Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, never knowingly understated, this week pronounced headteacher recruitment to be “shambolic”.
My own experiences of this, both dim and distant and much more recent, certainly back this up. I’ve been part of the selection process for the recruitment of three headteachers and have been through the process once myself. In each case, especially in the case of my own recruitment, the process felt like a formulaic How to Recruit a Headteacher in Ten Easy Steps that had been downloaded from the internet with no deep thought as to what the school needed.
Four recruitment rounds. Four times where the ability to talk like a management textbook and dress like Gordon Gekko paid off.
“So, Jarlath, what animal best describes your leadership style?” “Well, Bob, I’m a giraffe. I see everything, but I have my feet firmly on the ground.” For pity’s sake.
Knowing the type of leader a school needs at any particular time is far from easy and this is why mistakes are made. In my own school and in others the consequences to the organisation and to its people can be significant and I’ve written about that elsewhere in Part of the Furniture.
Sir Michael talks about spotting talent early. In the early days of my teaching career I was sceptical about the ability to spot future leaders. My first headteacher, the very supportive and encouraging John Goulborn, told me that I’d be a headteacher one day; a prediction that I swiftly dismissed. This dismissal was backed up by the Fast Track (remember that?) assessors who rejected my application to go on the programme by telling me that I had no clear skills as a leader and that my thinking was pedestrian.
Fast forward to yesterday. I received an e-mail from my colleague who sat in on the assessor’s final feedback meeting with our colleague who is finishing the School Direct programme. To the surprise of absolutely no-one she passed with flying colours. I remember the feedback I received from her interviewer a year ago for a place on the programme, “She’ll have your job in ten years’ time.”
One of my main roles is to grow the leadership talent in my school as well as I can. This is not always easy in a small school as opportunities are inevitably limited. This is why I will lose an exceptional colleague at the end of next week. She’s keen to progress and I am unable to meet that need. I am glad, though, that she will go out and change the world in another school and I know that it’s not the last that I will see of her.
I was also fortunate to spend yesterday with my colleagues in the Headteachers’ Roundtable. This is the single most impressive collection of leaders that I have the privilege of spending my time with. They would all undoubtedly score very highly on those rubbish recruitment tasks that I had to endure, and there is a complete absence of inane management speak amongst this group. So, what differentiates them and the best leaders out there from the crowd? They have three things in common and in abundance: brains, heart and guts. Plenty of leaders score highly on two of those key attributes, but only truly great leaders max out on all three. If you’re spotting future leaders or recruiting for a headteacher that’s what you need to look for.