As we embark upon a new term and prepare for life beyond lockdown, it’s important to consider the implications of the past year on leadership and leadership recruitment. Studies have shown time and again the central and influential role that good leadership plays in the success of our trusts and schools. Yet, a year of extreme pressure and uncertainty, together with a demographic shift, means that the sustained success of trusts and schools faces a real risk in the months ahead.
Last month the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) published its new report – ‘The School Leadership Supply Crisis’ – which outlines the potential challenges school leadership supply and sets out key recommendations to the government and others on how this can be resolved. Its findings are also important to governing boards who play such a crucial role in supporting, retaining and attracting great leaders.
Amongst other things, the report found that seven in ten (70%) leaders said they were less or much less satisfied in their role compared to a year ago, an increase of 10% on last year. Nearly half (47%) of leaders said they were less likely to stay in leadership for as long as they had planned. This also comes at a time when we see a ‘demographic bulge’ of people heading into their late fifties and early sixties, together with a dip amongst those in their forties and early fifties.
As a sector this presents too great a risk, we simply cannot leave school leadership to chance at such an important time for our education system and communities. I’m sure that with the right support from governing boards, many of those leaders considering the exit will change their minds in the months ahead. There is a generation of children and young people that depend on their skills and expertise, and the return of that much-valued face to face interaction with pupils and staff, together with the need to make sure the impact of the pandemic on educational achievement is mitigated, will encourage more heads to stick around for longer.
Yet, it’s important that governing bodies and trusts talk to their headteachers now, asking what support they need and, if they are thinking of leaving sooner rather than later, to consider what transition looks like so that schools are not adversely affected by more fundamental change. If a headteacher is seriously considering leaving in the next twelve months, boards need to plan ahead now in order to secure the very best pool of candidates who can sustain success and manage transition so that pupils continue to thrive in what will be a challenging period.
It’s also important that boards consider how they design and promote their leadership vacancies in order to attract the best fields of candidates. The same NAHT report found that three quarters (75%) of assistants and deputies said that concerns about work-life balance were a key reason preventing them from seeking a head teacher position, while nearly two thirds (60%) cited concerns about their personal well-being. Boards need to be clear on how they position their roles so that they meet the changing expectations of candidates, not least in terms of the support and balance that leaders feel they need in their work. Job shares, part-time positions, and being part of a secure and supportive collaborative group can all help to attract more high quality candidates. The experience of candidates through the recruitment process itself also had a bearing in how they perceive the trust/school culture.
It’s quite easy after a stressful year for boards and leaders to miss the implications of more potential, yet significant change on a fatigued education and schools system. And whilst change is almost always inevitable, when it comes to leadership recruitment, it needn’t be detrimental if planned with the care and attention it deserves.
Helen Stevenson is Director of Satis Education, a sector-leading executive leadership recruitment organisation for trusts and schools.