and parachuted in a so-called ‘superhead’ from a successful school. However, although exam results quickly improved, these super-heads stayed only for one or two years, focused their changes on students aged 15 to 16, and the subjects – mathematics and English – used to assess performance. In most cases, they made quick improvements, took the credit and moved on. In every case that we studied, exam results dipped after the super-head left, and the incoming head had to spend up to £2 million cleaning up the mess. And, more worryingly, these leaders were paid 50% more than their peers and 39% were knighted. In these 160 British academies, what mattered most was not the amount of money pumped into the system, but making the right changes in the right order. The most precious investment was time – for the headteacher to stay long enough, and the governors to be patient enough, and for parents to have faith enough to ensure that the foundations for sustainable change were slowly assembled and then built upon.
We already know that the calibre of leadership makes a difference to any organization’s results. It’s the same for schools. We interviewed 411 leaders, as well as those who work for them, and analysed their impact using 64 investment variables and 24 performance measures over seven years. We could scientifically analyse the backgrounds, values, behaviours, actions and differing impact of the five types of school leader we identified, both during and after their tenure (most stayed two to three years). We found leaders who talk a good game, but have no impact. Or leaders who make everything look great while in the job, but things fall apart after they leave. And then there is the rarer, effective leader, who quietly redesigns the school to serve its community for sustainable success. We call these transformative individuals ‘the Architects’.
Why are Architects successful?
They redesign the school to create the right environment for its teachers and the right school for its community. First, they start teaching students for longer, to embed positive behaviours early (by acquiring a primary school) and to help them go to university (by setting up a sixth form). They increase revenue by
FIVE TYPES OF HEADTEACHER
Cut and transplant
Trim and tighten
Surgeons were the highest paid and most recognized leaders identiﬁed in our research, earning 50% more than the mean. Some 39% of them were knighted, while 24% held a CBE, MBE or OBE. By background, they tend to be physical education or religious studies teachers (85% in our study) who believe that the ﬁttest win, through hard work and the right attitude. They often arrive with the reputation of having turned around several schools – the media call them ‘super-heads’, and the UK government believes we need more of them. They transplant resources to the short-term problem – this year’s exam results. They cut out poor performing students and non-essential activities, move the best teachers to the ﬁnal examination year, reduce class sizes and increase revision. It’s not surprising that examination results improve dramatically in their one to two years in charge. However, these scores collapse after they leave, as the incoming ﬁnal-year students have been ignored and under-resourced for two years, and it’s impossible to make this up. Buoyed by an undeserved reputation, the Surgeon has left behind the patient who, after a short rally, has a signiﬁcant relapse.
Soldiers like eﬃciency and order. They believe schools get into trouble because they’re fat, lazy and waste public money. They are usually IT or chemistry teachers (94% in our study), who moved out of teaching and into administration early in their career. They see running a school just like managing a large project – focus on deadlines and costs, and the rest will take care of itself. They trim back every ounce of fat and make people – especially teachers – work harder. They cut support staﬀ and non-essential activities, automate processes and start using cheaper suppliers. People are told they’re lucky to have a job and need to start working harder – morale plummets. Costs reduce dramatically in the one or two years they lead the school, but go right back to where they started after they leave. Teachers are exhausted and demotivated from working in a climate of fear and uncertainty, and the cuts are too deep to sustain. As the soldiers move on to their next mission, costs inexorably rise behind them.
developing non-teaching offerings. They then improve student behaviour (by moving the poorly behaved into a separate pathway within the school), collaborate with local organizations to show students the opportunities around them, and arrange trips abroad to open their eyes to other cultures. Only then do they focus on improving
teaching and leadership, by introducing coaching, mentoring and development programmes. Architects are the least well-known and the least rewarded, yet they are the only leaders who leave a positive legacy. They rise above the detail and take a much broader view of the school, its stakeholders and society to understand
Dialogue Q4 2017