Of leaders and leadership: the variety of types and their impact

Of leaders and leadership: the variety of types and their impact

It's a widely recognised fact that the quality of our schools, our teachers and leaders varies too much. Good leaders are proven to transform schools and so demand for top 'superheads' has soared, leading to salaries that are nothing short of eye-watering. 

But the latest research, hot off the press from the Centre for High Performance, throws doubt onto our choice of school leaders. It examines the changes made by 411 leaders of UK academies and suggests that we could be appointing, rewarding and recognising the wrong type of leaders. 

The researchers tell us that, as things stand, we compare schools and their leaders by looking at the percentage of students achieving at least grade C in five or more subjects as well as the level of spend per student. But these measures do not show how the leaders achieve these results or the value they add to society. And - crucially - we ignore what happens after the leader leaves. 

In short, leaders who build big, successful schools with sustained longer term success are less likely to be recognised for what they achieve under the current system.

Five types of Head ...


These form the largest group. They are heads who do not see themselves as managers, but try to lead by example as senior teachers. they are inspirers, who like to talk about pedagogy, in particular. They do not change much about the student body or the staffroom. 


These headteachers act decisively to turn around schools. On arriving in a school they exclude an average of around a quarter of the final year students and drive resources into final year students. They fire around a tenth of staff. Their immediate impact is dramatic. 


The careful planners. These heads work on improving standards in school behaviour as a first step before working on improving teaching. They value parental engagement, seeing themselves as working for their community. They only expel children for behaviour management and slowly replace poorly performing staff.

Soldiers & Accountants

Both of these types are best suited to schools that need a financial turnaround. 'Accountants' try to increase the size of the school as a strategy for improving the financial balance. 'Soldiers' try to cut costs to meet the school's budget constraints.

Surgeons appear to make the most dramatic improvement in the short term, averaging around a 10% improvement per annum in exam results with only a slight loss of financial strength. 'Philosophers' make marginal improvement on results, but not finance. 'Architects', however, on these measures, make steady long term progress on both finance and results.

Whilst Surgeons' deliver good short term results, they typically leave within two years. Their schools' results then decline rapidly in the year after they move on, although they often recover further down the line.

On the other hand, the slow, steady approach of the 'Architect' head, leaves a legacy of schools that are continually improving - both financially and on exam results - without the need to expel pupils. Their schools grow as parents want to use them.

The research raises some obvious questions. Aren't we being far too short-termist in our approach to leadership? Surely we are incentivising those who deliver short term results at a cost and largely ignoring the longer term achievements of leaders? And, aren't there implications here for leadership training?

Read more ...

The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School
by Alex Hill, Liz Mellon, Ben Laker and Jules Goddard
October 2016

Other texts worth considering ...

School leadership and student outcomes: identifying what works and why; best evidence synthesis iteration
by Professor Viviane Robinson, Professor Margie Hohepa and Claire Lloyd, 2015

The principal: three keys to maximizing impact
by Professor Michael Fullan, 2014

Pupil's mental health and cyberbullying
Memorisation, retention and learning


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