New heads lack time for vision

21st March 2008 at 00:00
New headteachers often spend their first years in the job bogged down in resolving small-scale problems, rather than developing teaching and learning in their schools.

But two researchers have discovered strategies to overcome this phenomenon after conducting long-term studies with new heads.

Michael Cowie, of Edinburgh University, and Megan Crawford, of the Institute of Education in London, asked heads to keep a detailed log over six months. This revealed that many were over- whelmed by the demands of the job, but were ashamed to admit it.

One said: "I feel totally exhausted, but... you keep going because you do not want to appear to lack the drive needed."

Many also found themselves faced every day with emotionally taxing situations, such as supporting single parents through family disputes, dealing with upset support staff or handling ineffective teaching staff. This left no time for working on broader strategies.

The researchers said: "While the heads in this study are enthusiastic and seem to be able to deal confidently with the multiple demands on them... they made no direct reference in their logs to the significance of 'vision' and longer-term strategies."

But there are ways to make the new job easier. The report recommends that heads should get in touch with networks of others in a similar position.

One head interviewed said that she valued "the opportunity to discuss things like this with other professionals and to realise that these things happen all the time".

Courses such as the national professional qualification for headship were also recommended, in order to prepare teachers for aspects of the job that they might not have encountered previously, such as financial management.

And, the researchers concluded, heads should realise that their competence and confidence would increase over time: "Completion of a year or so in post is only a beginning of a much longer socialisation process... particularly if new headteachers are to be open to change, and have the confidence and ability to question accepted notions."

michael.cowie@education.ed.ac.uk.

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