How can I get my deputies to help out?

31st October 2003 at 00:00
As a relatively new headteacher I am at my wits' end. I am doing more and more myself and I can't cope. I have tried to give other members of my management team some of the bits of my job but they do not seem able to do them as well as I want. I feel as though I am adding to their incredibly heavy loads. Workforce re-modelling is not helping. What can I do?

You are not alone in feeling this way. You must step back and analyse what is going on - and act quickly. I suggest you do this with a critical friend , ideally with another experienced head whom you trust.

These are some of the points you should consider.

* It benefits nobody in your school - least of all the pupils - if you cannot cope.

* Your own role needs to be clarified. As the most senior paid person in the school, strategic leadership should be key. Day-to-day management of pupils and staff should be less significant. Be sure that your governors, especially the chair, understand what you want your role to become.

* A headteacher cannot and should not try to do everything. You will need to get seriously into shared leadership in your senior team. Any additional changes coming into your school need also to be shared out fairly and ideally by negotiation.

* This increased sharing is justified because of the cultural changes in schools and in outside organisations. The job is too complex for an autocratic style of leadership in most cases and a team working together can be far more effective than the individuals working on their own.

How are you going to get your senior staff to work as a team and not just as individuals or as a group? The key ingredients, and these are also indicative of the processes you need to go through to approach effective teamwork, are:

* Review - looking honestly at where you are as a group of people with the senior responsibility for your school. This needs to deal sensitively and openly with realities as well as perceptions. Your feeling of isolation may be matched by their frustrations with you. An analysis of each person's preferred style of leadership would be a good idea. This will reveal where gaps and overlaps are but this needs to be handled sensitively - again I would suggest by an external critical friend working with you. If your team is fixed then you have to work with what you have. Any flexibility would allow you to construct a balanced team.

* Agreeing and sharing beliefs and a sense of purpose. This is going to need thorough discussion as well. Once agreed, the team's core values need to be regularly checked out and decisions monitored against this "checklist".

* Building positive relationships within the team - these have to be worked at so that there is a candid, relaxed, supportive style emerging.

* Focusing the team on learning . All your work as a team needs to focus on pupils' learning even if the link sometimes appears to be less direct than at others. The learning of your team is very important and this should be built into the times you are with them as individuals (regular one-to-one supervision between you and them is important) and as a group (such as in meetings).

* Developing trust - this takes time as teams go through thick and thin together and ideally emerge stronger and wiser.

This is a big agenda, so take time out to think and plan. This work early on in your headship will lay the foundations for the future success of your school and your team. There will be forces and thoughts nagging at you not to push forward on shared leadership. These will include your views about the effectiveness of members of your senior team (you may have to accept a less than perfect job, they may well surprise you if trusted and nurtured) as well as your desire not to trouble them. Shared leadership is not an easy option. The current climate of extreme accountability of headteachers is sometimes not helpful and public perceptions about headship need to change. As a new headteacher with the "prize" won and a natural desire to impress you may slip into autocracy.

It sounds as though you realise the unsustainability of the current position and the need to change. Think it through (with a reliable adviser), draw up plans and be determined to make your vision a reality.

When you get it right it really will enhance the opportunities for the pupils in your care and you will feel much more positive about the part you have played in that.

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? Email

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