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Leadership – where do we start?

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So, here is an interesting thought… the children who began their formal school education in September 2022 will leave Year 13 or other formal training at the age of 18 in the year 2036.

However, if we look at the Government Statistics on School Leadership Characteristics 2010-2020 (published April 2022) and we take the mid-point* of the most common age profile of a senior leader in the report as 31, the senior leaders as these children leave school in 2036 are currently in Year 11. Furthermore, if we take the mid-point of the most common age profile of head teachers as 35, these future leaders are currently in their third year of University study.

This makes me ponder on what knowledge, skill development and understanding of leadership we are offering in our schools, further and higher education curriculum, either explicitly or implicitly, to the sector leaders of the future.

We know that statistics reported on the national news about the challenges school leaders face, the pay and conditions and the impact of that on recruitment and retention of staff and leaders within all phases and sectors of the system are shocking.

Is this the image of school leadership our young people will grow up with?

I sincerely hope not, as I remain committed to my long held belief that it is a privilege to be involved in the growth and development of young people who are our future.

However, we must encourage them to develop skills of effective and empathetic leadership if our legacy as today’s leaders is to ensure that the leaders of tomorrow behave with ethical and moral purpose for our next generation of astronauts, politicians, nurses, joiners, gas fitters and explorers!

I have had the great pleasure to witness and be involved in some really fabulous opportunities for young people to engage with sessions around leadership. In one school I worked with children and young people who were asked “what makes a good teacher?” and their comments recorded. Their answers ranged from “someone who smiles and welcomes us to the classroom” to “someone who is passionate about their subject and shares that willingly” - all brilliant comments and true. Imagine the strength of that when used as part of a recruitment strategy to ensure that perspective candidates knew what was expected of them by joining the school and who was going to hold them to account!

In another school, students in KS4 and KS5 were asked to be role models for younger children within the school to improve the culture of learning, but not told how they should do this. In a short space of time this evolved to young people volunteering to support with after school revision sessions, a school wide peer mentoring programme for KS3 students who were falling behind with their studies and an enrichment programme led by older students focussed on everything from knitting club to a reading circle. Registers were taken and reports on engagement and impact written for Governors by the student leaders. Within half an academic year the culture of the school was palpably different, peer on peer abuse had fallen and every child had engaged in at least one additional activity beyond the classroom, the school was oversubscribed.

As our current Year 11 students are asked in their first interview to share an example of when they have demonstrated leadership talent (as my son was recently in his first proper job interview) will they easily and with pride reflect on the learning opportunities that were presented to them by their school? Will that positive experience encourage them to return to the sector as a teacher, leader, head teacher or Governor in their local community? I truly hope for all our sakes it does.

*I apologise to every Maths teacher I have ever worked with, I honestly did listen to what you were telling me about your disciplinary literacy within the subject!

Sarah Young, Young+

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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