This week’s blog is courtesy of my husband, Ben Solly, Headteacher at Uppingham Community College.
The role of the modern headteacher is ever-evolving. Even with only four years’ experience of headship, I can detect a shift in the way school leaders are required to work. I have questioned whether this is simply my leadership evolving as I become more experienced or whether these changes are being felt across the system.
Is the role becoming increasingly distant from the classroom? Are headteachers being forced further from their teaching roots because of the increasingly demanding business aspects of education leadership?
The role of the head has never been simple, but I can certainly feel it becoming more and more complex with each academic year. As the academies movement matures across the country and multi-academy trusts (MATs) become more established, the nature of school leadership roles has evolved significantly.
I think about my own experience of working within a MAT and how the role of a head of school was a starting point on the school leadership ladder for me. I was excited about the opportunity to work with an experienced headteacher while still having the responsibility for running the school and leading the staff on a day-to-day basis. Initially, this arrangement was highly beneficial as I was quickly able to get to grips with the important aspects of headship, such as leading people, teaching and learning, and delivering school improvement strategies.
I could do all this without having to worry too much about balancing the books or involving myself in the complexities of managing staff across a number of different schools and age ranges. However, I quickly found myself frustrated with a lack of autonomy and the feeling of frequently having to ask permission.
I also wasn’t actually gaining any experience of leading those areas in which I needed to develop professionally. As a teacher moving up the leadership ladder there are few opportunities to learn about how to manage a school budget and I know many headteachers feel painfully ill-prepared for this. This was an area where I needed to gain more experience and this wasn’t going to be possible working within the MAT environment I was in.
Thankfully an opportunity arose for me to take on the leadership of a school where the role of the headteacher did what it said on the tin. I wasn’t a head of school, associate principal or academy leader, I had been appointed as the headteacher. Finally I was in a position where I could begin to shape a secondary school in a way founded upon my own educational philosophies and ideas. This prospect was incredibly exciting, but how would I be able to manage the financial and business elements of the school which I had so little experience of? How would I achieve this without forgetting about the aspects of the teaching profession that I am so passionate about?
My biggest fear was not about not knowing what to do, as these are elements of school leadership that can be learnt, but more about the impact on my time and how this would affect my ability to enhance teaching and learning. Would these financial and business demands stop me teaching or from spending time in the classroom helping others to develop?
It has certainly not been easy and I have been conscious of not being stuck in my office or in meetings for extended periods of time. But I feel like I am striking the right balance in terms of leading the school towards financial sustainability while maintaining high educational standards (alongside being a visible presence for students and staff).
The key to achieving this balance is maintaining a perspective on what is most important and through prioritising. Having an outstandingly efficient PA has been critical and it has been essential for me to rely on my senior leadership team to use the autonomy I have given them to be effective in their leadership roles.
It is certainly true that the role of the modern headteacher is extremely challenging and one that is sadly subject to a high attrition rate. However, I still believe that it is a huge privilege and I feel very fortunate to hold the responsibility for shaping the education of the young people within my school – for that reason, I still think it is the best job in the world.