entrepreneurialism.

Why shouldn't a group of successful school leaders form an independent consortium which leads and manages groups of schools (and their extended services) under contract to commissioning local authorities, or - in the future -trusts?

Isn't that exactly the kind of new career opportunity that will provide the independence that so many experienced leaders appear to seek? If it retains seasoned leaders within the education sector for longer, then why not?

Peter Addison-Child is director of Navigate, a recruitment consultancy in Leeds specialising in children's services, education, skills and social care

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