Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Higher You Climb as a Head, the Worse It Feels

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Higher You Climb as a Head, the Worse It Feels

Article excerpt

Fears of inadequacy grow with experience, research finds

Being in the same job for a while comes with certain benefits. After several years in a role, most people relax, stop feeling like a fraud and start believing they might be good enough. Except, it seems, headteachers.

New research shows that the longer headteachers stay in the position, the less likely they are to recognise their own achievements, or to feel that they are up to the job.

Julia Steward, an independent consultant and former assessor for the National Professional Qualification for Headship, surveyed 49 headteachers on how confident they felt in their role.

Her research will be presented at the annual British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society conference later this month. It shows that headteachers who have been in the job for between one and three years are split roughly evenly between those who worry that they are not good enough (50 per cent) and those who have no such worries (44 per cent).

But, among those who have been in the job for 10 or more years, 60 per cent worry that they are not good enough. Only 20 per cent have no such fears.

'They have more to lose'

Ms Steward believes that, the longer headteachers are in a job, the higher the expectations they have of themselves. "You go from not being able to do something to taking it for granted," she said. "They're meant to be experienced heads, so people expect more of them. In a sense, they become more insecure because they have more to lose."

Her research also examines to what extent headteachers acknowledge their own achievements. Fifty-four per cent of relatively new heads say they do not. This rises to 61 per cent once they have been in the job for between four and nine years. And all headteachers who have been in the post for 10 or more years say they do not acknowledge their own achievements.

Ms Steward points out that the longer headteachers are in the role - and the older they grow - the more they might find that it drains their energy.

Jamie Barry, headteacher of Welford Primary School in Birmingham, agrees. "We always take the burden off the staff," he said. "So it can be a huge burden [on the leader] over time."

In addition, he said, the cumulative effect of keeping staff morale high might mean that school leaders ultimately ended up forgetting that their own morale also needed boosting.

"I find it very difficult to say 'I've done this' or 'I've done that'," he said. "It's very disingenuous to take credit when there's a huge team behind you. …

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