2020 Spring Term 1

The know zone

  • Early years
    The government's consultation to reform the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) has been met with mixed views. Here ASCL Specialist Tiffnie Harris shares her insights. More
  • Safety first
    Leaders must be confident that their school estate is safe and suitable for use. ASCL Specialist Hayley Dunn says you can ensure the safety of your school estate by taking a strategic approach, where appropriate processes and policies are in place and followed. More
  • Time for a change?
    The government's T Level Action Plan allows 16 to 19 year-old students, with a Grade 3 in GCSE English or maths, to take functional skills instead of a GCSE resit. Is this a hint at a future change in policy? ASCL Specialist Kevin Gilmartin shares his insights. More
  • Strengthening inclusivity
    ASCL Specialist Margaret Mulholland shares her thoughts on how leaders can strengthen inclusivity and improve outcomes for pupils with special educational needs. More
  • All inclusive
    Are you doing something innovative at your school or college to help promote equalities, diversity and inclusion among your staff? Perhaps you run a mentoring scheme or provide staff with other opportunities to step up to leadership? Here, ASCL members share their views. More
  • Pragmatic and refreshing
    Deputy Headteacher Gurpall Badesha is a new member of ASCL Council's Teaching and Learning Committee. More
  • Your mission: should you choose to accept it?
    A new generation of school leaders is currently learning about a set of totally unfamiliar roles and responsibilities for which they were largely under-prepared. What strategies can they employ to make life easier? More
Bookmark and Share

A new generation of school leaders is currently learning about a set of totally unfamiliar roles and responsibilities for which they were largely under-prepared. What strategies can they employ to make life easier?

Your mission: should you choose to accept it?

In 1969, the fundamental dysfunctionality of organisations was explored in LJ Peter’s ‘Peter Principle’, which suggested that staff rise to their level of incompetence. This is, perhaps, unkind, but progression to leadership carries assumptions and expectations for which little preparation is possible.

Many school leaders comment that they came into the job because they love children and teaching but have ended up with administration and paperwork.

This phenomenon is not confined to teaching. In any profession – medicine, law, finance, engineering – people begin as specialists and are promoted, usually with minimal training, to roles requiring them to be behaviour managers, safeguarding gurus, HR specialists, health and safety pundits and budget experts.

Unlikely scenarios

They can be expected to demonstrate exceptional emotional intelligence and instantly be able to apply all relevant (and irrelevant) policies and procedures in unlikely scenarios.

It is a rare paragon who can rise effortlessly to these challenges. How are those new to leadership coping and what strategies do more experienced colleagues use to survive?

My particular favourites are:

  •  Sound convincing. Probably nobody else has any idea either and they are just relieved that someone is doing something. Alternatively, no one is listening: they are all thinking about what to say next in order to appear impressive.
  • Remember that, for some staff, the fact that you are in your particular role means that they think you know what you are doing (this perhaps especially applies in more specialist non-teaching areas).
  • Cultivate management by wandering about. And if all else fails:
  • Random acts of chocolate.

Some exceptionally brave souls recognise that they have risen to their level of incompetence and decide to take a step back; this is usually expressed in terms of ‘missing teaching’ and wanting more direct interaction with students. More power to their collective elbows, we need foot soldiers.

If others don’t seem to be rising to the challenges, should we consider whether more experienced colleagues are inadvertently disempowering them?

It can be a pleasure and delight to see recently promoted colleagues who have given the impression of struggling – or, at best, treading water – suddenly find their confidence, take wings and soar.

Fossil risk

It is often the departure of apparently more senior, experienced and effective colleagues that enables this transformation to happen. It is very easy to become fossilised into a team dynamic that inhibits, perpetuating patterns that require shaking and refreshing into a new kaleidoscopic vision.

But enough of mixed and extended metaphors; we have a school to run. Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership and some have leadership thrust upon them.

Most of us attempt to maintain positivity and professionalism while wondering how we actually ended up in this role. We need all the help we can get; let us allow our new leadership colleagues and ourselves to learn from mistakes and grow.

Isn’t that part of the resilience we try to model for our students?

The author is a regional finance director in the South West

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.uk
ASCL offers a modest honorarium.