For many years, the path to Headship has followed a predictable route: from class teacher, to head of year, to Assistant or Deputy, and then, after a suitable time has passed in each role, and the appropriate experience has been amassed, the top job beckons.
But not for much longer. Via schemes such as Tomorrow’s Heads and due to the flexibility that inevitably flows from a Government that has pledged to allow schools much more say in their own affairs, we are about to see a new cohort of Head-teachers who have one thing in common: they will have never stood before thirty bright-eyed (or heavy-lidded) children and taught a lesson.
Some of these new leaders will have worked in schools, in administrative or pastoral roles of some kind; others may arrive from different sectors which have a link with education – a museum, say, or a voluntary organisation working with children. But other won’t. They may come from a business without any obvious connections to education, schools or children.
The idea, obviously enough, is to cast the recruitment net far and wide and to attract the best candidates from a wider pool. The theory is based in turn on the concept of ‘transferable skills’ – a visionary leader who can manage people, budget, pressure and all the rest is able to do so whether they are operating in a supermarket, a sales team or in a school. The tasks may be different but the skills are the same – or so the theory goes.
There is some sense to building greater flexibility into routes to Head-ship. As the baby-boomer generation retires there is a need – chronic in some places – for a new batch of school leaders to fill their shoes. Due to the perceived and actual difficulties of the job, as well as a desire to remain in the classroom, most teachers find the idea of moving to the top of the pile somewhat unappealing. Even those who get to Deputy often stay put, content with being second-in-command.
Of course, the emphasis on attracting the best people into Head-ship is self-evidently a good thing, but even more so given the considerable structural changes currently underway; it is going to take light-footed leaders to navigate their way through the new educational landscape, and to shape it so it is better than what went before.
As schools de-couple themselves from the links they have to local authorities, and as new kinds of schools are established, new partnerships will emerge. Who knows? Perhaps those who arrive unencumbered with the experience of how things were – or indeed how things are – will be better placed to make sense of Michael Gove’s brave new world.
But there are problems with this approach, not least with the question of qualifications. Can someone who has never taught manage – in the sense of assess the performance – a teacher? While much of this task may be about things that are in no way unique to the school experience (good communication between manager and managed, for example) – therefore opening up the role to any competent person – there’s the tricky issue of judging what happens in a class-room. How can you know what is good teaching unless you’ve been there and done it?
Unless we intend to devalue teaching and learning, reduce it to a tick-box list accessible to any lay person (some would say we are there already), this presents a challenge for any non-teacher putting themselves forward. A solution for larger schools, or perhaps for federations where a Head oversees more than one school, may be to delegate assessment of ‘teaching and learning’ to a qualified senior teacher. Whatever the solution, it needs to be credible, as teachers will quite rightly question these judgements.
More generally, the so-called ‘transferable skills’ can surely only stretch so far; it would take some of exceptional ability to seamlessly make the leap from the corporate world. Are there many who fit the bill?
A bit like the Apprentice, it’s not hard to picture strident young business-people, stepping confidently through the school doors, impressing a panel with their can-do attitude, their extraordinary achievements and their boundless energy; only to crumble as soon as they are presented with the realities of the task.
Let us see: we may get some corporate heroes who can inspire their teams and transform our schools, or talented people from other fields.
Or, heaven forbid, we may get Stuart Baggs.