Coaching & Leadership Development
The 3 Questions that Damage our School Leaders and our Schools

The 3 Questions that Damage our School Leaders and our Schools

  School Leaders are not Data Technicians and children are not units of data.  This mechanistic approach can be damaging to Head Teachers, because there are negative inferences behind the questions that are frequently asked of them.   Being held to account and responding to questions is no bad thing. As a public servant, it is only right that you are held responsible for your actions. However, the climate surrounding school improvement over the past decade has led to increased ambiguity and inconsistency. This has led to heightened levels of fear and mistrust within the profession. This has created an unhealthy dynamic between politicians, policymakers and schools.   It has also impacted negatively on the type of relationships that exist between School Leaders and those who the government entrusts with the power to hold schools to account i.e. school inspectors and advisors. Against this backdrop of fear and mistrust, when questions are asked, it very often leads to a lack of incentive and can be more of a hindrance to school improvement.   The Damaging Power Dynamic   The power dynamic that now exists between government, inspectors, advisors and Head teachers is now based more overtly on the exertion of power and control than ever before. It may be useful to analyse the relationship between School Leaders and their assessors using the ‘Naughty Child and Critical Parent’ model. If you’ve ever been the ‘Naughty Child’ in this type of relationship, you know the unspoken psychological contract that permeates every conversation and question has several negative subtexts:   – You are not good enough – You need to do better/more – You...
Why Headteachers need Nurturing Relationships

Why Headteachers need Nurturing Relationships

This blog comes from Integrity Coaching Associate, transactional analysis expert and Headteacher Nurture Meal facilitator, Giles Barrow.     About five years ago I became acutely aware of the troubles presented by the head teachers I worked with. It was an especially bad time in terms of education policy. The Con-Dem coalition was in power and Micheal Gove was in his ascendancy at the DfE. The shift in policy reflected a fundamental move toward a very different understanding of not just what schools should be doing, but also radically changing how they should go about their work.   This was the time of mass academisation, free-school proliferation and the withdrawal of initiatives such as Every Child Matters and the national strategies. There was also a move in Ofsted to a much more data-reliant approach in determining judgements and head teachers across the country dreaded the wait until Wednesday lunchtime at which point the inspectors would have notified them of an intention to visit that week.   I have been working with Headteachers for over twenty years now. I am familiar with the term-by-term cycles of school life and the stresses and strains that invariably ebb and flow from year-to-year. But during this recent past, I was not only aware of a dramatic shift in stress amongst school leaders, but I was also feeling close to being overwhelmed myself in the face of such anxiety across the dozen or so schools that I was working with.   I began to notice a sense of impotence – not knowing quite what to do, or how to help these colleagues. I became increasingly aware that I...
Why Heads Need to Learn to Share

Why Heads Need to Learn to Share

    A while back, I attended a well-being conference for school leaders. An OFSTED inspector was one of the guest speakers. As the school leaders who were present aired their feelings about OFSTED and whether it was really fit for purpose, this inspector’s demeanour changed.   Initially, he confidently told the audience what he believed they should be thinking and feeling about OFSTED. But he became nervous and agitated when the audience asked him to listen to their actual thoughts and feelings.   It seemed that he was uncomfortable with the level of emotion in the room, and to have acknowledged that depth of feeling would have left him exposed and vulnerable. It is my belief that if he had dropped his guard – if only for a moment – he would have shown a more human side to OFSTED, which is what the delegates were desperate to see. Like all of us, they just wanted to be listened to.   The consequences of emotional insensitivity   When our emotional needs are not met, just as in the scenario above, we feel dehumanised and alone. We feel as though out humanity has been pushed to one side. The ability to feel, laugh, to cry to hurt can all be seen as a hinderance to one’s ability to lead effectively.   Sadly, for many Heads, spaces where they can feel, laugh, and cry are few and far between. As a result, many lead from a place of inner dissonance. Their basic emotional needs to feel accepted, appreciated, believed in, respected, listened to, valued and supported are ignored. Many suffer...
Why Budget Cuts hurt our Schools and their Leaders

Why Budget Cuts hurt our Schools and their Leaders

    Earlier this year, the TES quoted a report by the NAHT that revealed, ‘65% of school leaders “strongly agree” that cutbacks have already had a negative impact on the performance of their schools.”   In discussions related to the impact of spending cuts we have become used to reading about schools asking parents to contribute towards books and other essential supplies. We have become used to hearing about the pressure of increased class sizes, reduction in supply budgets and teachers taking on a raft of additional duties to cover posts that have been deleted. We hear all of this and quite naturally we understand how financial cuts have had a detrimental impact on the performance of many of our schools.   However, there is an added dimension to the debate that is often missed. Since the global financial crisis austerity has been an ever-present part of the collective mindset.   It has impacted on the way in which individuals and those charged with responsibility or, the care of our resources have discharged their duties. When it comes to money, it has resulted in many, school leaders included, adopting a scarcity mindset.   What is a scarcity mindset?   A scarcity mindset is quite simply a belief that there will never be enough. Actions and thoughts stem from a place of lack. The present, the urgent, the immediate context are all that matter. Decision making is myopic. Short term impact, with very often far-reaching long-term negative outcomes.   Why is this the case? Because when you are operating from a scarcity mindset, fear is in the driver’s seat....
Why Public Scrutiny in Education has gone too far…

Why Public Scrutiny in Education has gone too far…

  It was the late Psychologist Carl Rogers who over forty years ago said;   “Our educational system takes the view that the nature of the individual is such that he cannot be trusted. That he must be guided, instructed and controlled by those who are wise or higher in status”   It does not matter that he was an American. His statement is just as true for the UK Education System. The evidence is clear for all to see; Guidance, instruction and control in our system has led to increased powers for some and decreased powers for others. It has led to the creation of a culture where many a school leader;   – No longer has the same level of autonomy and freedom that they once had – In spite of their reduced powers they are held to exacting accountability standards and sometimes… for decisions that are not even theirs to own – Can disappear from the system, simply because they were found to be ‘failing’ against criteria over which they had no ownership or knowledge, yet despite this, were found to be wanting and hence disposable   Quite simply, increased public scrutiny and personal accountability for school leaders has gone too far. The rules of the game have changed. The goal posts have moved (and keep moving) yet school leaders are still held accountable for the outcome of a game for which they are no longer the main players and have virtually no say in the rules.   There are many critics of what is wrong with our current education system and I amongst other educationalists...
Why Heads must NOT see fellow Leaders as Competitors

Why Heads must NOT see fellow Leaders as Competitors

    Over the last few years, it’s fair to say that many changes have taken place in our education system that have transformed relationships between Headteachers.    I remember back when I was a Headteacher in a local authority (LA), whilst it was by no means a perfect institution – they understood the importance of creating structures that fostered a strong sense of collegiality and camaraderie amongst its Head teachers.   Yet sadly over the last few years, now many (if not most) LA’s have been dismantled. The increased emphasis on results and league tables has meant that Heads are now encouraged at every stage to compare and compete with local schools, in much the same way as businesses would.   Unsurprisingly, this has led to decreased levels of trust between Heads. The continuing academisation of our schools and the battle for funding has only served to compound the situation. If our school leaders continue to see and treat each other as rivals, it is unlikely that there will be any real winners in this battle. As in reality, we all lose when ego and grandiose expressions of success are put ahead of the humanitarian needs of all who work in our schools.   Relationships Matter   The truth is, in the context of the ever-increasing challenges and the ever-decreasing support afforded to school leaders, relationships with fellow Heads are vital.   Headship is a lonely job and the role brings with it the type of power that often isolates: positional power. The higher up you are in an organisation, the more your positional power means that you not only...