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Warning that schools shouldn’t seek 'hero heads'

Leadership is in danger of becoming a ‘club for the charismatic, the extrovert and the dynamic’, writes one leader

The idea that heads need to be 'superhuman' is fuelling burnout, warns Tom Rees

Leadership is in danger of becoming a ‘club for the charismatic, the extrovert and the dynamic’, writes one leader

The emphasis on seeking “almost superhuman beings” to lead schools deters people from applying for headships, a prominent education leader has warned.

Tom Rees, executive director of school leadership at the new Ambition Institute, told the audience at this week’s launch of the training organisation that the focus on heroic leadership was also fuelling burnout.

He told attendees, including prominent figures from the Department for Education, academy trusts and unions, that “we do need to talk about leadership”.


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Mr Rees, who is also education director of the Northampton Primary Academy Trust, said that when he looked at headteacher job adverts in Tes, they used words such as "dynamic", "innovative", "strong", "inspirational", "visionary" and "motivational".

'Hero' school leadership

“The language that we are using to describe the leaders that we want is about all of these things,” he said.

“I don’t know anyone who is all of these things, and I am not sure that they are necessarily the traits and behaviours that we really value and need in the heart of our system in such challenging circumstances.”

He added: “I worry about the images of leaders that we create within our school system.

"What about the thoughtful leaders? What about the knowledgeable and intelligent leaders? The ethical caring leaders whose experience and expertise make them best placed to make those important in-the-moment-decisions that are so high stakes?

He said the dominant concept of leadership deters people from applying for positions "because there’s a sense that you have to live up to the expectations of society to be one of these almost superhuman beings".

“Then there’s the problem of heroic leadership and what it does to workload. We have got real issues around system burnout at the moment," Mr Rees added.

Ambition Institute said its programmes will offer support to "educators" at all stages of their career, from new teachers through to the chief executives and trustees of multi-academy trusts.

Mr Rees added: “We should think a lot harder about school leadership, and avoid it becoming a club for the charismatic, the extrovert and the dynamic, and think harder about the specific problems that we want our leaders to be equipped to face within our schools, and how we support them.”

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