Growing Leaders in Small Schools

We reported how Peter Lacey-Hastings, Headteacher of Brockdish School in Norfolk, a three-day a week part-time Head of an 18-pupil school, believed that the two days when his colleague was in charge prove excellent preparation for leadership, or "growing headship" as he described it. In this short article Peter, who has also completed Ofsted inspector qualification (congratulations) explains the concept and how it works at Brockdish.

Perhaps the most important feature of growing leaders in any school is how the headteacher sees their role in developing colleagues. This must be relevant to all schools and can be seen as both a moral imperative as well as a pragmatic strategy for getting the best out of people. However, beyond this basic premise that supports the growing leaders for the next generation, there are some aspects to growing leaders that are very particular to small schools. As with so much of the work in small schools, the advantages can be invigorating and rewarding, but the difficulties can be hugely frustrating.

Perhaps my own experience can shed some light on the above. I had been head of a 300 pupil school with a Nursery and in 2005 decided I wanted to broaden my horizons. I soon found myself at a small rural primary school needing a headteacher. The school offered me a position and I offered them my services on a part-time basis. The school was in a difficult moment with an 'emergency committee meeting' once a term involving the LEA. In 2006 the Ofsted report was satisfactory but by 2010 the school was judged to be outstanding. A key part of this progress was ensuring the right people were 'on the bus' (read Jim Collins).

Being part-time, I always need someone who can manage the school in my absence. We made a strong appointment in 2007 and this colleague went onto NPQH. It was during this time that I formed the view that having a really strong member of staff was a real benefit to the school but could also be a way of attracting and growing leaders. I also wondered why a teacher wanting leadership and headship would want to come to a smaller school than their current one? The opportunity was there nevertheless for staff to want to come to work in a small school. So when our colleague left we advertised for a senior teacher but specifically for a teacher interested in developing their leadership skills and experience.

The answer to my question is that we can offer management opportunities by asking someone to manage the school in the head’s absence; and offer them training and leadership opportunities that can take them towards headship. What does this look like in practice?

When we recruit we are looking for someone who wants to progress their career. We can offer them training through the National College at small school rates – providing we have the right candidate. We can offer them opportunities that Deputies at much larger schools would be fortunate to access. For example, experience of running the school, attending budget meetings with the head’s notes as a guide, working closely with the Head on the SEF and School Improvement and Development Plan, becoming an active Governor, leading key areas of school development, learning and experience of site management, shadowing the Head in vital tasks and roles. Some of these things a Deputy may do, but not all and certainly not to the same depth.

The school gets the best teachers possible and the teachers get the best experience possible. When we advertised in 2011 we had 15 applications for the post of senior teacher – and were very pleased with the outcome.

At the start I referred to the attitude of the head being the key. The potential risk with small schools is that the general profile of the Head may be younger. This could mean that the heads of small schools are generally developing their own role as leaders in more of an 'establishing' phase. If this is true then are these heads able to nurture and develop other leaders who could be close to headship themselves? Can Heads of smaller schools 'let go' of their leadership, be less precious of it? If they can then the potential exists for a potent way of attracting and developing leaders within small schools that not only matches this process in larger schools, but actually could go far beyond it.

There are some features of my own situation that are perhaps unique and not applicable to every scenario. However, the idea that the smallness of some schools can be turned around into becoming a real driver for both school and professional development means that small schools do not have to be bereft of good leaders. Again, the thinking and attitude of the head and governors are absolutely central to the success.

Peter Lacey-Hastings