Tags: Headteacher | School Leadership & Management | Standards

Pat Barnes, education consultant and former head, takes a closer look at the National Standards for Headteachers and gives them the thumbs up.

Although the new national standards were revised and adopted a year ago it is a fair bet that, unless you have contact with a National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) candidate or are a newly appointed headteacher, you will not necessarily have come into productive contact with them, which is a pity, as their impact could extend beyond headteachers – influencing, supporting and guiding the development of all schools, at all levels.

Everyone will be well aware that shared leadership is much recommended – more on this later. The standards may well help to provide definition of roles, responsibilities and expectations and to identify performance management objectives for those ambitious staff with dizzy aspirations.

The standards reflect three key principles: learning centred, focused on leadership and reflective of the highest possible professional standards. No argument with that, then. We promote all those all the time, don’t we? They are our raison d’être and always have been. Handy to have them embodied so precisely, though, so that they are easy to remember, fast to recollect and quick to pass on.

The format of the standards
The six standards are non-hierarchical and when taken together represent the role of the headteacher. They are interdependent and many are applicable to all key areas, thereby informing and influencing most school practice. A big plus point is that headteachers can interpret them according to the context of their school so that they can help to define current priorities. Another is that they are clearly and concisely presented – the A4-sized booklet is 11 pages long and easy to reference.

Each standard is set out consistently with a brief introductory paragraph followed by a bullet-pointed box on ‘knowledge’ and another on ‘professional qualities’. The last is split into two sections: ‘is committed to’ and ‘is able to’. Each of these bullet points is in the form of a tiny box – presumably so that we can tick off those we have cracked!

A further bulleted box, on the right of each page and highlighted in pale grey/blue, identifies possible actions that can be taken to ensure we really embed that particular standard into our effective practice. This bit is really useful, not just for self-assessing our own progress but also mentoring colleagues, either those aspiring bodies in school or those struggling colleagues outside.

Unpicking the standards
So what are the new standards? The six key areas are as follows:

  • shaping the future
  • leading learning and teaching
  • developing self and working with others
  • managing the organisation
  • securing accountability
  • strengthening community

These new standards clearly reflect current government thinking and guidance, as well as leadership and management in the 21st century. They are important because they make us think about where we are now and how we can continue to develop our schools. They emphasise the crucial role of headteachership in determining and raising all kinds of standards and embody all the current plethora of legislation that is hitting our desks and computer screens. They also ensure that the needs of all children are identified and met. Quite something in just 11 pages, as I am sure you will agree.

Not only are national and individual school interests represented, local authority issues are also there. Take, for example, the strengthening community standard. It is particularly interesting as it references the current legislation regarding the remodelling of the local education authorities to include all child care agencies. Headteachers are expected to work collaboratively ‘with parents and carers and across multiple agencies for the wellbeing of all children’.

Aspirational and realistic Clever stuff, eh? Not only is the headteacher expected to know ‘the rich and diverse resources within local communities – both human and physical’ but also ‘the strengths, capabilities and objectives of other schools’. These are quite far ranging demands, but not altogether new concepts for good headteachers. And among the ‘professional qualities’ we find that headteachers are expected to be committed to ‘effective teamwork within the school and with external partners’ and be able to ‘listen to, reflect and act on community feedback’. If we feel that we are somewhat lacking in any of these areas then one of the actions recommended is ‘to seek opportunities to invite parents and carers, community figures, businesses or other organisations into the school to enhance and enrich the school and its value to the wider community.’ OK, so all these are very aspirational but surely they are also inspirational and realistic goals? They are grounded in sound school practice and, once part of a headteachers’ vision, must raise standards and provide for children the learning environment that is their right.

What practical application do these standards have apart from providing goals to strive for? Well, identifying opportunities for shared leadership is one, but there are plenty more:

  • Appointing a new headteacher! Governors will hopefully be delighted that the qualities and expectations of headteachership are actually identified and they can interpret according to the context of their school.
  • Helping aspiring new headteachers to decide whether or not to apply for NPQH is another example. The new standards are the bedrock, the foundations, the crucial underpinning of every conceivable activity in the NPQH programme. Demonstrating that candidates are not only familiar but proficient in them is assessed at every step. And now NPQH is mandatory for all new headteachers.
  • Guidance for performance management objectives may also be of benefit. Headteachers, deputy headteachers, assistant headteachers and senior staff will all profit from considering one or more aspects from the points considered and thus support whole-school development as well as their own personal, professional development.
  • Letting all stakeholders know what nationally is expected of their headteacher. Accountability is big just now and we may be called to justify aspects of our practice.

All in all, the new national standards are a good thing. They certainly fulfil the intention to ‘provide a framework for professional development and action and to inform, challenge, and enthuse serving and aspiring headteachers’. I warmly commend them to you.

Contact: [email protected]

The new National Standards for Headteachers are available from www.ncsl.org.uk, www.teachernet.gov.uk and www.governornet.co.uk/headteacherstandards

Shaping the future

This standard states that ‘critical to the role of headship is working with the governing body and others to create a shared vision and strategic plan which inspires and motivates pupils, staff and all other members of the school community.’

  • Ensures the vision for the school is clearly articulated, shared, understood and acted upon effectively by all.
  • Works within the school community to translate the vision into agreed objectives and operational plans which will promote and sustain school improvement.
  • Demonstrates the vision and values in everyday work and practice.
  • Motivates and works with others to create a shared culture and positive climate.
  • Ensures creativity, innovation and the use of appropriate new technologies to achieve excellence.
  • Ensures that strategic planning takes account of the diversity, values and experience of the school and community at large.

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Feb 2006

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