Shortage of leaders? Not round here

13th June 2008 at 01:00
I am very happy because I have just appointed two excellent deputy heads for my school
I am very happy because I have just appointed two excellent deputy heads for my school. We were overwhelmed with high-quality applicants - longlisting down to 10 was extremely difficult.

However, we put the chosen candidates through their paces, including interviews with staff and pupils, with me tagging along for several practical tasks and data exercises.

We also asked them to teach a lesson and to perform lots of tests before we shortlisted down to seven. The following day, these poor souls were invited to do a presentation and an interview with governors.

At the end of this exhausting process we had found two preferred candidates. But the truth is we had 10, and more, who were suitable. In this case, finding a potential school leader was hardly on a par with passing through the eye of a needle. So what is the so-called leadership crisis all about? I work alongside colleagues constantly who want to go on to headship.

All school leaders have a responsibility to build capacity, and to encourage leaders at all levels. Schools like mine are always fragile and vulnerable. If a large number of the senior leadership team leave at the same time (as they did in my school not so long ago - to promoted posts), then the school could deteriorate very quickly.

I ensure that we are always training and developing leaders to step up if and when the need arises. At present, I have a trainee head and a future leader who add greatly to the capacity of my fairly new team.

My trainee is now applying for headships and will make an outstanding school leader, but one of the problems she faces, along with several people on the future leader programme, is that she does not fit the traditional stereotype. She has not had enough experience in "supervising the dinner queues" to satisfy some governors.

Person specifications are often too restrictive and exclude lots of good people. Governors, even when guided by a local authority, are still using the same old job descriptions and person specs, and so often miss out on really creative and innovative people who could be exceptional leaders.

Another problem for candidates is applying to schools run by an executive head that advertise for a head to run the place day to day. The executive head sets the direction, decides the vision and values and makes most major decisions. Why would anybody apply to do such a job? Surely, when you are ready to take up the challenge, you want to engage in the full role and not become a mere manager?

Perhaps executive headship is a good idea in small primaries, where one head can oversee two or even three schools, but it is not very sensible in large secondaries.

Headship is not a mechanical or technical job - it is all about people. To lead others you need to be able to inspire and motivate, but you cannot do this from a distance; it needs the human touch. I can understand that executive heads may be useful in an emergency, but the model does little to develop or encourage new leaders.

Another problem is that many governing bodies are looking for established heads. They see them as a less risky option. But this means lots of excellent deputies are not getting the chance to do the top jobs. And this further restricts the pool of heads available for the future.

We must open up the appointments system. There are lots of excellent potential leaders around - we must let them in.

Kenny Frederick, Headteacher of George Green's Community School in Tower Hamlets, east London.

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