‘As leaders, I think we should be the most enthusiastic’
School leaders need to be more positive about teaching if they are to help overcome staffing shortages, according to the incoming president of the National Association of Headteachers.
Kim Johnson, who will take on the role next week, says that his colleagues have a responsibility to talk up the profession.
“Otherwise we are saying we do a great job but it is not a very good job,” the special school head said. “That doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up.”
Mr Johnson, principal of Bradfields Specialist SEN Academy in Chatham, Kent, believes that all school leaders should talk about “the pluses, the joy, the awe and wonder of being someone that can actually change a child’s future and turn things around for them”.
In an exclusive interview with TES, Mr Johnson said that the teaching profession should hold up ambassadors – for teachers, middle leaders, senior leaders and heads – to help raise the profile of teaching in light of recruitment challenges.
“[We should] say ‘these people are the best at what they do, and look at them and how they are doing that and isn’t that something you would like to do?’” he said.
Last month, a poll of 4,000 teachers by TES’ parent company TES Global, found that 31 per cent felt talk of a “recruitment crisis” made them more likely to leave the profession.
Mr Johnson, who will address delegates at the NAHT annual conference in Birmingham next Friday, hopes to promote the teaching profession by bringing his own passion about education to his new role.
“There is a lot of stuff being said at the moment that we can’t get people to come into education to be teachers or to become headteachers,” the incoming NAHT president, who has been a teacher for 38 years, said.
“Why not? It is such an exciting thing to do. There is so much you can do and so much you can change.
“It is about making people realise that this is a great job to be in. Sometimes it doesn’t get the right press, it doesn’t get portrayed in the right way, it has not got that standing in communities that it should have.”
Mr Johnson added: “If the caretaker is the most enthusiastic person in the school, then there is something wrong there. As leaders, I think we should be the most enthusiastic.”
Looking on the bright side
His comments are likely to be welcomed by education secretary Nicky Morgan, who last month called on teaching unions to “step up” and become “part of the solution” to the recruitment challenges rather than “doing down the profession”.
The remarks may anger fellow teacher trade unionists who see that stance as a distraction from problems such as workload, which they believe are blighting teaching.
But Mr Johnson recognises that there are pressures facing the profession around assessment, excessive workload, and low pay. And he says that the government has a part to play as well.
“[They] should hold teachers up as significant players in shaping this society with a view to making sure that we are world class in our education,” he added.
He will be the first NAHT president from a special education background in more than a decade and also wants to use his position to raise the profile of the sector and ensure that pupils with special needs “have the same life chances that their peers have”.
Again, Mr Johnson believes that a positive attitude is essential. “The world doesn’t want to know what you can’t do; it wants to know what you can do,” he said.
“What we try and do is help you [the pupil] discover that and make you better at that. I think that’s the exciting journey that gets me out of bed every day and gets me into work and it is very much part of what I do and what my staff do – my magicians.”
Heads not ‘won over’ by mass academisation
The government may have to delay plans to turn all schools into academies by 2022 because there are not enough leaders to implement the change, Kim Johnson, incoming NAHT president believes.
The head questioned whether there were enough schools that currently have the “depth in leadership and management” and the “skillset” to be able to take on other schools in multi-academy trusts (MATs) as ministers envisage.
“They need to have a look at how leadership has got to evolve for that to be the case,” he said. “Leadership as we see it at this moment of time is not leadership in the future – it is not leadership in some multi-academy trust.
“A CEO is a different beast to someone who is a head of a primary school. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done there.”
Mr Johnson believes that there is so much work to do that education secretary Nicky Morgan could have to push the academisation target date back. He said that his school opted for academy status in 2014 as the local authority was not offering school improvement support. But he added that the solution did not seem to work in every area of the country.
“I don’t think [Ms Morgan] has quite won the minds of some of the politicians, let alone some of the headteachers,” he said.