‘Hostility and anxiety’ over the role of executive heads

29th January 2016 at 00:00
Schools are confused about what the job should entail and need a clear definition, according to a new report

It is one of the fastest growing roles in schools, and carries some of the greatest responsibility. But research published today reveals a lack of clarity about executive headteachers – what they do, how much they should be paid and how they are held accountable.

Confusion surrounding the role is causing “anxiety and hostility” for both leaders and governing bodies, according to the analysis by the National Governors’ Association (NGA).

It says that there is “inconsistency” in how executive headteachers are defined and how they are deployed in England. The report warns that there is an “urgent need” for schools to address the issue as the number of executive headteachers working across multiple-school institutions, such as federations and multi-academy trusts (MATs), continues to rise.

The National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services (NCLS) said in 2010 that being an executive headteacher involves oversight of more than one school – but the NGA has found from its research that some operate in single schools.

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document does not include a definition of what an executive headteacher is required to do, nor how much they should be paid.

The NGA study, which looked at 15 executive headteacher application packs on the TES website, found that the lines of accountability both above and below the role varied greatly at the MATs, federations and standalone schools analysed. The report, by NGA research officer Tom Fellows, reveals that “dual accountability was common”, with some executive heads accountable to a governing body or chief executive, while others answer to multiple governing bodies.

In one case, an executive head was expected to sign two contracts – one with each of his school governing boards – which the NGA says was “fraught with potential difficulties”.The research reveals “a lack of consistency” in the skills, experience, and qualifications required in each advertisement, making it difficult for governors to know what to expect from an executive head.

“The lack of clarity around structures and the formal arrangements in an executive headteacher model can cause anxiety and hostility from governing boards and, in turn, executive headteachers,” the new research concludes.

The confusion for schools is partly down to the range of different interpretations as to what makes a headteacher “executive”, when compared with a normal headteacher.

The report says that there was “inconsistency as to how much day-to-day management the executive headteacher would undertake.” There was also variation in how much experience they would have in teaching.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, believes the School Teachers’ Review Body, which advises ministers on pay, should provide clarification. “What is important is there are clear accountability lines for who is responsible for outcomes at the school,” he said.

Mr Trobe said that the review body should also explore “appropriate remuneration”. Pay for the role can range from less than £50,000 to more than £200,000.

But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads’ union, believes that circulating good examples of the executive headteacher model would be the “sensible” option – rather than involving the government over pay and guidance. “It’s quite a widespread role and we don’t want to fix it down too much,” he said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We trust schools to determine the most appropriate leadership structure and to determine pay that reflects the challenge of the role.”


‘It’s just a temporary job’

The greatest success you can have as an executive headteacher is making the role redundant, according to Carl Ward.

As an executive head at two schools in Stoke-on-Trent and the chief executive of the City Learning Trust, he strongly believes that the role is only required in struggling schools where leaders need coaching and mentoring.

Mr Ward, who became executive headteacher at Mill Hill Primary Academy when it went into special measures two years ago, believes that he will soon be able to give up the role. “You know you have been a really effective executive headteacher if you get rid of your executive headteacher role, because the school is so strong they don’t need it anymore,” he says.

Mr Ward adds: “It doesn’t surprise me that we have inconsistency across the system, because we don’t really have an understanding of what a typical executive headteacher looks like.”

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