One in Four?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of OFSTED, claimed yesterday that …

One in four – a quarter – of leaders in secondary schools are not good enough

… and that got me thinking about the Heads that I’ve served under in my time in the classroom.

I’ve worked for seven different Head Teachers, most have been very good, one was truely awful, so not (in my experience) quite the bleak picture that the Chief Inspector paints, but certainly “could do better.” (Forgive me, it’s report writing season.)

What does irk me is the word “leadership” and how it is now so freely bandied about within schools.  I spent the first five years of my working career as an Officer in the Royal Air Force. The military does “leadership” better than anyone – it has to, if you want people to follow you “over the top” you’ve got to lead them in every sense of the word. As a young man I was lucky enough to receive excellent leadership training at RAF College Cranwell (although it is, perhaps, only thirty years later that I recognise how good it was) and then be exposed to, and worked with, excellent leaders in “the real world” (if a front line RAF squadron can ever be described as “the real world.”)

It is no surprise to me that, on average, the standard of leadership I see in schools is not as high as it was in the Air Force. In every branch of the military, leadership celebrated, coached, developed and prized at every level, from the private Tommy right through to General Melchett. In schools, if you are good in the classroom one day, you can find yourself Head of Department the next. Rinse and repeat a few times and suddenly you wake up to find yourself “leading” a school and whilst you may be a whizz at manipulating data no-one will have ever schooled you in the art of leadership.

The ironic thing is is that the ‘bad’ Head I worked for was the one who insisted that the Senior Management Team be re-branded as the Senior Leadership Team, yet he couldn’t lead a horse to water and micro-managed everything to a stand still.  He loved the idea of leadership, and being a leader, but he was so engrossed in talking the talk that he never managed to walk the walk. Leadership is not easy, and it is a whole lot more than a few words and a motivational slogan pinched from Facebook.

In the military, leadership is all about empowering and enabling the man or women at the front line to do their job to the very best of their ability. And this is what I would like school leaders to take notice of. It is your teachers in the classroom that are going to implement your behaviour policy, that are going to deliver you the results you desire, that are going to turn your visions into reality – what are you doing to “lead” them? If you are a school leader – at any level – ask yourself that question and you’ve taken the first step; answer it and you are on your way to becoming a great leader.

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