Future leaders relish challenge

19th January 2007 at 00:00
A chosen few are training to bring in painful changes recommended by a government report

claire edis was a high-flying corporate events manager producing fashion shows and pound;1.5m millennium celebrations for Marks and Spencer, Adidas and Ellesse.

But nothing compared to the exhilaration of working with 300 textile design students on a schools 'fashion show.

So 34-year-old Claire returned to the classroom for fast-track training to become a head teacher.

She said: "When you're living it every day, going from class to class, then it's very hard to see the glamorous side. But by celebrating the successes of the education sector, we can inspire not only the teachers but the children."

David Millar, 29, another Future Leaders trainee, spends his weeks commuting back and forth between the struggling Crofton secondary school in the south London suburb of Lewisham, and the top-ranked Ravens Wood school in Kent. He said: "Going through it has been tough, extremely draining. But my reason for working in education is to work in challenging schools. They deserve the best teachers."

This confident pair are foot soldiers in the government's battle to reshape England's schools, replacing traditional insular and hierarchical structures with an eclectic range of brightly-coloured community institutions, employing health and social workers, funded to supply the needs of industry.

Their classmates from the Future Leaders programme were feted at 10 Downing Street on Monday, as business leaders were encouraged to pay half the salaries of the trainee heads.

The task of filling the leaders' shortage in struggling urban schools was "fantastically important", Tony Blair told them. "This is about making sure our children get the education they need and that's relevant for the world that they will face outside." Then the trainees were sent out into inner London schools in an intensive programme to provide the hardened headteachers of the future.

Yesterday, Jim Knight, the schools minister, published the Government's report into school leadership, prompted by a looming recruitment crisis as high numbers of heads' offices are vacant. Some unions insist the shortage could best be addressed by increasing pay, but the report's authors at PricewaterhouseCoopers backed off any radical overhaul of the salary structure.

After their study of 50 schools, they recommended an end to the traditional model of school leadership. Dr David Armstrong, a senior member of the PricewaterhouseCoopers team, told The TES that the traditional model "was born out of a different time and a very different set of circumstances".

With changes such as Every Child Matters, the 14-19 agenda and Building Schools for the Future, teachers and heads had told him that the old-style headship was increasingly difficult to sustain. "It's a different world out there and people are struggling to come to terms with it," Dr Armstrong said.

Unhappy with the study's initial direction, the Government and its social partners in the unions demanded that PricewaterhouseCoopers interview teachers and support staff as well as leaders. In the 10 ensuing focus groups, staff said their headteachers lacked the traits that made effective leaders. The study found heads were failing to distribute responsibilities among their staff.

If the Government accepts the recommendations, it is the likes of Ms Edis and Mr Millar who will be responsible for implementing the painful changes in schools that, according to the report, are deeply resistant to change.

One young Future Leaders trainee, Rebecca Curtis, told Mr Blair this week:

"Admitting you want to be a head is the worst thing you can say in the staffroom."

Ms Edis said: "It's a challenge managing older staff, but actions speak louder than words. You have to lead from the front."

The report recommends changes of law to encourage the development of new leadership models, shared headships, federations with executive heads, chief executives taking financial responsibility from the heads and suitably qualified professionals coming in from outside education to lead schools.

Even the Association of School and College Leaders, an enthusiastic supporter of new school and leadership structures, was taken aback at such dramatic recommendations as groups of schools rotating their heads every few years.

"I don't think that will ever see the light of day," said John Dunford, the association's general secretary. "In other countries, that leads to a lack of innovation and stability in schools." And, with the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Union of Teachers, he was "clearly disappointed" at the report's failure to recommend pay rises.

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said increasing the pay differential between teachers and heads was absolutely essential to recruit heads.

The NUT yesterday published its own study of 67 schools, commissioned from the University of Buckingham, that blamed vulnerability, high workload, and low pay for recruitment problems. Three-quarters of schools reported having teachers with the qualities to be heads, but who did not want to move up.

"The crisis, if there be one, seems to us to be government made," said the authors, Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, said the government needed to address heads' pay and workload. "Recruiting from outside the profession is not the answer," he said. "Moves to divorce the leadership of schools from teaching and learning and replacing heads with chief executives will make things worse."

Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, applauded the report, saying that enhancing leaders' management skills was vital. He felt the need to publish alternative proposals for addressing the recruitment problems by encouraging heads to shift from school to school to reinvigorate their careers.

Education Data Surveys figures show 12 per cent of primary schools and 11 per cent of secondaries advertised for a new head last year - few in the next generation are willing to replace the retiring baby boomer heads.

But the Government said headteacher vacancy rates were "low and stable".

"Many schools will go through major rebuilding work in the next decade or so," a spokesman for Jim Knight said. "Many will become extended schools open to the community far beyond the school day and during the holidays.

This requires new ways of working and a new approach to leading a school. A modern school requires modern leaders."


Support schools should seek to move towards new leadership models like federations and shared headships, removing the legal barriers.

Enable heads to distribute leadership, eg make bursars legally accountable for finances and training and licensing leaders who are not teachers.

Review governing bodies so they can incorporate the work of other agencies in schools and encourage businesses to support their staff becoming governors.

Streamline policy initiatives to limit the bureaucratic burden on schools.

Promote suitably qualified professionals from outside the schools sector into leadership, fast-track teachers into headships, and encourage clusters of schools to regularly rotate leaders.

Make the existing rewards system work better, rather than radically changing it, by allowing for executive heads, chief executives, and non-teachers such as bursars on the leadership pay scale.

Win hearts and minds with a communications campaign to explain the benefits of new leadership models over the conventional wisdom of 'hero heads'.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today