If we’re to ensure that enough people become heads and senior leaders and can pursue sustainable, enjoyable careers, then it’s imperative that we give them the training and support they need. The challenge is acute. England may face a shortage of between 14,000 and 19,000 school leaders by 2022, which will affect almost a quarter of all schools. We know that we need to tackle this, but we can’t if we continue gathering together in small clusters. United we stand, divided we fall.
I accept there are many excellent teaching school alliances operating alone that provide excellent leadership development programmes, but this approach has its drawbacks. Small scale can mean costly, especially in these straitened times. It takes time to organise open days, delivery sessions and workshops, and to process the resulting paperwork.
Operating at a small scale makes it harder to gather the intelligence you need to understand what local pressure points and needs there are, and can create coverage gaps. In some areas of the country there’s lots of competition between smaller providers and plenty of options for prospective candidates. In others, things are distinctly patchy.
Our response should be to organise and join partnerships that allow us to deliver leadership development programmes at scale – and an approach we’re taking in the north west could show the way. I lead an MAT of eight primary and secondary schools that’s part of the Outstanding Leaders Partnership – a large collaboration between teaching school alliances, trusts and individual schools first established five years ago that’s now working with almost a quarter of all schools in the region.
The partnership comprises almost 30 groups – or hubs – of schools with experienced leaders who are delivering the NPQH, NPQSL and NPQML leadership programmes. We’re unusual in that we’ve partnered with a specialist training provider, Best Practice Network, which looks after the practicalities of organising the programmes’ delivery, and running the online element and quality assurance for our courses.
At the centre of it all is a single strategic board that partly comprises senior school leaders from across the partnership. The headteachers leading the strategy and running the programmes have direct knowledge of what’s involved in training up new leaders, and have roles to play in ensuring that the right programmes are delivered to the right areas, with content tailored to the needs of particular local areas.
We’re above the national average in terms of NPQH graduates securing headships within 18 months at 60%, and more than half of the candidates completing our NPQML and NPQSL qualifications have secured promotions. It also makes financial sense – we’ve been able to plough back a surplus of £36,000 into creating scholarships to support candidates taking our qualifications.
With national strategies now a thing of the past, it’s up to us as school leaders to work together in a spirit of co-operation and common purpose if we’re to ensure that every school is well-led by leaders who possess the skills they need, the support necessary to have sustainable careers – and a desire to stay in the profession.
Tarun Kapur CBE is Chief Executive and Academy Principal at The Dean Trust