Against a backdrop of continuing budget cuts and a high-stakes accountability system, many existing teachers are being put off the idea of applying for senior leadership roles.
Compounding the problem is what will inevitably happen once our current generation of senior leaders come to retire. We’re already having to work around a huge shortfall in primary leaders, and that shortfall is predicted to get significantly bigger.
If we’re to tackle what’s become a pressing and urgent issue, we must do two things. We have to entice willing and talented staff into applying their skills to leadership roles, but also put in place robust systems that will serve to motivate and retain them.
Falling retention rates are a big part of the reason why finding staff with leadership potential has become so challenging in recent years. Coaching can play an extremely important role in addressing this, in that it allows trust to develop, encourages problem solving and can inspire staff to come up with their own ideas and solutions – not to mention the fact that resilience and innovative thinking are both desirable traits for a school leader to have.
Another way of tackling the retention issue is to think carefully about what potential there is for staff to pursue meaningful career progression within your own school. Next time you see a member of staff applying themselves particularly well to certain tasks, or demonstrating an aptitude that impresses you, give some careful thought as to how that potential can be picked up on and developed. Bring this up with the colleague concerned and suggest that they embark on a personalised leadership learning plan. It might be a case of having to find the time, but being creative and offering them opportunities to grow and excel can pay dividends in the long term.
It’s a given that school leaders should provide their colleagues with regular training and CPD opportunities based on the needs of their staffing structure – but at the same time, think about offering personalised learning and routes into NPQML and NPQSL so that you can start growing your own leaders.
More ambitiously, you could also consider encouraging the leaders of tomorrow through a system of distributed leadership, or by adopting a self-improving schools model. This will allow staff who show interest and potential in pursuing leadership to be provided with valuable insight into what it entails in practice. If done successfully, this will result in colleagues being able to acquire experience of leadership via a steady rate of progression, rather than being thrown in at the deep end – which is what can happen all too often when someone becomes a headteacher for the first time.
However, we must be mindful that entering headship may not be a career pathway for all. Retaining such teachers may entail supporting them in carving out an alternative career path, whereby they become expert leaders in their chosen field, and helping them share their expertise across a MAT or group of schools in a local area.
Anoara Mughal is an assistant headteacher and year 6 primary teacher