Headship: Addressing the myths

Jan. 26, 2016
Brian Lightman

Brian Lightman

General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

There are certainly challenges to being a head – but there are also myths we must dispel.

My experience of headship is two-fold; first through 16 years as a headteacher in two schools, and second through speaking to many headteachers as ASCL General Secretary.

One of the challenges of headship is the sheer scale of the job: as a headteacher I managed finances, premises and a large staff of more than 150 people, as well as the education of my students. In addition, some pupils come from really challenging backgrounds and need enormous support and encouragement.

As ASCL General Secretary I have seen headteachers go through a particularly challenging time over the past five years. There has been a non-stop flow of reforms, all implemented in a great hurry, alongside new high-stakes accountability measures and ever-increasing expectations.

But across the country headteachers are rising to these challenges and going into work each day with the resolve to make a difference. As a head you have an unparalleled opportunity to shape a school. There are few other jobs in which you can make such positive difference. My core belief as a headteacher was that every child can succeed at something, and that motivated me in even the most difficult of moments.

The other great positive is being surrounded by a tremendous team of staff and governors who are all rooting for these young people.

"There’s no one better to support a headteacher than another headteacher."

The very real challenges of headship aside, there are some myths which we must dispel. One of these is that becoming a headteacher means that you lose the classroom. I don’t agree. As a headteacher you have the opportunity to lead the education of thousands of young people – the whole school is your classroom. You are in constant contact with pupils through events, assemblies and school councils, as well as visiting classes, discussing work with students and much more.

Similarly, there is a view that modern education is soulless. This would be true if a head just responded to the latest government policy – but that’s not true headship. Headship is about leading the vision and values of a school, and there’s nothing more soulful than that. It is your responsibility and opportunity to be creative, proactive and set out a framework for the future that is rich and inspiring.

Another anxiety is that headship is isolating – but that doesn’t have to be the case. You have ultimate decision-making responsibility, yes, but heads work in close partnership with leadership teams and have many different conversations in a day. You are constantly surrounded by colleagues, provided, of course, that you lead your team in ways which empower them to do this. Another way to tackle isolation is through professional networks; there’s no one better to support a headteacher than another headteacher.

So is the role of headteacher easy? No. But is it do-able? I believe it is. Headship is a fulfilling vocation in which you lead a team to do the best you can for the young people in your care. Overcoming the challenges adds to the enormous job satisfaction of headship.

This article is taken from our report "Heads Up: Meeting the challenges of headteacher recruitment". Click  here to download a PDF.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute. 

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