Being an Effective Headteacher


Trevor Male

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    To my son, Oliver. May he always enjoy effective headteachers.

    Trevor Male

    Trevor is a Senior Lecturer within the Centre for Educational Studies at the University of Hull where he is Director for the masters and doctoral programmes in educational leadership. He leads the university's provision for headteacher development and has worked as a trainer, assessor and consultant on National College for School Leadership (NCSL) programmes. Earlier in his career he served for eleven years as a teacher, for eight years as an LEA officer and was also a tutor/counsellor for the Open University for several years.

    Trevor was awarded a PhD in Educational Leadership by the University of Lincoln in 2004 for his thesis on the personal, organizational and occupational dimensions of the transition to headship experienced by headteachers. His research interests are in the nature of school leadership and in the role of the headteacher in particular, where he has an extensive track record of research, publications and consultancy.

    His work has been published widely in books and journals within the UK, the USA and elsewhere and he is a regular contributor to national and international conferences. He has established an excellent reputation both as a consultant and presenter on in-service activities both on a regional and national basis. In recent years he has been a Visiting Lecturer in the USA where he has strong links with colleagues from the universities of Northern Colorado, San Diego and Texas.


    CPDContinuing Professional Development
    DfESDepartment for Education and Skills
    EIEmotional Intelligence
    EQEmotional Quotient
    GTCGeneral Teaching Council
    HEHigher Education
    HEIHigher Education Institution
    HEADLAMPHeadteacher Leadership and Management Programme
    HIPHeadteacher Induction Programme
    HMIHer Majesty's Inspectorate
    INSETIn-service Education of Teachers
    IPHInternational Placement for Headteachers
    ISLLCInterstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium
    ITEInitial Teacher Education
    LEALocal Education Authority
    LftMLeading from the Middle
    LPSHLeadership Programme for Serving Headteachers
    NAHTNational Association of Headteachers
    NASSPNational Association of Secondary School Principals
    NCSLNational College for School Leadership
    NEACNational Education Assessment Centre
    NLENational Leader of Education
    NPQHNational Professional Qualification for Headship
    OTTOOne Term Training Opportunities
    PILPartnerships In Leadership
    SHASecondary Headeachers Association
    SMTFSchool Management Task Force
    TDATraining and Development Agency
    TTATeacher Training Agency
    USPUnique Selling Point


    This book is primarily based on the model of headship in England whereby each school has it own, unique, identity and serves a community which is usually geographically defined. The role of headteacher has evolved since the inception of a compulsory education system for the nation's children in the latter stages of the nineteenth century and is posited on the notion that not only should there be a formal head of the school but also that that person should be both responsible for and directly involved in the teaching and student learning taking place within.

    The unique nature of headship in England does not mean, however, that the book is not relevant to those who operate in other school systems, as the theory bases explored in demonstrating the nature of headship will be significant to those responsible for developing school leaders at a local, national or international level and to scholars in the field of school leadership. As formal leaders of the school, headteachers and principals are central to organized education systems and are commonly seen as the most influential figure in the success of their student body. Coming to terms with the demands of the job really involves reconciling a range of personal values and beliefs with the demands of the system and feeling comfortable in that position. This is a reciprocal process with both the individual and the system exerting influence on each other. Comfort is achieved when the personal value system of the headteacher correlates closely with the actual and perceived demands of the school and the society it serves. Effective headteachers, therefore, meet the learning needs of the student body and do so within a moral code that is acceptable to all stakeholders within the school community to which they are appointed.

    Headship in England is established within a matrix of governance and management systems that tend to distinguish the job from other, similar, positions held in other school systems. Whilst the regulations relating to maintained schools and the position of headteacher are shared with Wales, there are fundamental cultural differences that separate the two countries in terms of headship. Meanwhile structural differences and local political factors determine the task of formal school leadership in England generally to be different elsewhere in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, with the exception of the nation's independent schools which tend to conform to similar social mores as those observed in the maintained sector.

    There is an English factor which influences the model of headship explored here, therefore, with the consequence that the book is of direct relevance to anyone aspiring to headship and to newly appointed head-teachers in England, particularly those who are in the early stages of the transition to their new role. The contents will also be of interest to serving headteachers, however, who are seeking to achieve new understandings of their position and to re-shape their practice.

    To complicate matters, this book is published at a juncture in the history of headship which may bring about significant changes to the nature of the job. At the time of writing there are significant problems with recruitment and retention nationally to this key school leadership post and to similar positions internationally. In England over 1500 headteacher jobs remained vacant at the beginning of 2006, with around 10 per cent of the nation's schools advertising for a new headteacher annually and re-advertisements reaching record levels. Conventional wisdom suggests that the challenges of the job have proved to be such that the post is no longer an attractive proposition for prospective headteachers. There is the distinct possibility that the traditional model of one headteacher for every school, which has been prevalent for most of the last century, is now compromised in the first instance by an absence of suitable candidates.

    The demands on headteachers are also increasing with emphasis being placed on schools in England to widen their remit through the five point policy of ‘Every Child Matters’, which represents a more socially focused approach to child development than the more traditional academic expectations. The aim of central government is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being. Consequently we have seen schools begin to offer a wider range of services and extend their provision. We can expect those demands to continue growing as the policy is underpinned by notions of multi-agency work being channelled through schools.

    The twin factors of headteacher shortage and widening remit have led to a widespread expectation that the future success of the school system will be established through federating schools and developing system leadership as mechanisms for enhancing the quality of education. That discourse has reached policy levels, with the Secretary of State for Education indicating in her remit letter to the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) in December, 2005, that one the college's priorities for the next two years was to develop a register of potential executive headteachers, whose leadership skills could be used to enhance the wider school system and to investigate ways in which to accredit them as National Leaders of Education (NLEs). The possible ramifications of such a move could mean that either we will see a radical transformation of school systems or of school leadership. A government-sponsored encouragement to federate schools, run by executive headteachers, could answer a number of endemic issues within the maintained sector, including a reduction in the number of surplus school places in the nation (estimated to be a million) and a concomitant reduction in the number of headteachers required. The deployment of NLEs to become an effective source of advice and guidance to schools nationally would thus supplement their emerging local role as executive headteachers, appointed to take charge of multiple school sites.

    Those prospects are still in the early stages of evolution, however, and could well remain as either fanciful imaginings or manifest themselves in other ways. Certainly a high degree of political activity is evident at the national level in this debate and the ambitions for ‘system leadership’ may yet founder on the rock of educational conservatism. At this stage, therefore, it is unlikely that the demands on the majority of serving or prospective headteachers will be radically altered during the next five years. The headteacher will remain the key professional figure capable of effecting change and improvement for their designated school. Consequently this book is about preparing for and entering headship, focusing on the quest to become effective in that job at the earliest opportunity.

    The evidence for my conclusions is drawn from a variety of sources including a wide experience of instrumental working relationships with national, local and institutional leadership development activities, assimilation in the theoretical basis of effective school leadership and an extensive record of empirical research in the field, nationally and internationally. I have been closely associated with most initiatives in leadership and management development for headteachers since the mid-1980s, having served as an LEA officer responsible for professional development, as a liaison officer to a central government task force for school management, as an accredited trainer and assessor for the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) and as a provider on the nationally funded entry to headship programmes of the Headteacher Leadership and Management Programme (HEADLAMP) and Headteacher Induction Programme (HIP). Throughout this time I have accumulated a wealth of unpublished documentary evidence through engagement with the development of these initiatives.

    Meanwhile, in my day job, I have been responsible for devising and running programmes in educational leadership and management at doctoral and masters levels in three universities in the UK, have been accorded Visiting Lecturer status in several overseas universities, and have also run many non-accredited programmes for hundreds of aspirant and serving headteachers, each of whom has provided me with fresh insights into the most challenging leadership position in the school system. My specialist research interest is in the field of formal school leadership, particularly headteachers and other similar positions world wide, and I have accumulated a wealth of data from surveys and field-based investigations. A range of publications has appeared in academic and professional journals as a result of this research record and I have been a regular contributor to national and international research conferences on headteacher and principal development. I would claim, therefore, a knowledge of school leadership in action that allows me to make recommendations as to how to become effective in such posts.

    Nationally and internationally there have been moves in the last decade of the twentieth century to ensure the quality of formal school leaders through the provision of licensure schemes, underwritten by standards derived from the examination of successful leadership practice in a variety of occupations. Although there is evidence to suggest that the quality of school leadership has improved overall, my investigations into the transition to formal school leadership would suggest that beginning headteachers and principals are not fully prepared for their new job (Male, 1996; Daresh and Male, 2000; Male and Merchant, 2000), with these findings being reflected in similar, contemporary studies (for example, Dunning, 1996; Draper and McMichael, 1998). For first-time headteachers the consensus was that only about one in six felt they were adequately prepared for the challenges of headship (Earley et al., 2003).

    My analysis of those findings and other relevant literature leads me to conclude that the transition to successful formal leadership encompasses development along three dimensions before the newly appointed leader really feels able to exhibit mastery of the associated tasks and to be the major influence in terms of organizational function. I have classified the three dimensions as personal, organizational and occupational and would argue that the emphasis within licensure schemes has been on developing the occupational dimension, leaving the other two dimensions to form part of a process of natural adaptation by the incumbent.

    This ‘sink or swim’ approach to leadership development is clearly inadequate in school systems that require the new leader to be effective almost immediately. Typically we can see newly appointed school leaders going through several stages of development before feeling competent and confident in their new role, with the prospect of that process lasting several years without adequate learning experiences before appointment and the provision of appropriate support mechanisms through the transition period. This book aims to explore the learning needs and challenges presented along each of the three dimensions in order to help reach that position more quickly. This general approach is then applied to the specific nature of headship in maintained and independent schools in England, seeking to aid individuals in their quest to become an effective headteacher.

    At this stage I have chosen not to explore differences in headteacher style and behaviour that have been influenced by the gender, ethnicity or religion of the incumbent, preferring instead to focus on the nature of a job which still seeks common definition. As a nation we do not have a commonly accepted theory of headship and have tended to draw on theory and practice from other occupations or systems when identifying development opportunities. I believe we need such a theory in place before seeking to differentiate further. In time we could then establish dimensions of headship that are not only relevant to gender, ethnicity and religion, but also to the type, phase and context of individual schools. Those are tasks not to be taken lightly and ones that will not be undertaken in this edition of my work. Instead I have employed an asexual, amorphous model of headship with the intention that each reader will undertake the task of applying my conclusions to their circumstance.

    The book is organized into seven chapters that focus on a career transition to that point where you feel comfortable, confident and competent in your new job, whether this is your first, second or multiple headship position. Chapters 1 and 2 establish the context and theory that underpin headship, with the remaining chapters charting the course to effective headship.

    This book seeks to guide you through to effectiveness and is organized accordingly. Firstly we will explore the transition to formal leadership, in this case to the point where a headteacher feels competent and confident in role. To achieve that state, where you feel you have consolidated yourself within the job and the school, you will have explored: relevant literature and theory associated with the transition (Chapter 2); how to prepare for headship (Chapter 3); the content and value of the national standards for headteachers (Chapter 4); and how best to set about applying for and entering headship (Chapters 5 and 6). The final chapter aims to help you in your quest to reach the highest level, to become an effective headteacher. Chapter 7 will thus explore the consolidation and extension of headship whilst remembering that the first six chapters are essential to that level in much the same way that sound foundations are important to a good building and proper preparation leads to a better finish when decorating the house.

    I still continue to investigate headship in the search for establishing effective theories for action and I would be delighted to hear from you if you think you could help me with this continuing research agenda. You can reach me by email at I look forward to hearing your responses.


    The author and publisher would like to thank the following for giving permission to use the following:

    Figures 3.1 and 3.2 from:

    Daresh, J. (1988) The pre-service preparation of American educational administrators: Retrospect and prospect. Paper presented at the Research Meeting of the British Educational Management and Administration Society (BEMAS), Cardiff, Wales, April.

    Figure 4.1 from:

    Boyzatsis, R. (1982) The Competent Manager: A model for effective performance. New York: John Wiley.

    Figure 7.1 from:

    Sawatzki, M. (1997) ‘Leading and managing staff for high performance’, in B. Davies and L. Ellison (eds), School Leadership for the 21st Century. London: Routledge.

    Figure 7.2 from:

    Wilson, J., George, J., Wellins, R. and Byman, W. (1994) Leadership Trapeze: Strategies for Leadership in Team-Based Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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