Round one: the bell sounds, and Sir Michael Wilshaw steps into the ring. At a summit hosted by the Sutton Trust charity last week, the Ofsted chief inspector said that enthusiastic graduates were being put off the teaching profession by weak leadership. What education needed, he said, were “bruisers” and “battleaxes”.
Round two: enter the opponents. Teachers and headteachers rushed to parry Sir Michael’s blows and offer right hooks of their own.
“Sir Michael is like an overstuffed wheelie bin,” one commentator wrote. “He opens his mouth and all kinds of rubbish spills out.”
Others spoke from personal experience. “Having been a victim of such a headteacher, I am still taking medication,” another wrote.
One took Sir Michael’s call to action literally. “I wouldn’t mind a few rounds with Wilshaw,” he wrote. “Friday after school, back of the bike sheds. Any volunteers to hold my jacket?”
TES asked leadership experts whether they agreed with Sir Michael, and what they think makes a good school leader.
Russell Hobby, general secretary, NAHT headteachers’ union
“There are times when a headteacher needs to be tough, and times when they need to be kind. Having a range of responses is crucial. You do damage to aspiring leaders when you encourage them to aspire to stereotypes. A school leader is leading human beings, just like any other leader. I don’t think anyone can walk in from industry and run a school, because they need to understand what learning is all about. But can school and business leaders learn from each other? Absolutely.”
Joanne Waterhouse, senior lecturer, educational leadership, UCL Institute of Education
“A good leader needs integrity, the ability to inspire trust and specialist skills. But educational leadership is also about learning. I don’t recognise the starting point that school leadership is generally weak. There are, of course, weaknesses. But there are also strengths. Leadership is about people working together. That’s difficult in a climate where one is seen as either appeasing or going to battle.”
Heath Monk, chief executive, Future Leaders Trust
“We have developed three broad sets of behaviours for school leaders: interpersonal skills, thinking skills (ability to analyse data and make decisions), and being skills (resilience, self-awareness and a clear moral purpose). Most great leaders will be stronger on some aspects than others. Not every leader is suitable for every type of school. What’s required in a school in special measures is very different from what’s required in a start-up school, or one that’s trying to go from “good” to “outstanding”. If you go on to lead a multi-academy trust, you can’t just do the same job. As the business gets bigger, the requirement to be clear about the direction of the organisation becomes greater. You can no longer be at the school gates, talking to the children every day. You might not see some staff more than twice a year. What you set up and what you represent becomes more significant than your physical presence. You become a figurehead.”
Andrew White, associate dean for executive education, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
“In the corporate world, if you keep shareholders happy, you’re doing well. But in education, you have committees, national policy frameworks, the local authority and parents. All on top of the direct beneficiaries: the students. An added complication is that people go into education with a strong sense of vocation. Balancing those things, and bringing a strong sense of purpose, is difficult. And having to bring high levels of quality and innovation as well? That’s a challenge.”
David Hall, associate head, Bay House School, Hampshire
“Good leadership means having that moral purpose and drive to be successful for your kids. You have to be courageous when you need to be, but you have to listen to people and be prepared to be influenced by them. There’s no point charging ahead and then finding out that there’s no one following you. We sit here, with these high-minded values and principles. But sometimes, for the classroom teacher doing it day in and day out, they don’t always see it from our point of view. But that’s the challenge. That’s what makes it fun.”
Malcolm Trobe, general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders
“Different types of leadership are required in different situations. Good leaders have a range of styles and approaches in their repertoire. Good leaders ensure that staff know the direction, the vision and the mission of their organisation. That is how they get to an agreed set of objectives. You have to be determined. You have to have resilience. On occasion, you have to stand up to opposition. You have to be relentless when you’re seeking continual improvement. But I’m not certain “bruiser” or “battleaxe” are words that I would use.”
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