July 2016


  • Puzzles in Wonderland?
    Despite an apparent climbdown over the White Paper, academisation for all is still very much on the government’s agenda. Leora Cruddas explains exactly what this means. More
  • Seats of power
    Emma Knights from the National Governors’ Association (NGA) explains the role of the scheme of delegation that every multi-academy trust must draw up to ensure its governance is on the right footing. More
  • Learning to lead
    As he steps down as a head, Paul MacIntyre reflects on the lessons he has learned about leadership and how to nurture the next generation of leaders. More
  • A friend in need...
    Dorothy Lepkowska meets people who have been supported by the ASCL Benevolent Fund (ABF) after their lives were overtaken by illness or personal tragedy. More
  • We are the champions
    Just how did ‘little Leicester City’ take on the footballing giants and prevail? And what lessons can the education world learn from this magnificent sporting achievement? More
  • Simply brilliant!
    In the realm of university destinations, social mobility is at a standstill. Teacher and Head of Higher Education Lucy Hemsley explores a scheme to bring the university experience to life for a wider range of pupils well before it is time to apply. More
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As he steps down as a head, Paul MacIntyre reflects on the lessons he has learned about leadership and how to nurture the next generation of leaders.

Learning to lead

Give away power

Having been on five school leadership teams and having the privilege to lead four of them, I have learned that one of the greatest ‘powers’ a school leader has is the sharing of it – that is, to give some power away.

The empowering of those around you, the willingness to allow them to truly be the leading professional in their area of responsibility while still having you and the leadership group to support and align activities, prepares them well for their own next step. It is a form of covenant that staff joining the leadership group are unswervingly local, hard-working and totally committed. In return, they have opportunities to lead and gain the experience and skills that give them a real career choice when they decide to move on.

In my own leadership roles, I knew what sort of working ethos I wanted and the type of responsibility that would enable me to give my best. I have seen that practice that stifled creativity was too controlling and lacking in trust. I know that people tend to rise up to or, indeed, drop down to the levels of trust and expectations the leader has in them.

However, working with one headteacher was very different. That head allowed me to develop key strategies and plans, monitor execution of the strategy, have the confidence to take risks and empower others and to make the big decisions on resources. I failed at times but I learned and on the big things I knew my headteacher was there as a coach and mentor.

It also helped that they were seldom in school some weeks and I guess it was a balance between empowerment and ‘sink or swim’ at times.

Learn about leadership

I spent some time with British Steel at their leadership development centre in Warwickshire. They had very high expectations of leaders and invested in them – not just in courses, resources and incentives but in developing the culture that established leadership as a high-status field with its own body of knowledge, skills and practices.

That is why I was such a fan of the National College for School Leadership and I am sad it has gone. I am pleased that ASCL together with other organisations have established the new Foundation for Leadership in Education, an independent and profession-led body for the development of the outstanding school leaders of the future.

The foundation will help schools build a pipeline of excellent leaders with the skills, knowledge and support to give every child an outstanding education. See more about the foundation here: http://tinyurl.com/jropvu7

Make the right appointment

The key to having a leadership group in school that can take advantage of being empowered is to recruit the right people, develop them and allow them to develop themselves. You retain them through challenging yet rewarding work. You expect them to progress but also expect that they will, one day, want to move on.

At our leadership interviews, one of the pivotal panels is the detailed review of the candidate’s application through a discussion with the chair of governors and myself. We plan a really tough and challenging session based on the experiences and claims made in the candidate’s application. Some flourish and some wither but it does replicate some of the challenges ahead for the successful candidate, such as when an angry parent, with a very good point, needs a calm and professional response!

After interviews, I have always avoided simply going through why unsuccessful candidates did not get the role. As someone who has been unsuccessful on many occasions I am not sure I always believed the feedback and as someone giving feedback, I am not always sure it encouraged me to be as helpful as I could have been to the disappointed interviewee.

A wiser headteacher than me taught me one approach that seems more helpful: offer to go through the interview piece by piece and explain to the candidate what, if they were interviewed tomorrow, they should keep and what needs to be re-thought in order to impress a panel. I would have liked this more than some embarrassed local authority officer stumbling over notes trying to avoid a challenge.

Emphasise loyalty

On induction I have always made it plain that, after the safety of people, the most important factor is loyalty – as part of a collective team and to the school leader. Discussions and lively debate happens behind closed doors; schools need passionate leaders willing to put their case robustly. But when the decisions are made and the strategy decided the team must be as one.

Encourage research

When colleagues have key areas of responsibility they need to be encouraged to look at the best practice and research in this area. They need to assess the capabilities and skills of their teams and the leadership skills of those who report to them. They need to be able to synthesise the vision for best practice with the whole-school priorities, culture and ethos. New colleagues will make mistakes but they will learn and, you hope, will be more creative in the way they approach their role as their confidence in themselves and others grows.

Leadership requires reading and reviewing research and identifying new ideas and trends. I do think it is essential that school leaders are familiar with the work of Covey, Peters, Fullan and Davies et al. as the basics and also look at the latest research, as well as networking with like-minded colleagues.

A crucial lesson learned at British Steel was that all colleagues in leadership roles need time to stop and just think about where we are and how things could be better. In an increasingly frenetic educational world this has become more important than ever.


Leading schools is hard and educational leadership requires courage based on a moral imperative to serve our communities well. Leaders need to use emotional intelligence to manage the work of others, empower colleagues and ensure that strategies and plans are executed effectively. They must be able to connect, empathise and communicate with a wide range of stakeholders. They must have integrity and be honest.

These are hard things to do, and they are even harder to do while maintaining that ‘unwarranted optimism’ so essential in a leader’s demeanour.

Many triumphs and the occasional disaster punctuate the history of any school. I have not always done what I intended to do as a leader and I feel sure I have fallen well short of my ambition to be a caring and nurturing colleague. But very many of my deputies are now headteachers, and pretty good ones, too.

Whether it was the culture and practice of our leadership group that helped or whether they were just determined to take the next step, they did and I am very proud to have worked with them all.

Tenets of leadership

  • Empower others – sharing power is key to helping them develop skills and confidence.
  • Leadership culture – promote leadership as a high-status field and encourage staff to study it by reading the leading thinkers and researchers.
  • Recruitment – appoint the right people and allow them to develop themselves and their careers.
  • Insist on loyalty – not slavish but ensure staff understand the need for a united team.
  • Solutions not problems – it’s not enough to ‘raise concerns’. Challenge one another to solve them with creative ideas.
  • Make time to stop and reflect.

Paul MacIntyre is retiring from over 15 years as a headteacher at Myton School in Warwick. He now coaches and mentors others.