Can – and indeed should – someone from a background other than teaching become a school leader? School business manager Ruth Bradbury explains her aspirations to become a school leader and, below, two readers respond with their comment
At the beginning of 2007, I had the honour of being featured in the Times Educational Supplement in an article about my work towards NPQH and my aspirations towards headship. The tone of the article was fair and measured enough, although the author felt that my ambitions are something of a tall order. I don’t really have a problem with that: I know that the prevailing culture in most schools will not make it easy for someone in my position to become a headteacher, and even if I were to achieve the impossible dream, I would have a job on my hands to establish credibility with colleagues.
In many ways, I have yet to sort out in my own mind whether or not my aspirations are reasonable. Can – and indeed should – somebody from a background other than teaching be the person responsible for establishing strategic direction and overseeing the day-to-day operations of an organisation whose core business is teaching and learning? Why don’t I – as the author of the TES article quite reasonable asked me – find a way to work towards qualified teacher status? Or, alternatively, why don’t I just try to find a leadership role in an organisation where I don’t actually have to be a teacher?
Am I just being pig-headed for the sake of it? Or am I even on a personal crusade to challenege/annoy people in the teaching profession as much as I can because, in the role of business manager, I have felt slighted by them on a number of occasions in the past? Is my whole current stated career trajectory simply a huge and complicated version of a temper tantrum from a 38-year-old toddler who has been told she can’t have what she wants? Or even a demonstration of precocity from the same toddler, who knows she is doing something unexpectedly challenging and simply wants people to clap their hands and say ‘isn’t she clever?’ And, of course, if I were to actually attain a headship, would I really want it or would I – to extend the toddler analogy for just one more sentence – play with it for a bit and then throw it on the floor/drop it in my dinner/feed it to the dog?
When I woke up on the first morning of my new role and contemplated addressing the sceptical staff, taking assemblies, neogitating with angry parents and breaking up fights, would I leap out of bed with glee or would I crawl back under the duvet groaning as the realisation dawned that I’d finally achieved my ambition of getting a job that I had no idea how to do?
I’ve bared my soul a bit here – perhaps more than I meant to when I started writing. But these are the kind of questions that go round and round in my head on a daily basis, and the TES article has brought them into focus for me.
Of course, on good days, there is a whole other set of questions which spring into my mind. For example, why is it that someone who has six years’ senior leadership experience in an organisation isn’t regarded as qualified to apply to lead that organisation? Why is it that someone with QTS can currently become a headteacher without ever managing a significant budget or a substantial number of staff? Why should headteachers be qualified teachers when they aren’t even required to teach any lessons, certainly in large secondary schools?
Why should able, experienced professionals be denied the opportunity to lead a complex and significant organisation because they don’t have enough experience of breaking up fights between teenagers? Is there a model of school leadership which would allow for an experienced and talented leader with vision and direction, and with well developed communication and staff management skills, to oversee a team in which other members had the skills and experience which he or she may lack? Or is that actually a model that already exists, but we just need someone brave enough to turn it on its head?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, of course, but for me the important thing is that I am asking them – and maybe the article about me will encourage a few more people to ask the same questions and challenge a few of the cultural norms and assumptions that exist in schools today.
Ruth Bradbury is assistant headteacher (resources) at Westhoughton School in Bolton. The two comments below were originally printed in School Financial Management in response to Ruth’s article