Quiet revolution in headship

11th January 2008 at 00:00
the view from here.

Governments over the past 20 years have directed the role of headship with some considerable success. They have sought to do this through a combination of design, using the truly dreadful competencies or "measured" approach to leadership, together with instilling the fear of failure and public humiliation through inspections.

Many heads have voted with their feet, taken early retirement and joined that great legion of consultants working for Tribal or Capita or whichever organisation is running the system at the moment. It is with great joy, then, that my experience suggests that heads are flexing their muscles, quietly taking control of their futures and, instead of just leaving the profession, are finding ways of making the job work for them. Is education becoming a seller's market?

Everyone knows it is difficult finding heads of the future because there are fewer aspiring leaders coming through the system. Less well recognised is that there are fewer experienced heads wishing to undertake other headships. Career paths have changed and will continue to do so.

This process has been facilitated by the inspired decision taken by the Government some years ago to have an annual performance management process for school leaders where governors have the opportunity to reward high levels of performance through remuneration. Heads in small schools may in fact earn more by being rewarded for years of effectiveness by a grateful governing body than they would initially earn as heads of larger schools. So in these cases there isn't the financial incentive to move.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, is the increasingly varied menu of exciting options available to practising heads. We are spoilt for choice between consultancy, executive headship, inspection, school improvement plans, secondments in other schools, research and the thrilling enticement of a free trip, finding out how they do it in China or the United States.

These opportunities have arisen through the Government realising that it needs to expand leadership to spread best practice and manage the challenge of succession. But heads can choose what to do and when to do it. This represents a shift of power in their relationship with the Government.

So instead of jumping for joy at 55 at the prospect of early retirement and heading off to spend more time with their families or in the garden, while doing a couple of days for Tribal, experienced heads can be retained in the system for longer. To accomplish this, even greater opportunities for new models of headship need to be found by the Government's design team to "mix and match" within the role of school leader.

Sue Robinson, Headteacher, Cherry Orchard Primary School, Birmingham.


Retirement age

Discrimination law covers all ages, but businesses and institutions are now vexed about the compulsory retirement age. The UK has allowed schools, along with everyone else, to set a compulsory retirement age at 65. Now Heyday, an organisation for retired or nearly retired people, has asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to decide on its validity.

Everyone assumed that 65 was an acceptable final date - until the Employment Appeal Tribunal said recently that a tribunal was wrong to dismiss claims of age discrimination and unfair dismissal brought by a woman who was retired by her employer at 65. The EAT ruled the case should have been put on hold until the outcome of the Heyday challenge is known. Now all retirement related age discrimination claims are likely to be put on hold.

On the other side, the European Advocate General has advised the ECJ in a Spanish case that it should find no breach of the European Directive on Age because it does not apply to retirement age law. If the Heyday case succeeds, staff will be able to soldier on indefinitely or until capability proceedings are taken out against them. We might have governors arguing that the head at 95 was past it, with the head riposting that heshe had never felt better.

Chris Lowe, Former head, legal specialist and chief editor of Quick Guide Publishing.

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