The teaching profession is capable of leading itself

4th March 2016 at 00:00
Ordinary heads key to new Foundation for Leadership in Education, says Sir Michael Barber

Grassroots, bottom-up ideas from classroom practitioners have been playing an ever-increasing role in England’s schools over the past decade. Everywhere you look – from researchEd to TeachMeets and educators setting up their own schools – teachers are doing it for themselves.

Now, a new organisation is aiming to harness the same chalkface enthusiasm to transform school leadership.

Sir Michael Barber has been appointed the independent chair of the Foundation for Leadership in Education, it was revealed today, and he believes that ordinary headteachers will be the key to its success.

The former Downing Street education adviser told TES in an exclusive interview that he was “inspired to be involved in creating something that is irreversibly owned and led by the profession itself”.

“Rather than the government providing leadership development and consulting the profession, this will turn it on its head,” Sir Michael – who is also the chief education adviser to Pearson – said.

“The profession will lead and fund leadership development and consult government on what it thinks. If you listen to the prime minister or Nicky Morgan – or before Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove – all of them have said that they want the system to be led by the teaching profession itself, for schools to take the way forward,” he added.

Making great leaders

The foundation is being set up by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the NAHT headteachers’ union to help nurture and develop school leaders. It will set and oversee new standards for leadership in education at each level, quality-assure training courses, and pinpoint and share research on effective practice.

Malcolm Trobe, ASCL interim general secretary, said: “This is about the profession stepping forward and taking the education system to the next level. It is about school leaders taking ownership of leadership development and professional standards and making sure that their successors have the best possible preparation, to help ensure that there is a ready supply of great leaders.”

There have been many attempts to develop leaders before, ranging from the National College for School Leadership to the Future Leaders scheme – aimed at challenging schools – and the much reduced, no longer compulsory National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH – see data, above).

But Sir Michael said: “The truth is we don’t have the mix that we want now. What are we doing to make sure the job is attractive? What are we doing to identify people early and accelerating them through to be school leaders, giving them the skills, the confidence, the attitude? When people are appointed, what are we doing to make sure they succeed?

There are three phases – people who we want to be leaders, people who are just taking on a headship and people who have been headteachers for a while and want to develop,” he explained. “And in each of those three phases we need really good provision. We need to unleash greatness.”

Setting the wheels in motion

Sir Michael told TES that he felt England was not yet in the “Champions League” of school leadership. But he said: “Given the pressures that I have, I wouldn’t have taken this on if I didn’t think it had a significant prospect of improving our education system.”

He wants the foundation to take a modern approach and offer more than just training courses. A keen cyclist, Sir Michael explained that to help improve his performance, he has a coach who he speaks to once a week and who cycles with him once every six weeks. In the meantime, he accumulates data on his cycling, which enables him to benchmark himself against other people.

“In leadership development, with modern technology, you can do learning on the job, you can have a mentor, you can have a coach, you can do pieces of work to help improve the school you are currently in, you can network with people around the country who are doing a similar kind of work even though you never meet them,” he said. “If you are setting up a leadership foundation in 2016, you don’t build it as if it were 1950.”

He added that he believed England was one of the best countries in the world for innovation, which would raise standards: “If we get leadership right, we can match the best in the world on school performance.”


The Foundation: need to know

It will be an independent charitable foundation.

Funding has not been finalised, but it will be independent of government.

It aims to make England a world authority in leadership development.

It will promote greater equality and diversity in leadership teams.


TES presents a fortnightly series of webinars focussing on leadership issues. The next webinar, “Joining an MAT”, examines the pressure on academies to join multi-academy trusts. You can watch the video now at and submit your questions ahead of the live webchat, which takes place on 18 March.

You can also view the video and webchat of the previous webinar, “Workplace bullying”, at

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