Together we Exceed

Models of school leadership

We started the delivery of our successful Aspiring Executive Headteacher Programme in autumn 2016 (11 participants), with a second cohort in spring 2017 (14 participants). The need for an Aspiring Head of School/Headteacher Programme quickly emerged from the participants discussions, reflections, and the identified benefit of ensuring a common understanding of emerging leadership models throughout school senior leadership teams.

But, the need was broader than this. There are well documented challenges in recruiting sufficient headteachers. As an organisation charged with providing school-to-school support, we’re always seeking to do something new and different where they is a clear need; we didn’t just want to create a ‘new‘ programme that competes with other well-established programmes to develop leaders coaching and mentoring skills, for example. We wanted our participants, those considering headship in the next 12-18 months, to extend their thinking to their own career development and the conditions they’ll need, as individuals, to ensure that they have the right conditions for a successful headship. This includes supporting them to undertake an appropriate ‘due diligence‘ process to match themselves to the right school and situation.

This post, however, isn’t about planning a leadership development programme. It focuses on the leadership models aspiring Heads of School / Headteachers could/should consider. We’ll focus on three models, although there are bound to be others that could/should have equal status. But, in our context, the three we’ll consider are important.

What’s the difference between a Head of School and Headteacher? Often, it seems, the Head of School role is viewed as being below that of a Headteacher. We explored this in the Reflections on Executive Leadership post; I won’t repeat the discussion here. This is unfair, I believe: for many of those aspiring to headship (or those who have the potential to be heads but deliberately avoid it due to the pressures and challenges of the role) it could represent an appropriate ‘alternative‘ leadership model. It perhaps provides a role with a greater focus on teaching and learning than would often be possible under the ‘traditional‘ leadership model of a ‘standalone‘ Headteacher. Perhaps overly simple, but, in the current world of education, a standalone Headteacher is likely to have to oversee all aspects of the school’s operational and strategic functions, such as academy conversion. A Head of School, with executive leader(s) support and challenge, may not have the same level of burden (perhaps the executive leader will address the academisation agenda, for example), allowing them to focus more on what happens in the classroom: the priority of any school and, for most school leaders, their true passion. Some of the difference between the Head of School and Headteacher role need to be more widely understood and considered.

During our Aspiring Head of School / Headteacher Programme, we asked the participants to consider three leadership model, in terms of which appeals the most to them and would provide them with what they want/need if they are going to succeed in headship. Like during the Aspiring Executive Headteacher Programme, the participants visited six schools in Bradford and Lewisham to consider the models.

Model A: The traditional school leadership model

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Here, the Headteacher is ultimately accountable for the school’s performance. Supported and challenged by their governors, staff and external bodies, but they are the main decision maker and  the person responsible for the school’s pupil outcomes, finances, staffing, etc. This is probably the model that most leaders (even staff, parents and children) are familiar with.

Model B: The Executive Headteacher and Head of School model

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In this example, the Head of School is responsible for the direction of travel for the school (strategic and operational) but has the support and challenge of a more senior colleague to consult with. Ultimately, the Executive Headteacher is accountable for the school but the Head of School is the public face of the school (meeting and greeting parents, etc) and provides the leadership for the staff and children. The Executive Headteacher may lead on more challenging HR and long-term strategic developments of the partnership of schools, for example. This adds capacity: supporting the Head of School to focus on developing outstanding teaching and learning. The Heads of School, in a partnership like that shown above, are also likely to support each other.

Model C: Head of School or Headteacher within a multi-academy trust (MAT)

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This model is more varied in the range of headship positions available and each may be linked to the performance of a school over time, for example. The CEO is the accounting officer: responsible for all aspects of the partnership of schools’ performance. An Executive Headteacher may over see, support and challenge the head of a sponsored school, adding capacity to the sponsored school’s Headteacher of Head of School. Other schools joining the trust but performing well may have a Headteacher that works directly with the CEO, for example. All the Heads of School and Headteachers have support (from each other as well as the executive leaders) from above.

The focus of the Aspiring Head of School/Headteacher Programme isn’t to promote one model over another; its to encourage the aspiring leaders to think about the model that would suit their development and, in most cases, the structure of the partnership and/or school in which they work now or in the future. We need tomorrow’s leaders to understand the changing educational landscape and its implications on such models for individuals and organisations, positive or negative as they may be.

Children playing at one of our Exceed schools

“We believe that successful schools develop their own identity and individuality and are best placed to meet their own community’s needs.”