Lessons learnt from School Gate – the importance of a headteacher

In the Times School Gate blog, 08/04/13, Sarah Ebner talks about the importance of good, strong headteachers.

Heads make a school, and this is something I don’t think enough people realise. Without a good headteacher, your school will never be great. If you visit a school and don’t like the head, it probably isn’t the right place for you, or your child. If the head is terrific, it’s worth giving the school a chance. This may be more true for primary than secondary schools, but I think it is relevant to both.

I have met visionary heads who aren’t afraid of taking risks, and those who are fighters, determined that all their pupils will achieve to their highest potential. I have met a head who introduced philosophy lessons to eight-year-olds and many who treated each of their pupils with respect, trying hard to encourage independence. It has been thrilling, and sometimes depressing to meet these people (depressing because it makes you wonder why all schools can’t be run this way). Oh, and by the way, some of these schools have been academies, some free schools, some private, some grammar and many local authority primary and secondaries.

I also know of schools which should have been outstanding , but which weren’t because of poor leadership from the top. I have met headteachers who followed all the rules and regulations to the letter and worried about petty things (the colour of the children’s hairbands or socks), not realising they really needed to put their attention elsewhere.

I have spoken to headteachers who have turned schools around, and fought hard to get rid of bad teachers and replace them with the team they want. But I have also been to schools where everyone, from the youngest child upwards, has known who the bad teachers were, and can’t understand why, as the years go on, these teachers stay in place. I won’t forget a conversation I had with one uninspiring head. It concerned an enthusiastic, young teacher who was clearly loved by her young charges. The head’s response? “Well, that won’t last”. And with that kind of leadership from above, it probably hasn’t.

The person at the top of the school, the headteacher, determines the tone of the school and the way it’s run. Many people talk about the importance of good teachers and how inspirational they can be. There is a huge amount of research on the difference a good or bad teacher can make, but I think both can be helped by the right boss. I wish it on every school, for every child, in the country.

Click here to read the blog © The Times.