'Superheads' plan to rethink lead role

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Headteachers may soon be asked to run more than one school, writes Frances Rafferty

The headteacher of the future may be a highly-paid chief executive running a number of schools, responsible for multi-million pound budgets and charged with driving up educational standards.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the education and employment select committee, which is examining the role of the headteacher said she intended to take a radical look at school leadership. She said: "Just as we have superteachers, perhaps we will have superheads who will run groups of schools.

"We will be asking whether heads could be recruited from different backgrounds, for example business, and will be investigating the sorts of management skills the head of the future will need. We will also be investigating whether different schools, for example primaries, secondaries, rural, urban, large and small, need different sorts of leaders."

The committee is to visit Switzerland, which traditionally does not have heads. Schools are run by the regional canton and local commune.

The inquiry will look at the impact headteachers have on their schools, the relationships between other staff, parents and governors, whether excellence in teaching is a prerequisite for the job, the concern over headteacher recruitment and the under-representation of women among headteachers. Despite 67 per cent of teachers being women, only 55 per cent are heads in primaries and 23 per cent in secondaries.

Frank Hartle, Hay Management Consultants' director of performance improvement, said: "We will see federations of schools later this year in the education action zones. And a model, with heads at each school being education leaders with an over-arching "superhead" in charge of resource management may occur. The person involved would need different competencies to present heads and the issue of legal accountability would need to be resolved. But our work reveals that a highly effective school needs a leader with a clear educational vision and teaching strategy who can convey this to staff, governors and parents."

Headteachers, he said, should buy in either private sector or local authority expertise for the other tasks needed for running schools. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, predicts that schools will become more like the independent sector and hire bursars for administration and marketing. He said headteachers without a teaching background would not have credibility with their staff. However, he said it was worth investigating having of clusters of schools with one head, for example in rural areas.

Pat Collarbone, director of the London Leadership Centre, said: "The grant-maintained movement has proved heads and governing bodies liked the degree of freedom they had and enjoyed that level of ownership and responsibility. The Government's move to create education action zones which link schools together may provide a lot of lessons on how new structures can work.

"What is vital is the provision of good management training, but what is most important is looking at ways to make the job attractive and give it status. Quality people are not being attracted to the profession. It can be one of the most rewarding and challenging of jobs, but if heads continue to be bombarded with initiatives, targets and pressure many will find the job undoable."

The announcement of the inquiry co-incided with the publication of a consultation paper, by the School Teachers' Review Body, on pay for heads and deputies. David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, had told the review of his concern about the supply and quality of primary heads and asked them to establish whether heads' pay was sufficient to attract good candidates.

The review body will look at ways to link pay with achieving schools' targets. It has commissioned KPMG Management Consulting to explore pay differentials among heads, deputies and senior staff.

The deadline for submissions to the select committee's inquiry is May 8 and the review body will take evidence up to May 29.

* Heads' conferences, page 5

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