Graham Osborne , former head and now HIP and NCSL consultant, presents an insight into the Headship Induction Programme through a case study of a recent mentee.

The mentee featured in this interview became a deputy head in September 1995. In the summer term of 1999 he took on the role of acting head until a new head for his school took up post in September. Over the next three years there were spells when, due to illness, he had to fulfil the head’s role while continuing with his teaching commitment.

In September 2002 he again took on the acting headship but this time without the teaching responsibility. In September 2003 he was appointed headteacher.
Since the mentee’s ‘experience’ of headship had been more than just day-to-day ‘holding the fort’, but involved longer-term stints making key decisions above and beyond the role of a deputy, he is not perhaps a typical new head. He was already familiar with the way the school ran and as he says ‘had a good angle on its strengths and weaknesses’. In 2005 he embarked on the Headship Induction Programme (HIP).

What have been the benefits of HIP? Getting another viewpoint on the school was helpful as everything within the school was ‘close to home’ – after all, I’d worked there since 1995. Getting a view from outside gave me a different perspective. I had the opportunity to step back and see the bigger picture and have uninterrupted time for reflection.

The needs assessment – in particular the flip chart activity when the mentor wrote up what he saw as some key themes and issues that had come out of the information from the needs self-assessment – was very helpful. As a result of this, an effective action plan was drawn up.

The assessment also showed that we were doing a good job in terms of pupil intake. The complexion of the school had changed and, in terms of pupil mobility, there was a net gain. We were establishing a good name for ourselves. Working with the mentor brought this into a sharper focus. He was able to see the good practice that was happening every day in the school but which those of us working in it were taking for granted.

Has there been anything in the programme that could be improved?
Not really. One of the significant benefits of taking part in the programme was that it actually helped me to blow my own trumpet. I’d always been able to highlight our achievements when I was taking parents around the school, for example, but now I had the confidence to share them with the local Network Learning Community, which is made up of 30 schools.

Another benefit was identifying the need to improve my personal CPD, which could quite easily be developed through the HIP programme workshops, both core and local.

How did you select a mentor?
I used the local leadership centre website, then looked at the ‘mugshots’ of the available mentors and their CVs. The final decision was based on the fact that I knew the mentor from his previous work as a head within the local authority (LA), that he was fairly local but not too close and that his CV indicated that he would be in tune with the school’s philosophy.

What information did you have on HIP and how did you find out more?
I accessed the paperwork online and posted off the needs assessment to the mentor. This needs assessment required a lot of thought and I needed quality time to devote to it. The Leadership Centre was helpful in making sure I had the necessary information.

What does the local authority offer by way of support for heads?
There is a support group of heads (‘Head Cred’) which meets twice a term and shares issues/problems. A broad range of issues are covered and on occasions a speaker from the LA will speak on a specific topic, such as finance, personnel, assessment etc. The LA set up this group, which at the time was not phase specific but eventually ended up becoming primary based. New heads have joined as time’s gone on and I think everyone finds it useful to get away from school. We generate agendas and that includes a ‘get it off your chest’ session. SEF has featured heavily in these sessions!

The link adviser is supportive and can always be contacted to offer suggestions on particular issues. He or she also carries out an annual school review.

How have you used the available HIP funding?
Essentially the funding has been used on the needs assessment and the face-to-face meetings with the mentor. There has been a termly face-to-face meeting with an agreed agenda covering progress made since the last visit in terms of the action plan and any current issues/concerns that need to be aired.

Other possible areas for use of funding include personal professional development.

How would you promote the induction programme to new heads?
It is a useful ‘tool’ to have as part of a repertoire of support that can be called upon in a first headship. It was still helpful to me even though I’m not exactly a ‘new’ head. My mentor and I were able to devise a personalised programme addressing my needs, rather than looking at issues for a new head. The view offered by my mentor carried a lot of weight because he didn’t work within the LA and so his perspective was really fresh.

Conclusions and reflections

  • What is a new head? In this particular case the mentee may not fit the typical profile of a ‘new’ head. But then what is a typical new head? Today this may not be seen as an unusual pathway to headship – by having various stints as acting head due to illness or possibly deputising for a consultant leader. Headships are increasingly more difficult to fill and there are now contingency measures being put into place where serving heads are being asked to take on dual headships. Federations of schools with one overall head are possibly on the cards. So who in the meantime ensures that each school is being run effectively?
  • Funding and time will always be an issue. Again, in this particular case study dates were put into diaries well in advance and, barring a major disaster, meetings would be up to three hours long and uninterrupted. That’s not always easy, especially in small primary schools where there may be no one else available to deal with an emergency. With the impending responsibilities and funding for CPD now resting with individual schools, it will be important that the head’s professional development is not marginalised. Perhaps HIP funding will need to be ring fenced.
  • ‘The biggest barriers to training and development for headteachers are identified as time and money’ [Follow-Up Research into the State of School Leadership in England by Jane Stevens, Juliet Brown, Sarah Knibbs and Jude Smith – MORI Social Research Institute, March 2005]. The availability of time is key to a successful partnership and this came through loud and clear in this case study. In a review of literature on ‘Mentoring and Coaching for New Leaders’ carried out by Andy Hobson for the NCSL (Spring 2003) it was concluded that finding sufficient time was a principal difficulty. Possible ways of overcoming this include ‘provision for regular and structured meetings’ which during the early stages of the new headship might occur on a monthly basis.
  • HIP and New Visions – leading to programme confusion! Over the last year or two there has been confusion between these two programmes with some new heads being disillusioned as to the relevance of one programme over the other. This is now being addressed through the rationalisation of the leadership programmes. Certainly there is a clear message about the importance of mentoring in terms of national training programmes. One of the recommendations from the NCSL report Gender and headship in the 21st century states ‘mentoring, seen as vital in supporting aspirant female headteachers, has increased significantly in recent years, probably as a result of national training initiatives, and it is important that this continues’.
  • Choosing a mentor. In this particular study it was important to the mentee that the mentor was someone who shared the same educational philosophies and values as himself. Also, the mentor was someone who was not too local and who did not necessarily have experience in the same phase(s) of education. In Hobson’s review the matching of mentor and mentee was seen as critical to the success of the programme. There was sound evidence that supported both local partnerships and not so local ones.
  • ‘In some cases, local rivalries, such as those resulting from schools being in competition for students, provided an obstacle to the development of support systems and cooperative working between headteachers in the same localities.’ However, the key point here, and something which I would fully endorse, is that any successful mentoring programme must include an ‘opt-out clause’ whereby either mentee, mentor, or both, can amicably terminate the partnership if there is a feeling of things not working. I always start any partnership with a set of agreed protocols which includes ‘the mentoring relationship is voluntary on both sides and either party may end the relationship if it is not working’.
  • Can everyone benefit from a mentor? All heads need a mentor at stages throughout their career and not just those in their first headship role. Experienced heads build up their networks and so probably have an ‘unofficial’ mentoring programme going on. Even so, it should not be taken for granted that after the first three years of headship there is no longer a need for a mentor. I certainly feel I would have welcomed a mentor at certain times during my 20 years of headship. I wonder how others feel?

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and mentee and not necessarily of the NCSL.