- The challenges faced by school leaders relating to COVID-19 provide a good opportunity to demonstrate the national standards in practice.
- The review commission has added a further seven personal characteristics or virtues in additional to the original standards.
- The government has provided updated guidance on the full re-opening of schools
The national standards for school leaders (National standards of excellence for headteachers) have been in place since 2015. However, recently they were subject to review by a commissioned panel and additional attributes were added, with the revised version due to be published this autumn. The original principles listed in the standards were:
- Selflessness: School and college leaders should act solely in the interest of children and young people.
- Integrity: School and college leaders must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. Before acting and taking decisions, they must declare and resolve openly any perceived conflict of interest and relationships.
- Objectivity: School and college leaders must act and take decisions impartially and fairly, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias. Leaders should be dispassionate, exercising judgement and analysis for the good of children and young people.
- Accountability: School and college leaders are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
- Openness: School and college leaders should expect to act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from scrutiny unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so.
- Honesty: School and college leaders should be truthful.
- Leadership: School and college leaders should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles, and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs. Leaders include those who are paid to lead schools and colleges and those who volunteer to govern them.
Reflecting on the attributes, ‘objectivity’ will be at the heart of leadership in the COVID-19 era. School leaders are best placed to understand the needs of their school communities to ensure a successful full return to school. Professional judgement will be required to identify which pupils have been most adversely affected by school closure and to work out a sustained response to best meet their needs. Many leaders will choose objectively to align the pupil premium strategy and corresponding funding to this sustained response to ensure that the chosen approaches to plugging the gaps have impact.
‘Leadership’ will be evident in the support of great teaching when schools are fully up and running. This will include providing opportunities for professional development, e.g. to support curriculum planning and focused training on the effective use of technology. Strong leadership will be needed in the organisational and logistical adjustments required to enable schools to remain open safely and effectively. Leaders will already have been shown to be making such adjustments through how they organised induction and ‘meet the new teacher’ events remotely, such as by creating a bespoke website for induction and videos of the teachers welcoming their new pupils.
The commission has added a further seven personal characteristics or virtues, as follows:
- Trust: Leaders are trustworthy and reliable. They hold trust on behalf of children and should be beyond reproach. Leaders are honest about their motivations.
- Wisdom: Leaders use experience, knowledge and insight. They demonstrate moderation and self-awareness. They act calmly and rationally. They serve their schools and colleges with propriety and good sense.
- Kindness: Leaders demonstrate respect, generosity of spirit, understanding and good temper. They give difficult messages humanely where conflict is unavoidable.
- Justice: Leaders are fair and work for the good of all children. They seek to enable all young people to lead useful, happy and fulfilled lives.
- Service: Leaders are conscientious and dutiful. They demonstrate humility and self-control, supporting the structures, conventions and rules which safeguard quality. Their actions protect high-quality education.
- Courage: Leaders work courageously in the best interests of children and young people. They protect their safety and their right to a broad, effective and creative education. They hold one another to account courageously.
- Optimism: Leaders are positive and encouraging. Despite difficulties and pressures, leaders are developing excellent education to change the world for the better.
‘Wisdom’ will be required in balancing the potential remote education plans and provision for the most disadvantaged pupils should schools be required to lock down again due to a local outbreak of COVID-19. It will be required in balancing catch-up between one-to-one or small-group tuition, intervention programmes and possibly extending time in school. It will be needed for the wider sequencing of the curriculum to catch up with what has been missed, while, at the same time, moving the curriculum on. Wisdom will be evident in the acknowledgement that there will need to be additional mentoring and support of early career stage teachers, particularly newly qualified teachers who have missed chunks of their initial teacher training.
‘Justice’ will be seen in how leaders compensate for the negative impact of school closure on the most disadvantaged. They will look to narrow the even more extended attainment gap. The response will be sustained rather than a quick fix. Difficult decisions will be made to ensure that catch-up programmes and the use of public money is just. There is support for this:
- The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a useful resource for schools addressing this area.
- Oak National Academy is continuing its work to support families and schools with a comprehensive curriculum.
- The government is publishing curriculum maps from Reception to Year 9 to help to facilitate moving across from classroom teaching to remote provision.
‘Service’ will be in evidence thorough leaders’ close attention to detail in the risk assessments they have put in place for a safe re-opening of schools. They will be thorough and build in the additional requirements following the updated guidance from the government (see the ‘Handout – Updates to the government guidance for schools for September 2020’ in the Toolkit).
These are unprecedented times in education and never has there been such an opportunity for school and college leaders, including governors, to further develop the attributes and characteristics of great leaders.
- National standards of excellence for headteachers, DfE, 2015: http://bit.ly/Headteacher-Standards
- ‘Safe working in education, childcare and children’s social care’, part of Education and childcare during coronavirus, DfE, July 2020: http://bit.ly/safe-education
- COVID-19 support guide for schools, EEF: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/
- Oak National Academy, Learning Ladders: www.learningladders.info/
Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Helen Frostick is currently the headteacher of St. Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, London. She is a National Leader of Education (NLE) for the National College of School Leadership, with responsibility for supporting schools in challenging circumstances. Helen regularly speaks at national conferences and specialises in pupil premium and safeguarding.