Heads only 'grow' in the classroom

28th January 2011 at 00:00

There is a shortage of primary school heads and I can't really say I'm surprised. Leading a school these days is extremely demanding and to do it you first have to negotiate the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services obstacle course.

It's a course I am increasingly familiar with. Since we became a training school for the college last year, three prospective headteachers have spent time with us and I've had much lively debate about what constitutes an effective school leader, the processes that should be used to train one, and whether the college is getting it right.

What amazes me is the staggering amount of bureaucracy that surrounds "growing a headteacher", as it's now risibly called - so different from when I decided to become one. In those days, you would have been an excellent class teacher and worked in several schools, with an increasingly important role in each. Then you would become a deputy. Ultimately, provided your local inspectors thought you were up to the job, they would pass you as suitable for headship interviews, and you would look for a vacancy.

Computers and the internet have changed all that. Nowadays there is a huge amount of online form-filling before you even get to meet a human assessor. Quite a few potentially good applicants have backed away in despair at this point, but if your application has passed muster you will be summoned for a short course to assess your leadership suitability. Meanwhile, you have to subject yourself to something called a "360-degree assessment". I wouldn't mind betting the college has a team of "experts" who collect these strange phrases.

This involves finding up to a dozen people who know you and your work fairly well. Providing they agree to comment on you honestly, you pass their names to the college. Each receives a personalised link to an online questionnaire, which takes half an hour to complete, although you never get to know who wrote what about you, because you could lose a lot of friends that way.

All this information then gets fed into another computer programme, which sifts, orders and analyses it for the people who will eventually be in charge of your two-day grilling. The idea is that if 10 of your volunteers think you don't like children very much, or you erect signs saying "No parents past this point", or tend to avoid making the tea, these could well be areas for you to work on when your personalised headship programme is eventually designed.

Since I'm a volunteer for a teacher undergoing the process, I've been doing the questionnaire this morning. It has proved more arduous than I thought, because the program fell over a number of times and I kept getting messages saying I would need to sign out and start again.

Some questions were unintentionally amusing. One said: "Does this person encourage and enable colleagues to find a healthy balance between work and other committments (sic)?" Since the form has been around for a while now, you would think that someone could at least check it for spelling mistakes. And there are the usual jargon-infested sentences: "Does this person see multiple causal links in a complex problem ... ?"

One question, though, fascinated me. It said: "Is this person able to overlook unnecessary procedure or bureaucracy?" If they are, I suspect they have little chance of being accepted on the headship course.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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