Don't move too fast for the top jobs

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Answers your leadership questions

I have been teaching for just under five years now and last year I applied for a post as a deputy head in a city school. I did not get the job, which went to an internal applicant. However, the head offered me a post as a member of the senior management team. The idea was sold to me that I would gain experience which would stand me in good stead. I have since found out that the new deputy did not have senior management experience either. I would now like to apply for a deputy's position in my old local education authority. Another member of my school's management team has told me that to leave after one year would be a bad move, and that the head might not give me a good reference. There are other things about my job that I am not happy with, for example my lack of professional development. I have not attended any courses this year as my class is quite difficult and they do not respond well to a new face. What should I do?

You touch on some contentious issues to do with career development. In the current climate, the shortage of applicants for leadership roles in some schools means that career progression can be much more rapid than in the past. However, your career satisfaction will come from your feelings as to how well you are doing your job so it is important to prepare for the leadership role you seem to want and to secure a post in the right school for you when you feel ready.

In terms of preparation, four-and-a-half years is not long to be in teaching before taking on the responsibilities of senior leadership. It is important to be as secure and confident in your skills and knowledge as you can be before electing to jump into the red-hot furnace of running a school. This preparation can come from attending courses but the best preparation is, I feel, on-the-job coaching including reflection and analysis time. Ideally there will be time out of school with other people in a similar position and an external mentor for deeper learning to take place. The National Professional Qualification for Headship course is a good example of this but some local authorities also run their own programmes.

There may be other pressures propelling you forward so quickly but I would urge caution until you are more prepared. It does not sound as though you had much preparation for leadership at your previous school. You need to take this seriously and that may well mean staying where you are.

Be upfront with your head and pin down how you will be given the on-the-job coaching and, hopefully, external support. This could be part of your performance review. You can hone some of your teaching and learning skills on your current class. It is always good if members of the senior management team are seen to be effective in the classroom as well as in leadership and management tasks.

Another area to focus on is developing the relationships between yourself and other members of the team.

You do not seem to trust the head as you say you were promised professional development which has not happened. You also seem to resent the appointment of the other applicant to the deputy post in your school. Accepting an alternative job at interview from the one for which you applied can lead to problems in terms of relationships with the successful candidate for the post, and the decision-maker (the head). You need to put these feelings behind you and work with these colleagues in a positive and mutually supportive way. Give as much as you can to your school and learn as much as you can about contributing to a senior team.

It is not uncommon for the first year in a new post to be challenging and make you question why and what you are doing - schools are highly complex and not always friendly cultures to join.

If you really are unhappy and you choose to move you need to find the right school for you. You do not want to jump out of any frying pan into a fire.

It would not be good for you or any new school if you feel a sense of failure. This means doing some serious research both before and during the interview.

Yes - your very limited experience in senior management may count against you depending on what the other school is looking for. With regard to references, I would hope that your head's would be fair and balanced. It may well mention your limited length of service in your current school. In your letter of application you can, perhaps, cover this in a positive way in relation to your desire to progress quickly and gain high-quality management experience.

But do not be overtly critical of your school or the head and avoid spin becoming lies.

In conclusion, your decision is a big one and it has to be yours. I would advise that you try to unmask your underlying motives. If you wish to climb the career ladder, be sure that you are ready to go on to the next rung with confidence and enjoyment.

Robin Precey has been in education for 31 years, the past 12 as head of Seaford Head community college in East Sussex. He is also a consultant on the National College for School Leadership's New Visions programme. Do you have a school leadership or management question?Contact Susan Young at The TES, susan.young@tes.co.uk

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