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School leader coach Kath Curry: “In education, a structured development pathway is notably absent, hindering leaders’ potential.”

Kath Curry provides leadership and performance development for headteachers and senior leadership teams and has worked with multiple leaders across the UTC programme.

Is the education sector paying enough attention to school leadership?

In the 2023 Wellbeing Index Report, an alarming 89% of education senior leaders confessed to stress, soaring to a staggering 95% for headteachers.

This crisis stems from a woeful neglect of leadership development, with insufficient investment in honing leaders’ skills to combat today’s relentless pressures. The absence of a structured leadership learning pathway leaves individuals ill-equipped to navigate the demanding landscape.

Kath Curry

Compounding the issue, current National Professional Qualifications remain voluntary, leaving school leaders potentially without any professional development support.

As a dedicated school leadership coach, I witness first-hand the dire consequences: physical and mental health struggles. Urgent, comprehensive action is imperative for a resilient and effective education leadership system.

How does the education sector compare to others in terms of the attention we give to leadership development?

Originating from the corporate world, I witnessed a lack of structure and fairness regarding access to quality leadership development. The best were offered tailored opportunities creating a significant gap between the naturally gifted leaders and the average ones.

Despite a high-quality learning platform available for all, it required individual initiative and relied on self-driven leaders to foster growth within their teams, inevitably leading to disparities in leadership competency.

Similarly, in education, a structured development pathway is notably absent, hindering the leaders’ potential, performance, and progress. It’s time for education to bridge this gap and provide a comprehensive, accessible leadership development framework.

What specific challenges do you think education leaders will face this year?

Education leaders grapple with multifaceted challenges in the current landscape:

  • Budget excellence: Juggling financial constraints while pursuing educational excellence.
  • Talent tug-of-war: Navigating staff retention and recruiting skilled educators.
  • Pupil puzzle: Meeting enrolment targets and adapting curricula to evolving technology.
  • Inclusive education: Addressing the surge in pupils with special educational needs.
  • Public scrutiny: Managing visibility and accountability pressures.
  • COVID complications: Mitigating pandemic fallout on student attainment and behaviour.
  • Parental expectations: Balancing increasing expectations from parents.
  • Mental health strain: Addressing rising stress and mental health challenges among students and staff.
  • Ofsted ordeal: Navigating the looming threat of negative Ofsted inspections.

What skills should leaders focus on developing to meet these challenges?

Work is needed at government level to create a structured learning pathway for leaders. However, in the current system, I would encourage leaders to focus on self-leadership. This means investing in five things:

  • Design your leadership identity. Gain clarity by exploring who you are as a leader. What do you stand for? What are your values?
  • Develop a powerful mindset. Many challenges wouldn’t feel stressful if we knew we could handle it. Invest in developing a growth mindset and high self-esteem enabling you to meet the pressure of the role.
  • Invest in building energy. When leaders are stressed, they often neglect their physical health. Invest in the ‘Fab Four’: Food, fitness, fun and forty winks.
  • Take control of your development. Identify your gaps and create a plan to fill them.
  • Become powerfully productive. Learn how to prioritise and delegate to enable others to develop and you to focus on the strategic development of the school.

How do these challenges and skill requirements differ for UTC leaders?

Many UTC leaders navigate distinctive challenges within multi academy trusts, where the risk of losing UTC identity is real.

Smaller UTCs, recruiting mainly at Years 10 and 12, are particularly sensitive to enrolment shifts.

Despite grappling with staff skill shortages in STEM subjects and recruitment complexities, UTC leaders must preserve their focused curriculum within a broader national educational framework.

This emphasis is crucial in dispelling the inaccurate perception of technical education as secondary and addressing the misconception of UTCs as alternatives for behaviourally complex students.

The condensed timeframe from Year 10 to GCSEs adds pressure, impacting the traditional three-year program.