The CEO'S view - New breed must nurture talent

14th November 2008 at 00:00

Next week the National College for School Leadership's annual new headteachers conference takes place in London. The new heads will be embarking upon a very different role to that of their predecessors. In an ever-changing world, public expectations have never been higher and are becoming ever more diverse, with considerable impact across the public sector, including schools. And it will be down to an increasing number of inexperienced heads to manage those expectations.

A generation of wise and experienced school leaders - the baby boomers - will be heading into retirement over the next few years. That is a huge challenge for the system, but it could also be a great opportunity, if managed carefully. What it presents is a chance to develop a more effective and sustainable approach to school leadership, which will manage today's expectations and prepare for the future.

Let's be clear, no headteacher, experienced or not, can manage the increasing demands alone. This will require strong leadership at all levels. The only way that leaders can develop the necessary expertise to meet the challenges of our time is through their teams. As a result, this new generation of heads must be prepared to encourage, develop and distribute leadership to talented staff, many of whom will be young and relatively inexperienced. This will be a fundamental and critical responsibility of our new heads. I have seen many, many heads right across the country - in places as far apart as Dover and Manchester, Plymouth and Leeds - who are already doing this with tremendous success.

But headteachers' responsibilities must start with the needs of their own individual schools. What the retirement of many experienced leaders has taught us is that we cannot take succession for granted. As leaders, we have a responsibility to develop others, even if that means they will eventually leave our organisations to progress. Frankly it is absolutely critical that many do go on to new schools if we are to avoid another system-wide succession crisis in future decades and - to use a topical analogy - if we are to end "boom and bust" as far as talent management and recruitment is concerned.

Those of us privileged enough to be in leadership roles are there because someone believed in us and encouraged us to be leaders. Good leadership is infectious. Heads can be powerful role models and inspirations, and it is critical that they practise and demonstrate sustainable leadership through building supportive teams, developing leaders and modelling effective leadership. Our new heads will need to encourage highly skilled and talented leaders, whatever their age or experience, to step up and develop in preparation for headship.

Today's heads will already be shaping their legacy. There will come a time, perhaps sooner rather than later, when many will begin to live that legacy. Our new heads have a terrific opportunity and responsibility to make a difference to the young people in their own schools. But they can also be true "legacy leaders" as those they inspire, encourage and develop go on to make a difference to the lives of even more young people in other schools for many years to come.

Steve Munby, Chief Executive, National College for School Leadership.

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