Recruiting a Headteacher with Bonnie Tyler

Recruiting a Headteacher is arguably the most important task a Governing Body will undertake.

Getting hold of – and keeping hold of – a high-quality Headteacher to lead teaching and learning helps create the right environment for pupils to achieve their best.

It is the single most significant decision Governors take that has a positive impact on school improvement.

It is a decision that most Governors will experience only a few times and maybe only once.

It is also a decision that has become more difficult in recent times.

Official statistics from the Education Workforce Council (EWC) show that the number of applicants for headship generally is reducing even though there is a steady increase in the number that have the necessary professional qualification, NPQH.

A recent survey by BBC Wales identified more than a hundred schools across Wales that do not have a substantive Headteacher.

After more than 15 years as a Governor in both Primary and Secondary sectors, I’ve concluded that there’s 3 key things for Governors to consider as they approach recruiting a Headteacher.

And Bonnie Tyler has two great chart hits that have meaning for the task. Holding out for a Hero and It’s a Heartache.

1. Get support and get it early

Fortunately, Governors can get support for this important decision.

Governors Wales, Local Authority advisors and regional consortia will have relevant knowledge.

Local Authority advisors will be present in the process that supports the decision.

A new context for recruitment, with more schools looking to recruit and a shrinking pool of active applicants, means that doing things as you’ve always done doesn’t mean you’ll succeed like you once did.

Attracting candidates will work better if there is a modern professional approach that involves using the web and social media to communicate the attractions and needs of the school. A basic text advert and a standard jobpack was the norm; that is not sufficient now.

Managing candidates by engaging with them throughout the process has become important where once little engagement would happen before interview day.

Eteach is a school recruitment specialist that can provide expert advice and active recruitment support, building on many years of experience in finding and placing education professionals.

Recruiting a Headteacher doesn’t come without cost, and the cost of not doing what one can to be successful in recruitment cannot be ignored.

2. Think hard

The first question that needs to be asked is ‘does the school need a Headteacher at all?’

More and more schools across Wales are entering into relationships where joint working and collaboration is becoming the new normal.

Some schools come together to recruit an Executive Headteacher.

When it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit Headteachers at all, it makes a lot of good sense to explore fully if there is an opportunity to get an established high-quality Headteacher to share their expertise across more than one school.

For good Headteachers who reach a high in their career in their forties, Executive Headship can be an exciting prospect. Making your school an exciting prospect is one way of maximising your chances of retaining or recruiting high-quality leadership.

Governors should consider if they’re doing all that they can to give themselves the best chance possible of attracting applicants with the skills, experience and attributes that fit the demands of the job.

This means being very clear right at the beginning about your school and the priorities you have.

It is easy to fall into the trap of looking for a ‘Superhero Head’, someone that’s inspirational to staff and pupils, a master builder of highly effective leadership teams, a civil engineer in managing the school estate, and a certified accountant in managing the budget.

Great Headteachers do exist but not all Headteachers are great, and the great ones weren’t born great.

What matters most in recruitment is that there is a fit between the strengths of the candidate and the needs of the school, and that there’s a plan for supporting the successful applicant to thrive in the post.

Headteachers work within a governance and leadership framework. If they don’t, they are mavericks. Mavericks can shine, but more often than not they rise and fall like a firework, brilliant but brief.

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the governance and leadership framework that the new Headteacher inherits; what can they get from colleagues and needn’t necessarily possess themselves?

3. Timing

About half of all Headteacher posts are advertised in January with the intention to appoint in March and for the post holder to start in September. There’s something rather neat about this cycle and it reflects the need for most Headteachers to give a term’s notice.

But this also shows that about half of all Headteacher appointments happen at other times of the year. This might mean that the recruiting school could stand out from a smaller crowd by recruiting outside of the popular January-March session.

Periods of notice can be negotiated. Negotiations work best when they start early and are conducted honestly.

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Mind the Gap

A comparison of Key Stage 4 Year 11 benchmarked achievement data in Wales shows the gulf widening between:

  • poor and best performing schools with similar eFSM profiles
  • eFSM pupils and their peers

GCSE benchmarked data in pdf: gcse benchmarking

Key results for 2015/16
Pupils in Year 11

  • 60.3 per cent of pupils in Year 11 achieved the Level 2 inclusive threshold (Level 2 including a grade A*-C in English or Welsh first language and Mathematics).
  • 35.6 per cent of pupils eligible for FSM achieved the L2 inclusive threshold.
  • 66.9 per cent of pupils achieved A*-C in maths.
  • 70.4 cent of pupils achieved A*-C in either English or Welsh first language.

Key results for 2016/17
Pupils in Year 11

  • 54.6 per cent of pupils in Year 11 achieved the Level 2 inclusive threshold
  • 28.5 per cent pf pupils eligible for FSM achieved the Level 2 inclusive threshold
  • 62.5 per cent of pupils achieved A*-C in Mathematics/Mathematics-Numeracy (best of)
  • 67.2 per cent of pupils achieved A*-C in either English or Welsh first language

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Widening the attainment gap

School categorisation is a core feature of school accountability in Wales. It was introduced in 2014.

It was meant to deliver a rounded judgement on a school’s performance and capacity to improve because it involved looking at pupil achievement data and a professional discussion on aspects of leadership.

Schools in need of more support than others would be identified. Red or Amber schools would be in greater need than those categorised Yellow or Green.  This would inform school improvement activities and ensure support went to where it was needed most.

Governors, parents and other stakeholders would have a mechanism that would help them be better informed about their school and how it compared with similar schools. Judgements would be published on Mylocalschool.

Categorisation was not entirely data driven but data was important. After all, what young people actually achieve today matters more than what others might achieve in future.

All school accountability mechanisms include levers to encourage certain behaviours. Certain things are given extra weight and meaning. Categorisation would encourage schools to give particular attention to certain things.

Huw Lewis AM, then Minister for Education, insisted that categorisation should encourage a focus on closing the gap in achievement between disadvantaged and relatively advantaged young people. This was a strategic priority of his Government. It remains a priority for the new Minister Kirsty Williams AM and her administration.

Huw Lewis AM said: “our new Categorisation system which has been designed specifically to ensure that schools can only achieve the highest green category if a percentage of their pupils eligible for free school meals are performing at the highest levels. It is this sort of approach that will ensure that all learners in Wales, whatever their background are given every opportunity to succeed.”

On the back of a year-on-year improvement in the attainment of eFSM students in Year 11, Huw Lewis AM was able to say confidently that targets set in the policy ‘Rewriting the Future’ were likely to be met:
“pupils from poorer backgrounds are “on track” to meet an improvement target set for 2017 in which 37% will be expected to get good GCSEs in English or Welsh and maths.”

In fact, the latest data on this summer’s disappointing GCSE results reveal that only 28.5% of pupils eligible for FSM achieved the Level 2 inclusive threshold.

This is a drop of 7.1% points from the previous year.

The headline achievement of all students for Level2 inclusive in Year 11 for 2017 was 54.6%, down from 60.3% the year before, a drop of 5.7%.

The gap in attainment between our disadvantaged and relatively advantaged has widened.

Kirsty Williams AM has said that excessive use of early entry has made it difficult to compare this year’s results with previous years and has already announced moves to discourage early entry by insisting that school accountability measures include only the first GCSE grade achieved and not the best.

Early entry cannot explain the figures that compare one Year 11 with another Year 11.
The latest data shows that eFSM achievement in Year 11 declined.

The data on L2 inclusive also shows that the decline in achievement increased in proportion to the number of eFSM pupils at school. The greater the number of eFSM students a school had, the bigger the drop in performance this year compared with previous years.

Kirsty Williams AM has announced that that there will not be a separate judgement on standards this year in school categorisation.

This will please the many schools where results declined and expected to go Red or Amber in categorisation. It will annoy those few that maintained or improved results and will not have this fully acknowledged.

It will be a relief for Local Authorities and consortia who, it must be assumed, would have had many more Red and Amber schools requiring support at a time of great pressure on education budgets.

It will be cold comfort for the many disadvantaged students who failed to reach what most consider a floor target for progression in further study and employment.

In June 2017, the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee agreed to undertake an inquiry into Welsh Government funding targeted at improving educational outcomes amongst particular groups of pupils and schools. This inquiry will mainly focus on the ongoing Pupil Development Grant and the discontinued Schools Challenge Cymru programme.

In November 2017, the Committee will be issuing a call for written evidence and plans to begin taking oral evidence in early 2018.

A wide review of school accountability is due to report soon. It remains to be seen how the Minister will halt this slide in attainment among our disadvantaged and secure a focus by all in the sector on closing the gap.

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Don’t worry, be happy

On 28 June, official agency Statistics Wales published the latest Welsh National Survey results about how people feel about public services.

Satisfaction with education is down to 6.2 from 6.6 last time (0 is very bad and 10 extremely good).

It isn’t curious that satisfaction is going down. What’s interesting is that it is going down by so little.

This poll of 10,000 adults in Wales happened from April 2016 to March 2017.

A General Election has just concluded, running from April to June.

Education was a top three hot topic for many in the General Election. In England, that is, but not in Wales.

YouGov pollsters – who got closest to calling the outcome right – said that education was a top three issue for almost 1 in 5 voters in England. Education was rising as an issue during the election.

Working with YouGov, respected academics in Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre found only half this number of voters in Wales -1 in 10 – thought education a top three issue.

In England, the dominant concerns were school funding, free school meals, and introducing Grammars into areas where they do not exist already.

Local campaigns involved headteachers, teachers and parent groups.

A letter to parents asking for a £25 donation to keep the after-school club open can get parents from couch to the school gates quicker than you can get a webpage set up on JustGiving.

This campaigning played a part in the election and its outcome – the minority Conservative Government dropped most of the education policies it proposed.

Proposals in England polarised opinion. But in reality, they were minor in significance to the changes already underway in Wales.

Funding does matter. Jobs, teaching resources and some learning experiences depend on it.

But funding is just a resource. Funding is important because you need it to do stuff.

Asking ‘is the money enough’ doesn’t make much sense if you don’t also ask ‘what’s it for’.

In England, the hot debate was about the ‘how much’ not the ‘what’s it for’.

In Wales, the revolution underway in our schools is about ‘what’s the money for’.

Reform of qualifications, curriculum and teacher training has begun.

By 2021, before the next set of Assembly elections, these reforms will have changed what’s taught, how it is taught, who’s teaching it, and how is success being measured.

This is change on a grand scale – not easily achieved, not easily undone.

Most people will feel a bit anxious when change is happening, all the superstar business gurus agree on that.

There’s no sign of the Welsh public being particularly anxious or moved about what’s underway in Welsh education, according to these polls.

For voters in Wales, schools and education in Wales are not a key issue.

It seems clear that these changes have not begun to affect schools in ways that make parents sit up and notice.

The polls, the election and the story in England and Wales points to a clear message – on education, what matters most to most people is what is happening in their local schools, in the here and now.

Reforms to the system will be judged by people, generally, by how little they affect what’s happening in the local school.

Policy makers and others will need a different measure to elections or opinion polls to work out if large system reforms are successful or not.

In recent times, the key measure of the education system’s health has been international test PISA.

Success in PISA has been a key priority for Welsh Government, but recent statements by the Cabinet Secretary and the First Minister put this in doubt.

If public opinion is a poor way of judging system-wide reform and PISA is no longer a measure that matters very much, we are in an odd place – a place where a lot is being spent on doing something big but no one seems too sure on how we might know if it has all been worthwhile.

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Cabinet Secretary opens up to Committee

Kirsty Williams AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education, appeared before the Senedd Children Young People and Education Committee (Senedd CYPE) in a scrutiny session for over an hour on Wednesday 14 June. See it here.

A number of things were revealed or confirmed:

  • Qualified for Life 2.0 will not be published before Autumn 2017. A refresh of the existing Qualified for Life (QfL) was promised back in November 2016. This is Welsh Government’s key strategic document for the entire education reform programme.
  • Officially, the delay is due to a desire to reference recent OECD recommendations. The main difference between QfL 1 and 2.0 will be a new overarching priority focus added to the existing ones – Wellbeing. Unofficially, it is likely that there has been a protracted internal debate about turning a desire to promote Wellbeing into a clear and well-defined strategic goal and then identifying a menu of actions geared to achieving it. Pesky elections will have affected the progress of the document too.
  • PISA – the Cabinet Secretary is not targeting a Top 20 position nor entry into the ‘500 club’. Rather, she wants to see Wales making progress. The next PISA tests are sat in 2018 with outcomes published in 2019.
  • Progress on developing the new curriculum, Successful Futures, is back on track. High-level curriculum frameworks for the Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) have been delivered; they are now being considered by Curriculum and Assessment and other cross-cutting or overarching teams. Despite this, the Cabinet Secretary said clearly that she is after ‘getting it right’ rather than sticking to a set timeline. No date was given for publishing an updated set of new curriculum documents.
  • Consortia have been tasked with ensuring more and better dialogue between Pioneer and non-Pioneer schools.
  • Although the new Leadership Academy will not be officially established until Spring 2018, the Cabinet Secretary expects the existing Shadow Board will ensure a consistent offer on leadership development by all consortia and throughout Wales from September 2017.
  • Together with the Minister for Health, the Cabinet Secretary is looking at a programme to build learner resilience in Years 7, 8 and 9. More detail to come.
  • Guidance on what might be a reasonable marking workload for teachers is being developed, led by one consortia.
  • A pilot initiative involving Local Authorities will look at how high-calibre School Business Managers might work across several schools and relieve some burden from headteachers.
  • Cabinet Secretary reminded Committee that many of this year’s GCSEs are new and reflect a concern to introduce more rigour – this may have an impact on results, and this year’s results will not be directly comparable to previous years.
  • A dashboard approach to accountability is under active consideration. No indication was given of when a set of new accountability measures might emerge.
  • A detailed departmental budget breakdown will be sent to the Committee by letter in due course.

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Great Headteacher or good teaching – which came first?

Time after time, we are told that the most important thing in delivering the learning we all wish for our young people is quality of teaching.  Quality of leadership comes in as a close second.

What isn’t so widely discussed, it seems, is that the quality of teaching and the quality of leadership must co-exist: one needs the other – to emerge, to survive and thrive. 

We say a Headteacher is good because we think the standards in their school are good and stable over time. 

Good Headteachers get to great by leading schools to improved standards and maintain this over time. 

These standards and this stability are built on good teaching. 

A school leader can introduce and nurture good teaching. 

This cannot be achieved without explaining what good teaching is and communicating it successfully. 

The school leader that introduces good teaching will need to know what good looks like to do this. 

From where does this school leader’s idea of ‘good teaching’ come from? 

The school leader may look to what others say. 

A Headteacher might reach for what the inspectorate or the regulator or Government say about good teaching.

Many do do that.  After all, nobody is going to shoot you for following that to which you are expected to comply. 

Unless there is regime change. 

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More to the point, if you don’t comply and then fail, you may feel the cold fury of those that hold you to account. 

The problem for the Headteacher that takes this path is that compliance is a poor basis for inspiring people. 

Compliance is based on threat.  Penalties decide results. 

Inspiration will be needed if action is required to lift performance. 

Teachers will need to refresh or restart their practice if improving standards are to be achieved; without that change, you will get what you always got. 

Following, dutifully, what the loudest agency tells you to do and saying to teachers ‘this is what the inspectorate want, so please, will you just comply’ can only get you so far. 

You won’t get shot.  Not today, anyway. 

Great school leaders aim higher than that. 

You don’t have to rely on Estyn inspections or categorisation outcomes to appreciate if there is good teaching in a school. 

You know it is happening when you see young people attending, aspiring and achieving.  And it happens time after time. 

Estyn and categorisation will confirm it, if it is there. 

A school leader cannot achieve this without being acutely aware of what good teaching actually looks like. 

The best school leaders are able to describe it, explain it to others, and encourage colleagues to adopt or adapt to it.  This is what makes good teaching the norm, not the exception, in their schools. 

The best school leaders are able to do this by being themselves the product of good teaching – having experience of it and having the habit of reflecting upon it. 

Good teaching begets great Headteachers, as long as there is reflection and communication. 

And, without doubt, resilience and perseverance too.

From compliance to conviction

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams AM will make a statement in the Senedd on the latest OECD report on Wales next Tuesday, 28 February.

Back in October 2016, the Secretary commissioned the OECD to look at the strategies Welsh Government has adopted for reforming education – strategies that are, in part, a response to a 2014 OECD report.

Insiders have been briefing already that this latest OECD report will be favourable.

That shouldn’t be a surprise.

No surprise that the spin is suggesting that the OECD are backing current Welsh Government reforms.

But also, no surprise that this OECD report should be favourable – the 2014 OECD report made recommendations and Welsh Government has stated that it has been pursuing these recommendations; it would be politically explosive if OECD were to report that this isn’t true.

Tuesday is also the first day of a rather hastily arranged two day event where the Secretary has invited every secondary headteacher from across Wales to Cardiff.

Every headteacher has been offered an overnight stay.  Headteachers who weren’t prompt in confirming their attendance have been chased down.

This is an unusual event.

It isn’t difficult to get access to all headteachers as they frequently attend other meetings at a local, regional and national basis.

It isn’t difficult to get messages to headteachers; one person in a single morning could lick all the stamps you’d need to send a letter to each of our 214 secondary headteachers.

This meeting is clearly intended to secure the engagement of our headteachers with Welsh Government’s programme.  They will be encouraged to ‘get with the programme’ and ‘get on message’.

Citing OECD as a supporter of the reforms is meant to encourage stakeholders to accept the message.

This might not work with all headteachers.  OECD’s PISA tests have made many both wary and weary of the gurus from Paris.

Andy Buck’s excellent ‘Leadership Matters’ has a chapter called Building Trust.

He says that educationalists often talk about partnership and collaboration.  He could have added co-construction, and that all these are claimed to be characteristic of a ‘self-improving system’ (an idea also often heard).

However, he says, it is not often that people reflect on the conditions that allow partnership and collaboration to flourish and be successful.  A key condition is trust.

Getting people to trust in you as a leader might involve three elements: they need to know you have faith in them and care about their success as individuals; they will need to believe in your integrity; your judgement and competency are persuasive (or at least you are persuasively working on getting both right).

These are tough tests if applied to Welsh Government’s relationship with headteachers.

By offering stakeholders an opportunity to shape the message, Welsh Government is taking a big step towards getting the message right and getting it adopted.

Adoption is a much stronger association than mere acceptance.  It is the difference between pursuing a policy with purpose and seeking nothing more than compliance.

This adoption can only happen if the offer of contributing to shaping the message is genuine, evident and made real.

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