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Well, I’m back to school after the holidays, and we are already back into the swing of things, with lots lined up for the coming term. For me, it’s always busy in the Spring, as we look forward and start planning for next year, which includes timetabling, recruitment and resources, amongst other things. It always seems tremendously busy, and sometimes it can be so difficult to see the big picture when as a leader of a small school, you become involved in so much. Despite this, you have to prioritise, and I thought I would take time this week to share the results of a survey I have been conducting with an international school group as a part of my studies. It asked Headteachers about their strategic priorities and conducted a 1st,2nd, 3rd ranking, for which a points score was ascribed and totals averaged. The results for strategy and decision making are as below and as you may have noticed, it split respondents between those who work in founding roles and those who do not.

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These figures of course, must be taken with a large pinch of salt due to the relatively small sample size (around 120) and the inevitable flaws within my survey. However, it did highlight some areas which I expected to see and others I did not. As a founding leader I would have expected to have seen;

• A greater focus on recruitment, mission and strategic planning, as well as marketing and enrolment for founding staff
• More priority given to curriculum and facilities for non-founding staff.

The reasons for my initial beliefs were that founding staff have to concentrate a huge deal upon getting things started, and on instilling a belief in the school in order to build numbers and positive forward momentum. This would then have to couple with a strong sense of strategic planning, as you have to create a much more detailed road map of where the school is heading, as you are starting from scratch. You also need the right people, teaching in new schools can be intense and it’s not for everyone – leaders must seek the right type of people for the role. For non-founding leaders, I was anticipating that this would not be so intense, and that therefore they could concentrate more on the next stage, which involves tweaking systems and looking to improve – in areas such as curriculum and facilities.

The results seem to support these views, to a limited extent, but opinions/trends were fairly balanced across both groups. Why could this be? Well, perhaps it’s because Headteacher’s plates are always full, and that whether in a founding or non-founding role, it always seems so equally intense. (And this is what I’m now focusing upon analysing in my studies!) Anyhow, both groups seemed to agree that mission and strategy were vital, followed by recruitment, and it’s hard to argue with that. Here’s what some leaders commented;

“When a school has no pupils you need to sell the vision of the future school. To be successful I believe that requires a clear and easily articulated mission and principles.”

“A school’s mission and philosophy determine its strategic direction and then areas such as marketing, enrolment and curriculum follow as a matter of course.”

“We are a small and growing school and we have to be focussed on our strategic planning (which is based on and linked with our mission and vision) and incorporates the essential role of marketing and enrolment to ensure growth in student population.”

“Quality staff and teaching are a key factor for parents. Other areas flow naturally from this. Recruitment is my main priority and I invest a lot of time and energy into it.”

“The biggest impact a leader can have on learning is by placing quality teachers in the classroom, developing them and finally retaining them.”

Personally, I think that recruitment is vital. Everything comes from that. If you get the right team in, strategy and curriculum, resources and facilities all flow from there. However, it’s like the chicken and the egg – good staff won’t come if you don’t have a clear and exciting vision, or the curriculum/plan/facilities etc that makes a project exciting and worth their while. It’s a difficult and complex task, and one which is very difficult in a small, founding school environment where it is not possible to distribute strategy and decision making over a large leadership team. And this is why the next few weeks is so vital here – identifying and recruiting the best people to thrive in this context, and moving the school to a much more larger distributed sense of leadership.

So what do I focus on in recruitment? For fear of giving the game away here, I look for personality. Can the candidate work in this environment? How do they respond to pressure? Do they reflect the mission and principles we hold here and most importantly, are they talented but resilient. This concept of personality traits in leaders was also something contained within the survey, and I’ll come back to those next week. Meanwhile, I’m tempted to sign off with an advertisement from Ernest Shackleton, looking for explorers to the South Pole in 1914;

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I’m not Shackleton and we’re not quite the South Pole, but hopefully you understand the message!