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The attraction of leadership

Tim Wilbur, Director of School Consultancy at Gabbitas Education, explains why we need to encourage future school leaders

Posted by Charley Rogers | September 21, 2017 | Teaching

 There have been a good deal of column inches in the educational press recently forecasting a dire shortage of school leaders in the near future. To balance the books, there was also a wonderful and humorous opinion piece in the TES, where a deputy was weighing up the pros and cons of taking the final step to school leader. Thankfully, the final reckoning was in the affirmative. However, given the pressures of the position, which do appear to be ever-increasing, it is best to consider the option carefully.

When I began my teaching career nearly 40 years ago, I am certain that it never crossed my mind I would ever be a Head. It took some persuading that 20 years in the classroom, and almost as many years holding some type of pastoral responsibility, that I was even Deputy material. Then fate, as much as design, took an almost irresistible hold. As I neared completing two years as Deputy, I found myself as acting Head. Once Pandora’s box (perhaps not the best metaphor) had been opened, I was hooked. Within the year, I had a Headship of my own and after a further two roles as a school leader, I am now able to look back on the role with a little hard-won insight.

There should be absolutely no reason why there is a lack of school leaders. The TES correspondent’s final thoughts were perhaps that the job was too important to leave to anyone else. Whereas this may have been tongue-in-cheek, there is certainly a grain of truth in it. Every teacher needs to have some understanding of educational leadership even if they devote their lives to the classroom art alone. A certain number will be interested in shaping the curriculum, supporting pastoral issues and all the other possible opportunities schools present to their young people. Somewhere along this line, others will want to exercise further responsibility to roll this bundle into leadership itself.

Every teacher needs to have some understanding of educational leadership even if they devote their lives to the classroom art alone. 

There are only a huge number of negatives to leadership if your mindset allows there to be. In my book, the care of the children and the opportunities presented to them always came first, while regulation and all those other bugbears were last. In-between, there was a whole range of issues that I either had some skill for or other members of the leadership team had a greater aptitude for. I will admit, I always found the routine a little dreary but knew it had to be mastered. The greatest buzz always came from resolving difficult issues and then moving on. In many ways, as long as someone has the confidence to assume the responsibility, that person is a leader.

Having taken a step away from school leadership, do I miss it? Yes, I do! It might be too prosaic to talk about ‘making a difference’, but everyone in a school can and does, especially those in leadership roles. Would I go back to it? No, because it is time some new blood flooded the system and accepted the responsibility. Therefore, I am a little concerned the press is talking in terms of 19,000 potential leadership positions not being filled. We need to encourage and not discourage future school leaders. 

As I was out and about early this morning, I met a young boy resplendent in his new uniform on the first day of term. Before I could stop myself I had said, “very smart young man”. Leadership can begin with simple things and many remain long after they should. 



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