As I speak to headteachers and trust leaders up and down the country, in my role as a coach, I notice trends emerging. As we’re all aware, the role of headteacher has become increasingly difficult, especially in the post-pandemic era. Tight budgets, a rise in mental health difficulties in the pupil population, along with overstretched health and social care services, has created a challenging environment for those who lead schools. On top of that, there has been a lack of appreciation of the situation by both the government and OFSTED, who have piled on the pressure, cracking the whip to get better results at whatever the cost. The inquest of Ruth Perry might be leading to change. I sincerely hope that is the case, but I think much of the damage has already been done. Many competent leaders have already left their leadership roles or even the profession, and others are close to burnout.
This all sounds rather depressing, but new trends are emerging which are creative, positive and encouraging.
These are some of the developments I expect to continue and grow in importance in 2024:
1. A rise in co-headship. There are lots of positive stories of people sharing the headteacher role successfully. I think it’s a positive trend, allowing good leaders to make the role of headteacher more sustainable and compatible with other roles in life like being a parent or a carer.
2. Less willingness from staff to sacrifice their wellbeing and time with their families and friends in order to advance their careers. This trend was called ‘quiet quitting’ last year, but I think that’s quite a negative way to frame it. Maybe it’s actually a positive step towards reframing teaching and ‘headteachering’ as ‘just a job’. That’s what it is: a job, albeit an important one.
3. More mobility in and out of the profession and in and out of leadership positions. There’s less guilt around leaving a teaching job than there used to be, and a more widespread realisation that there’s more to life than work. I think it’s a positive thing for people to experience more than one job/career in their lives. As people enter the profession with knowledge and skills they’ve brought from previous roles, they enrich the sector. Teachers moving into other sectors carry with them an understanding of the challenges in education and the unique role played by staff in schools.
4. Larger multi-academy trusts being nurtured and encouraged by the government. I do worry about the lack of diversity that may result from this, but I also see some benefits there for educational leadership. A greater range of leadership roles is emerging – head of school, executive headteacher, directors of primary and secondaries, associate principals etc, all of which give aspiring leaders more opportunities for growth and development, within supportive environments. Having been a headteacher both in an LA and in a trust, I know the great benefits that come from being part of a supportive family of schools.
Good things often spring from adversity. Change is inevitable, and I can see the positives in these emerging trends. To embrace them, we need to be able to let go of the way we saw teaching and educational leadership in the past. For example, it means dropping the idea that if you’re a teacher you need to sacrifice work life harmony. It means accepting that there are different ways to lead beyond traditional ‘headteachering’. The personality of the individual leader is less important than the ability to create inclusive, nurturing and agile cultures in our schools.
Coping with the changing landscape of our sector will no doubt continue to be a common topic of discussion in coaching sessions. If it’s something you’d like to explore, why not book in for a complimentary, no obligation consultation using this link . Follow me on Facebook and Instagram @mrstcoaching or on LinkedIn - Helen Tarokh for more insights and tips on leading in the education sector.