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Just How Important Are Headteachers To Schools?

The range of responses to the question posed in the title of this post will range from 'very' to 'not at all.' But where does the real truth lie?

There is one school of thought that suggests the Headteacher as the most important member of the staffing compliment of any school. This argument hinges on the hierarchical structure that pertain in many schools. In such structures, the Headteacher is at the pinnacle of the hierarchical pyramid. They believe that the Headteacher is most important as they are the ones who will drive forward improvements, set the agenda for the school, set and raise standards, deploy resources and deal with underperformance. The quality of the school is a reflection of the quality of the Headteacher. Their sheer force of will, personality and charisma will be reflected throughout the school and in all areas.

Others argue that the Headteacher is not so important or crucial. This argument  supports the view that it is really teachers who deliver what is important in all schools. If schools are about teaching and learning, then it can only be teachers who will directly impact on this. What goes on in each classroom and each learning experience is dictated by the quality of the teaching compliment, not the Headteacher. Most Headteachers have long since stopped teaching and,for many teachers, they lose their credibility as teachers only a few weeks after leaving the classroom. It can be argued that a school is a bit like an orchestra, full of very skilled teachers, instead of musicians, who will carry on delivering on a daily basis, no matter who is leading or conducting.

I see aspects of both these arguments I agree with. I don't support the traditional hierarchical structures that remain in some schools. But there is no doubt that to teachers, parents, local authorities, HMIe and others, the Headteacher is very much the leader of the school. Someone has to have final responsibility and that is the Headteacher. I don't feel that schools are a direct reflection of the quality of one person, the Headteacher. I don't believe the charismatic Headteacher model is one that can promote depth, sustainability, nor leadership development and legacy. Where schools are built on such a model, what happens when that Headteacher leaves or moves on?

The Headteacher role is important in all schools. The Headteacher certainly has the power and influence to set the tone for the whole school. They can promote hierarchical structures or they can support more collaborative approaches and agendas. I support the idea that it is teachers who are the main deliverers of the school core business and the role of the Headteacher is to support and encourage teachers as they go about this. We can provide them with the time and space to grow their practice to better support the learners. I believe this is best achieved in a collaborative, open and supportive culture that has teaching and learning at its core. We need to develop shared values and principles that will underpin all our activities. We need to work in partnership with parents and other agencies and develop relationships with these that are also built on openness, collaboration and mutual trust. The Headteacher can facilitate such interactions or stop them dead in the water.

It is true that orchestras can and will go into auto-pilot mode if they feel a lack of confidence in the conductor. But, when you have highly skilled and experienced musicians and an equally skilled and perceptive conductor, then the music and sound they can produce is often greater than the sum of the individual parts of that orchestra. I feel it is the same for schools and Headteachers. Given the right level of expertise and commitment from both teachers and Headteachers, together they can build and achieve something that is deep, innovative, developing and, perhaps most importantly, sustainable. One is dependent on the other. They can achieve only so much working on their own. Their real power lies in their collaboration and mutual appreciation of what each brings to the relationship.

Perhaps the answer to the question posed at the start then is, yes Headteachers are important but equally so are teachers, and those that support them. A school couldn't operate or deliver without teachers, and it possibly could without a Headteacher. But for how long and with what impact? This really is one case where we truly  are 'better together!'

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