Headteacher Recruitment Working Group: route to headship

This paper supports the Headteacher Recruitment Working Group's 'Report and next steps' publication.

Annex B - A Review of Accelerated Leadership Development in Education: Schemes and Issues

Professor Christine Forde, University of Glasgow and the Scottish College of Educational Leadership

Section 1: Overview of the Review Process

This review scopes out recent work on accelerated leadership development in education. The review begins with an outline of fast track schemes used in education. However, there are only a small number of short lived schemes to be found and so this review includes accelerated leadership development in other professions: the UK civil service, in nursing and the multidisciplinary accelerated leadership development in the NHS. The review describes various schemes reported in the academic literature (peer-reviewed journals and grey literature) in education and other professions. Various terms are used to describe these accelerated programmes. Among the most common are accelerated leadership development; fast track, fast stream, high-potential, 'future leaders' and 'rising stars'. Other terms such as 'early' or 'emergent' leadership may also be used to describe leadership development provided for early career professionals but such programmes are largely about building distributed forms of leadership rather than an accelerated pathway for rapid progression to senior leadership roles. The review also identifies several issues related to the fast tracking of qualified and serving teachers into senior leadership roles, particularly headship. These issues include:

  • selection for accelerated programmes
  • professional learning experiences and accelerated leadership development
  • the experiences of early career teachers as a senior leader
  • tacit knowledge, wisdom and acceleration
  • leadership potential
  • succession planning
  • the leadership pipeline
  • talent management
  • transitions into headship.

Two broad purposes for accelerated leadership development are typically identified for schemes found in various professions. The first purpose is to attract and retain talented staff who, without career advancement opportunities, might otherwise leave. The second purpose is to address shortages in suitably qualified and experienced candidates applying for promoted posts particularly senior leadership posts. Some accelerated programmes relate to a specific career pathway but where a profession has differentiated career entry points, for example non-graduate and graduate, an accelerated programme is a means of attracting highly qualified graduates into a profession. Some accelerated leadership development programmes are at career entry level, while other programmes are for serving practitioners including early career professionals.

Section 2: Accelerated Leadership Development Schemes in Education

There are few schemes for accelerated leadership development recorded in the recent literature. The overall trend in education systems is to build substantial and coherent provision for career-long leadership development. The schemes established by the National College for Leadership in England (and its successor organisations) (NCL) are probably the best known. Other systems have established accelerated programmes at points to address a specific issue of low recruitment to senior leadership but these tend to be small-scale and short term, as is the case with the examples from English education. Three accelerated schemes have been established in England since 2001; Fast Track Teaching, Future Leaders and Tomorrow's Heads.

Fast Track Teaching

The Fast Track Teaching (FFT) scheme was established to address two issues in English education: firstly, to address a shortage of teachers and attract talented recruits into the profession and secondly, to retain talented early career teachers by providing them with a career development pathway to promoted posts. Here 'promoted posts' included senior leadership roles and posts such as Advanced Skills Teacher (which included a leadership dimension) (Jones, 2006). The programme aims were recorded as being: 'to recruit the brightest and best into teaching, and to retain serving teachers, particularly those of the highest calibre who are in the early years of their careers, and move them quickly into leadership positions' (DfES, 2001: n.p.). Originally the Fast Track scheme had two entry points: the first entry point for recruits into the profession. They had to undertake a post graduate initial teaching qualification and the providers of the ITT programme were also expected 'to provide an enriched programme for Fast Track trainees' (Jones, 2006). The career entry programme closed in 2005. The purpose of the programme for serving teachers was 'to provide an enriched professional development route to early positions of senior school leadership' (Jones, 2006: 3) which was personalised to match the development needs and circumstances of each participant.

The Fast Track Scheme did bring about change in the serving teachers on the scheme including a readiness to take on responsibilities, greater engagement in leadership and management behaviours including transformational leadership approaches (Jones, 2006). However, in terms of an accelerated progression to senior leadership, this was not typically evident. Instead, these participants adhered to 'a more established route to positions of responsibility and career progression' (Jones, 2006: 3) with many working towards and through early promoted posts. As the programme went through a second and third cycle, cohorts of serving teachers could access the NPQH. Importantly, while the Fast Track Teaching programme was a structured approach, the programme did not bring into an accelerated pool additional teachers who were 'new' aspiring to leadership. Many were already working towards building a leadership profile. This seems to be a typical finding across the evaluations of the various schemes (Higham et al. 2015a).

All participants went through a three stage selection process (see Selection below) and all applicants were provided with feedback after the first two tasks (the cut off point for a three stage process). In the first cycle of the programme all serving teachers received an additional grant of £2,000 per annum for the length of their participation in the programme. However, this payment ceased in 2005.
The programme for serving teachers consisted of:

  • an in-school mentor (member of the SLT)
  • a Personal Learning Tutor (PLT) who took on a coaching role and these tutors were managed by Lead Tutors
  • reviews of the work and progress of the participant by the mentor and PLT
  • a development project to build thinking, practice and engagement in whole school work
  • personal reflection and analysis – online diary.

Following the pilot the programme was augmented and included an annual conference, regional fast track training events after work and at weekends. The participants could access development opportunities from a menu and also the NPQH.

In a later study of participants' experiences on the Fast Track programme, Jones (2010: 161) reports that for many this was 'inspirational, motivating and supportive': the FTT programme built participants' motivation and confidence and provided support and challenge in a personalised framework. The participants felt that they were making a difference and appreciated the positive and creative approaches to which they were exposed including in-school development and external opportunities. The personal learning tutors were a significant strength and in-school mentoring was also positive when this was well organised. However, there was an issue of access and time for mentoring for some participants. Many participants had made rapid career progression – though not necessarily to headship (Jones, 2010). Part of these teachers' motivation to apply for the Fast Track Programme had been their previous interest in seeking a promoted post. The participants attributed their success in progressing partly to the breadth of their experiences on the programme. The FFT programme ended in 2009 and one issue noted in the evaluation process was the comparative lack of success of teachers from minority groups in the selection process. Also the cohorts were diverse in terms of career experience and so from the pilot programme more flexible provision was developed to address different areas of need including access to the NPQH.

Future Leaders

Future Leaders was the successor to FFT and drew from the New York Leadership Academy[3] programme, New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) (Earley, 2010). This programme was targeted at headship in urban settings, particularly secondary headship. The objectives of the programme were to:

  • expand the pool from which headteachers could be found for urban complex schools
  • recruit from non-traditional sources
  • provide a model for culture change by changing attitudes to recruitment of senior staff in schools
  • offer a risk managed innovative approach
  • provide an alternative approach for teachers and those not currently in schools to gain a fast track to senior roles in a shorter time span (Earley et al., 2011: 296-7).

To enter this programme all candidates had to have held previously a teaching post in a school and Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). The programme consisted of a comprehensive selection process, a summer school for leadership training programme (two weekend sessions in the summer term and a two-week residential programme in the summer vacation). This training programme was followed by 'a one-year full-time residential placement with a host school where the Future Leader (FL) joined the senior leadership team' (Earley et al. 2011: 297). During this year the FL was mentored by the headteacher of the host school as well as having the support of an external coach who would visit the school to work with the participant and consult with the headteacher. There were also weekly afternoon sessions but some FLs could not attend because of commitments. A study trip to the USA supported by the NLNS programme was included for the FL and a leader from the host school – usually the headteacher. This was a complex programme with several components and partners. Earley et al. (2009: 303) argue that the success of the programme rested on the interplay of three elements:

  • the host school especially the headteacher mentor and the DHT professional tutor
  • the Future Leaders
  • the support offered by the coaches and the FL organisation

The year long placement was a central component of this programme. Largely, this was seen as a positive experience from the FLs' point of view and the host schools were generally supportive and welcoming, as was the reaction of the wider staff. Negative responses tended to come from an individual member of the senior leadership team. There were issues around access to mentoring – this was expected to happen on a regular basis but demands on the senior leadership team posed barriers for some FLs. As part of the second cohort's programme, a deputy in the host school was to act as a 'professional tutor'. While this was successful for some participants, for others the DHT was unclear about their role, did not possess the pre-requisite skills or did not meet regularly with the FL. A further issue for some FLs was access to meaningful leadership responsibilities during the placement particularly if a more hierarchical leadership style was in evidence in their host school.

Tomorrow's Heads

Tomorrow's Heads was a broad based scheme seeking to develop 'future headteachers across all contexts: urban and rural; primary, secondary and special schools' (NCL, 2010: n.p.). Participants were then expected to progress to the NPQH within four years of completing this programme. A set of principles were set out for this scheme:

  • Provision is based on what we know about the most effective processes and practice of accelerated leadership development and will develop in the light of new thinking and research
  • Learning focuses on developing the highest level competencies for headship, underpinned by a clear moral purpose to improve outcomes for children and young people
  • Learning is self-directed, personalised to the needs of individuals and action-orientated – participants are expected to take responsibility for planning and following their own learning pathway, with support and challenge from a Leadership Development Adviser (LDA)
  • Participants need to demonstrate strong commitment and determination to achieve headship rapidly and to graduate from NPQH within four years
  • Tomorrow's Heads is supported by a strong quality assurance framework to ensure the highest standards in relation both to participant performance and quality of delivery
  • Tomorrow's Heads is coherent with and supportive of other key aspects of the National College's work, including the Future Leaders programme, work with National Strategies on Primary Leadership, Middle Leadership development through school clusters and succession planning, and will ensure that the graduates of Tomorrow's Heads are fit to lead 21st century schools (NCSL: 2010: 2).

This programme was run in parallel with Future Leaders with candidates from both programmes being able to access the same leadership development opportunities. Specifically, the Tomorrow's Heads programme comprised:

  • school-based learning
  • stretch assignments in external organisations and schools
  • intensive leadership school
  • targeted, personalised preparation for the NPQH and headship.

In addition, each candidate would have an LDA who provided coaching, feedback and support in a 360 degree process; opportunities for networking and peer learning and an e-learning programme.

Tomorrow's Heads Today

Under an umbrella scheme of Tomorrow's Heads Today, various local programmes were established through the NCL working with headteachers in the design and delivery. Simkin's et al. (2009) report on a programme targeting serving deputy headteachers (DHTs). They point to the significance of the 'point of transition' from deputy headship to headship. This professional learning programme centred around a work shadowing experience: the deputy headteacher shadowed an effective and experienced headteacher in another part of the city. Other local programmes were developed under the National College's broad idea of Tomorrow's Heads Today and are reported by Drummond (2009). One important facet of these local solutions is the involvement of the headteachers in working with the NCL to design and provide leadership development opportunities to staff. All these programmes, except Leading from the Middle, targeted early career teachers.

  • Forging Ahead for early career teachers between 3 and 7 years' teaching experience. Here headteachers worked to create and offer a menu of experiential leadership development opportunities such as mentoring, shadowing, attending appointments panels and meetings as an observer.
  • Putting Heads Together, where headteachers worked with the National College to devise a leadership preparation programme for teachers with at least five years experience which included a range of activities: self evaluation against a professional standard, coaching, shadowing and workshops.
  • Greenhouse Schools focussed on 'growing their own leaders'. The school appoints young teachers and works with them to firstly, develop their leadership and secondly, promote them to leadership roles. This formed part of a wider leadership development strategy for all staff.
  • Leading from the Middle where the schools worked with the NCL to provide leadership opportunities for those teachers who are both interested in and have the potential for a leadership role.

Section 3: Accelerated Leadership Development Schemes in Other professions

While accelerated leadership development schemes have been used in the business and commerce sector, there are also examples of such schemes in other professions including the civil service, medicine and nursing.

UK Civil Service

One example of accelerated leadership development is to be found in the UK Civil Service with two areas identified:

  • the development of midcareer staff who may have the potential to progress to senior levels either within the short term (one to two years) or the longer term (broadly five years)
  • the Civil Service Fast Stream, a graduate entry scheme, has two purposes of attracting and retaining 'high potential' graduates and of providing them with an accelerated development programme over the first five years of their careers.

The use of accelerated schemes as part of a recruitment and retention strategy is typically used in contexts where there is competition for high quality candidates. The purpose of the Fast Stream is to develop core skills by exposing 'participants to a broad range of work across the Civil Service through postings across different functions, department, regions and secondments' (Civil Service HR, 2016). The Fast Stream programme is very competitive, for example in 2015, there were 21,135 applications and 967 appointments – broadly 5% of applications are appointed to the programme. Initial selection is through online assessment and a second stage assessment centre process. The Civil Service Competency Framework is then used. Adam (2017) highlights issues related to diversity 'On some metrics, such as representation of disabled people and women, the Fast Stream performs particularly well. However, in terms of university and socio-economic background, more work needs to be done' (n.p). There is also a gender divide with more women opting for HR and communication fast stream and more men in business, digital and economics streams.

A more recent development in the UK Civil Service is a 'corporate talent strategy' to make the connection between the career entry Fast Stream programme and the identification of 'the top 200', those employees who could progress to the most senior positions: 'It will allow the most talented individuals to be deployed to meet organisational priorities and in the future, it will be the route through which internal candidates develop their capability, so that they can be considered for Director General or Permanent Secretary roles' (Civil Service, 2017: 3). Leadership talent management is to become part of the responsibilities of line management.

Medicine: NHS England

The issue of accelerated leadership development is a focus for the NHS Leadership Academy in England. Here there has been an interesting process of evolution of provision. The task is to prepare leaders across the NHS workforce who can take forward the significant change particularly patient-centred approaches. This cultural change can be compared with the current emphasis in education on learner-centred approaches.

The NHS Executive Fast Track

The first accelerated programme was the NHS Executive Fast Track Programme (EFTP). Following a ministerial announcement in 2013, of the intention to 'develop a group of outstanding leaders for the NHS' (NHSLA, 2015: 9), 50 candidates were selected from 1,648 applications with 35 from an NHS background and 15 from a non-NHS background. This was to be an intensive leadership development process to prepare candidates for board/executive level leadership (equivalent of headship level). The learning outcomes of the programme were as follows:

  • To develop the knowledge, skills and experience to be able to step into an Executive Director position.
  • To develop a significant network outside the participants' organisations.
  • To develop an understanding of the global and multi-sector trends and their applicability to NHS-funded care in England in the local environment.
  • An ability to re-imagine healthcare to support a new vision for the NHS, driving innovation (NHSLA, 2015: 9).

The programme had four elements:

  • Executive Education: two blocks (four weeks and one week) in Harvard (School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School) and four UK based workshops.
  • Corporate Placement: for NHS staff in business and industrial companies; for non-NHS staff, placements in public sector organisations.
  • International experience: one week's experience working in another healthcare system – South Africa, India, China, Canada, Netherlands, France, Singapore.
  • Transformational Change Project (TCP): candidates were placed in a Trust and undertook a change project the outcomes of which they reported to the Trust's CE.

The evaluation noted benefits for individual participants notably in building networks and understanding healthcare at a system level and indeed, global level. The TCP was an important element but unlike the work-based projects used frequently in educational leadership development programmes, these projects were a mix of investigations and feasibility studies rather than a planned programme of change. One TCP, for example, was an exploration of 'a seven day NHS service' and identified issues of sustainability funding etc. Another example cited was the improvement of customer services in the NHS where several areas were highlighted to the Trust to be taken forward. Building the networks was accomplished through the placements in different UK organisations and in an international healthcare system. From these experiences participants understood the importance of networks – professional, corporate and political - in affecting change (NHSLA, 2015). Participants had begun to progress to executive positions but there was a concern about the balance between on-the-job learning and the development of leadership practice in context and external experiences. Clearly this programme provided a range of opportunities beyond the participant's current role and organisation. However, there seems to be a disconnection between these experiences and the day-to-day role leading as an executive in the NHS.

NHS Clinical Executive Fast Track

Another example is the NHS Clinical Executive Fast Track scheme managed by the NHS Leadership Academy[4]. As part of an extensive suite of programmes for many different professional groups in the health services. (The suite includes other programmes for aspiring chief executives and board membership.) The NHS Clinical Executive Fast Track programme is described as '36-month talent scheme' (NHS, 2105). This scheme overall, is a three year programme, with a one year leadership development programme – an adapted Nye Bevan Executive Development Programme – and a two year talent management programme. The two year 'bespoke talent management support' with a range of experiential development activities including coaching/mentoring, support in workplace, 'stretch opportunities', secondments, shadowing. These activities might also include opportunities to work in organisations other than medical facilities. The programme is multidisciplinary, designed for any medical professional (doctors, nurses and Allied Health Professionals, Clinical Pharmacists and Health Care Scientists) who are 'one below board/governing level or equivalent' (and so with a degree of leadership experience as well as professional practice). The scheme has a cohort of 30 annually and it is anticipated that those applying will be moving into senior or executive leadership roles within one to three years. (NHS, 2015). The programme was fully funded (though this has changed with funding shared by the Leadership Academy and the sponsoring employer) and has assessment including a final viva. The emphasis of the programme is clearly on leadership and administration:

The scheme will specifically enable clinical leaders to develop commercial and financial skills as well as board readiness to equip them to progress into a variety of key leadership roles at executive level or equivalent in the NHS and wider health and care system (NHS, n.d.).

Ward Sisters

NHS England has proposed a graduate entry level programme for nurses to move straight into ward manager positions (middle leadership role). The reasons for developing this programme chime with some of the discussions in teaching; there is a significant vacancy rate for these posts partly fuelled it is argued (Clover, 2012) by a perception that such a role means carrying all the responsibility. This is not a national scheme but was established in 2012 by 'the academic health science centre UCL Partners, which comprises more than 30 NHS organisations and education bodies' (Clover, 2012). This is a four year post graduate programme for nurses with a first class degree who – at least for the initial cohort – needed to have graduated in 2012 and follow a bespoke career path. The four year course includes on-the job-development with six month rotations in different areas: 'primary care, mental health, general and specialist hospital settings' (Clover, 2102). Each participant will be mentored by a director of nursing. The programme is assessed against 150 competencies. It is clearly an ambitious programme: 'Candidates will need to be very ambitious, bright and have high emotional intelligence. They will be passionate and reflect the kind and caring nursing profession that patients and the public need.' (Robyn Hudson, director of strategic development at UCLP, quoted by Clover, 2012: n.p.).

Section 4: Accelerated Leadership Development: Emerging Issues

Several common issues have emerged from the examination of accelerated leadership development schemes in education and in other professions. These are now discussed.

Developmental Readiness and Selection

In teaching, as in many professions, there is a strong culture of practitioners needing to build their experience before moving forward. However, in accelerated leadership development schemes, the focus is not on the length of the career of potential candidates but on their readiness to be able to progress. Avolio and Hannah (2008) argue that it is essential that those providing accelerated programmes assess the developmental readiness of applicants for leadership development. They identify five different constructs which provide a framework to shape both prior preparation and selection onto a programme. These are:

  • learning goal orientation: here a distinction is made between performance goal orientation where the participant's focus is largely on task completion and a learning goal orientation, where the focus is on learning from the experience.
  • developmental efficacy: the candidate has the confidence that they can develop the skills and abilities necessary for a leadership role.
  • self-concept clarity: being able to define and be consistent in their understanding of themselves and their abilities as a leader.
  • self-complexity: the greater the complexity of a leader's understanding of themselves, the better able they will be to learn from and adapt to changing circumstances and roles.
  • metacognitive ability: the ability of a candidate to reflect on experiences and to understand their learning and thinking in changing and uncertain circumstances.

Selection Processes

Selection is a key element of fast track schemes – both to identify suitable participants and to maintain a transparent and competitive process. The use of stated criteria and a standardised process is important. Tomlinson and Holmes (2001) trialed a battery of measures for the assessment of high leadership potential for multi-faceted assessment. They proposed the following groups of characteristics could be used to select suitable candidates for accelerated programmes:

  • Purpose: mission, responsibility;
  • Direction: focus, school awareness and communication;
  • Motivation and authority: credibility, achiever, activator, command;
  • Relationships: relator, empathy, individualised perception, developer, stimulator;
  • Workstyle: discipline, arranger (Tomlinson and Holmes, 2001; cited Higham et al 2015b: 16).

Different schemes have used broadly similar tools and activities for selection.
Fast Track scheme for serving teachers:
FTT selection had three stages:

  • competency based application form
  • computer based tests of cognitive ability
  • a one day assessment centre for those who are successful at stages 1 and 2, (In the pilot programme this was two days). Feedback was provided for all who attended the assessment centre.

Future Leaders
Selection for the programme was a significant element and included:

  • an application form
  • an essay question
  • online exercises (a picture story exercise and a personal values questionnaire)
  • interviews
  • participation in an assessment centre – including role plays, case studies, a coaching video lesson and reflective interview conducted by a serving HT (Earley et al. 2009: 298).

Earley et al. (2010) note that the process was streamlined in the selection of the second cohort and that there were plans to include an observation of the applicant's teaching. In the evaluation of the programme, coaches and some headteachers were concerned about the robustness of the processes for the second year.

School Context and Support

The context of the school was a significant issue for teachers on accelerated leadership development programmes. In each of the schemes on-the-job leadership experiences and in-school mentoring are central learning processes. Jones (2006) reported that for some participants on the FFT, there were issues about support in school and the quality of mentoring and access to leadership activities. Jones (2010: 158) also reports that for some fast track teachers there were issues related to the reaction of other staff: 'It would appear that the staff in some schools with fast track teachers had issues to do with the relative age and inexperience of participants. They also displayed some cynicism or jealousy in relation to the accelerated career paths open to fast track teachers. Generally, such difficulties were faced for a period of time only and it was important that teachers had information on what it meant to be a fast track teacher (Jones, 2006). The responsibility of the fast track teacher in establishing their credibility was also critical.

Professional Learning and Accelerated Leadership Development

Glatter (2009) highlights the importance of tacit knowledge in leadership and questions whether this can be easily transferred through formal learning. The professional learning activities in the various programmes are designed to enable aspirant heads build their experience, tacit knowledge and confidence: the important mix of 'experiential, collaborative and formal learning' (Higham et al. 2015: 13). A common thread across the various schemes is the central importance of on-the-job experience whether through placements, 'stretch activities', projects or job rotation. Typical activities include:

  • rigorous development plans including the use of 360-degree feedback activities
  • challenging job responsibilities
  • detailed feedback on performance
  • room to reflect upon and capture learning
  • working party membership or leadership of these to build leadership skills for change
  • work placements
  • work shadowing.

There is a clear resonance here with the 'Model of Professional Learning' used by SCEL in programme design (Hamilton et al. forthcoming). Originally generated from work on the SQH, the model has four interdependent and interconnected elements:

  • reflection: the importance of opportunities for sustained exploration of experiences and the 'theorising' that comes from this
  • cognitive development: the importance of conceptual ideas and drawing on bodies of knowledge to plan and review practice
  • experiential learning: the importance of structured and sustained opportunities to plan, trial and reflect on coherent leadership strategies
  • social learning processes: the importance of engaging with the school community to enact improvement strategies and recognise the intensely political nature of this process (Reeves et al. 2002).

Senior Leadership in Early Career

Concerns are raised about the impact of the responsibilities of senior leadership for an early career teacher. One source of evidence about these experiences is the Bush Tracks research programme in Australia which looked at a teaching career in rural education in Australia, particularly in small and often remote schools. The study examined the transitions from student teacher to novice teacher, to rural teacher and to school leader (Cornish, 2009). In the rural sector there is a high turnover of teaching staff as well as a limited pool of applications to assistant principal and principal posts. As a consequence, these posts are often offered to and held by early career teachers. The case studies illustrate some of the issues of related to senior leadership in early career and to school leadership in remote communities (Graham et al., 2008). All in the sample reported being offered formal leadership posts but some teachers did not take up the opportunity for two main issues: (1) the personal cost of leadership and (2) the dual role of leadership and teaching. For those who did take up the leadership post, the high turnover of staff meant that there was little coherence in the mentoring support available – one teacher reporting having three different mentors. The other issue faced by these early career leaders was the experience of doubting their own abilities – whether they were capable of undertaking the role. Moving into a leadership role early in a career 'can segregate teachers from colleagues and place leaders in positions that precipitate conflict between family and professional roles' (Graham et al., 2008: 7). Concerns about isolation, feelings of vulnerability and of high accountability were noted similar to the findings of studies of aspirant and early headship (Gronn and Lacey, 2004). The remote nature of the educational context of these early career leaders added to these concerns. Miller et al. (2006: 36) argue that there is a 'level of ultimate responsibility and financial, managerial and administrative accountability that is associated with being a school leader in an isolated setting'. In the Bush Tracks study, the early career status of these teachers was less an issue. More problematic was the limited access to leadership development and ongoing support and the nature of rural leadership where the boundaries between personal and professional are blurred. Importantly the 'neophyte leaders' of MacPherson's (2010) study in New Zealand indicated that, despite the challenges they derived a great deal of satisfaction from their leadership role.

Higham et al.'s (2015a) study of 'new pathways to headship' in England also looked at the experience of early career headteachers using three different groups: (1) 'Young Heads' (headteacher before 35 in the primary sector and before 40 in the secondary sector); (2) graduates of the NCSL's Future Leaders programme; and (3) 'Career Changers' for whom teaching was a second career. Across these three groups the headteachers on average progressed to headship 8 or 9 years earlier than the average of 18-20 years. The challenges for these cohorts resonate with studies of the early stages of headship: the balancing of strategic and operational demands, dealing with the breadth of responsibilities and the high levels of accountability notably external accountability.

The issue of credibility and suspicion by members of staff towards these young headteachers was noted by about a third of the respondents, particularly where the headteacher had been appointed over candidates with longer careers. Further, Higham et al. (2015a) confirm an earlier finding of Earley and Weindling (2004) that appointments panels had difficulty in appointing from non-traditional pathways. These early career headteachers, however, reported the importance of building aspiration in early career through in-school leadership opportunities, support from senior staff especially the headteacher and through formal leadership development programmes including the aspirant headteacher preparation programme (Higham et al's, 2015a). What comes across all three groups was a readiness to build their credibility and authenticity as a headteacher. In two aspects these respondents felt their practice was different: they felt they were able to remain closer to teaching and learning and were more attuned to identifying leadership potential. The career changers indicated the ways in which they were able to build on their experience in their previous career particularly in leadership and management.

Wisdom and Tacit Knowledge: Breadth in Acceleration

There is no doubt that experience remains a significant factor in the promotion of teachers to leadership roles. Indeed, Hay Group (2007) argue that leadership, especially of complex organisations such as schools, does demand a level of wisdom and maturity. Glatter (2009) highlights the personal nature of elements of the knowledge drawn on in leadership practice which is hard to transfer and so raises the issue of 'maturity of judgement' among candidates on accelerated leadership development. However, here it is important to move beyond a 'time served attitude'. If teachers are to progress more rapidly to headship than they have in the past, we need to consider ways of accessing, possibly through mentoring and coaching, the experience and wisdom of highly effective headteachers. Further, we need to look at acceleration as a means to also build breadth. Thus, potential candidates have opportunities to work across areas – as is the case in the UK Civil Service Fast Stream. Candidates on the Fast Stream programme complete different placements in different areas of specialism and departments. A similar process in Scottish education might include placements in different schools in different contexts with different school leaders (see the section on Transitions).

Leadership Succession and Acceleration

Pont et al. (2008) note that there is little literature on leadership succession in education reflecting the limited attention paid to the question of succession planning. Hartle and Thomas (2003) argue that the development of leaders for tomorrow calls for two processes: a leadership succession process which identifies individuals for leadership posts, and a leadership development process which provides development activities for specific individuals at different levels within the organisation (Hartle and Thomas (2003: 7). However, there are several issues related to both building a broad-based leadership capacity across different levels and ensuring that sufficient numbers of teachers are ready and motivated to progress to headship. Underpinning such strategies is the idea of 'leadership potential', particularly for senior leadership. This issue raises questions also about the management processes an organisation needs to be able to nurture leadership potential: the process of succession planning and pipelines to headship; talent management and transition to headship. These processes are about building leadership over the long term and might include accelerated programmes.

Leadership Potential

The Hay Group (2008) highlight the importance of looking at leadership potential in accelerated leadership development but issue a note of caution regarding the question of leadership potential. They distinguish leadership potential from the high quality performance in a teaching role: 'Neither being the top performer in one's current job, nor expressing great personal ambition and drive are particularly good predictors of long term potential' (Hay Group: 2008: 7). However, this is a significant question given the importance of effective pedagogic practice in the credibility of a leader in schools. A further issue in accelerated leadership development is the difference between 'leadership readiness' (often described as 'ready now') and longer term potential. Leadership readiness is about the immediate next career move and the support to affect this transition. Leadership potential is making a judgement about 'the ultimate destination of someone's career' (Hay Group, 2007: 2013).

In looking to assess potential, there is the question of whether it is about 'promise', that is a strong possibility of future effective practice in a top leadership role or is it about impact in the current role. Jones (2006: 29) argues that we need to make a distinction between 'high performers' who are achieving highly in their current role and 'high potential', 'those that can develop into new and more challenging roles'. Jones (2006) describes teachers with high potential thus: they enjoy working hard, like to take on challenges and indeed, need constant challenge, are adaptive, respond to challenges and use feedback to improve their performance. Fundamentally, these are staff who look to learn and develop as professionals.

Principal/Headteacher Disengagement

Fink (2011a: 591) argues that the difficulty of recruiting headteachers is often perceived as an issue of supply and demand and, if the task was one of finding 'warm bodies', there is potentially a ready supply. One of the significant dangers is the use of fast-track as a reactive measure to address these perceived problems of supply and demand. Fink (2011a) points to three critical issues creating some of the shortages: (1) shifting demographics (2) attractiveness of the role; and (3) generational collide. The first two issues have been explored extensively in the literature. There is substantial evidence that the causes of principal disengagement (Gronn and Rawlings-Sanaei, 2003) are complex. Changes to the role of headteacher/principal in many different systems (higher standards, greater accountability, more parent demands, and site-based management) have had an impact on recruitment and retention. Whitaker (2003) tracked the negative impact of changes on recruitment to headteacher posts in several systems including UK, Ireland, USA and Australia. Thompson et al. (2003) record the media scrutiny of headteachers and the impact on their well-being. The dominant perception by those who are not headteachers is of the significant challenges of the role (Smith 2011, Forde and Lowden, 2016). In Scotland suitably experienced DHTs were not applying for headship because of a reluctance to leave the parts of their role related to teaching and learning and interacting with young people (Forde and Lowden, 2016) as well as a concern about the increased responsibilities. Fink and Brayman (2006) argue that the central purpose of principalship/headship as leading learning and improving the life chances of young people needs to be placed centre stage in education policy and practice to address headteacher recruitment.

The third area Fink (2011a) points to is 'generational collide'. Using the constructs of 'baby boomer[5]', 'Generation X' and Generation Y', Fink argues that there are discernible attitudinal differences towards their careers typically expressed by teachers from different generations. The baby boomers are in leadership roles and have had long standing careers and have limited the opportunities for career progression for Generation X. Further, Generation X are more reluctant to sacrifice their home and personal lives for their careers and typically look for variety and interest in their careers. Generation Y are the digital generation and studies of early career teachers from this generation point to positive attitudes towards their careers: many express aspirations to progress and engage in leadership roles. Project Next Generation noted the readiness of early careers of teachers to engage in activities beyond the classroom (Moore-Johnson and Birkeland, 2003). Therefore, there may be an opportunity to build interest for leadership among early career teachers.

The reluctance to progress to headship is not just a question of individual motivation. We need to set this issue in a wider frame of teachers' careers. Farley-Ripple et al. (2011:789) propose that while some decisions are self-initiated, most decisions are influenced in part or entirely by other actors in the system: some teachers may well be given opportunities and actively recruited through 'tapping' or reassignment while others are passed over. Therefore, there is a need for a more coherent and structured approach to building leadership succession.

Headteacher Pipelines

An important development in the USA is the Wallace Foundation's Principal Pipeline Initiative in 2011 (Turnbull et al. 2016) based on the need to appoint greater numbers of high quality school leaders. Kaufman et al. (2017: 6) define a principal pipeline as the set of activities 'undertaken by a district to prepare, support, manage, and oversee the work of school leaders in order to ensure their effectiveness'. The activities undertaken by districts to establish principal pipelines include:

  • the development or revision of leadership standards as a tool for preparation, hiring processes and professional review and evaluation
  • building partnership with providers in HE to design and deliver programmes
  • reviewing and revising recruitment and selection procedures for leadership roles
  • revising professional review processes for serving principals utilising the standards
  • developing a leadership tracking system.

A leadership tracking scheme is 'a database and longitudinal information about current and aspiring principals that would potentially support data-driven decision making regarding principal selection, hiring and support' (Kaufman et al., 2017:5). This data was also utilised in the evaluation of the principal pipeline processes. Turnbull et al (2016) noted that districts contextualised the broad pipeline scheme to their local circumstances and importantly, the management of the pipeline became the responsibility of the district leadership enabling them to work directly on school principalship and lead improvements. Districts also looked more strategically at the assistant principal's role: the selection and development processes with interventions such as mentoring and coaching were designed to build capabilities and a readiness for principalship.

Creating a principal pipeline can simply be constructed as a replacement strategy, a matter of filing a vacant post with someone from the pipeline. Fink (2011b) notes, however, that many jurisdictions internationally are refocussing their work on leadership succession by 'growing their own'. Leadership potential is identified through talent management and then invested in to create pools of potential leaders.

Talent management and leadership potential

Shortages of candidates raise issues about long term development and the sustaining of teachers through their leadership career. Talent management is a term used in organisations used to describe strategies designed to address two issues pertinent to the question of accelerated leadership development: the retention of staff and the identification and development of leadership potential. Talent management is increasingly evident in public sector organisations (Garrow and Hirsch, 2008) and in education (Hartle and Thomas, 2003; Davies and Davies 2010).

Garrow and Hirsch (2008) highlight the lack of clarity in this notion of 'talent' and the scope of talent management: does this refer to working with a small pool of identified staff or across the workforce, in which case talent management becomes part of the wider development of career paths and professional learning. However, the idea is more usually used in relation to the development and progression of a smaller group and this does raise significant issues about equality and transparency:

people often fear that talent management within institutions cuts across equality of opportunity and transparent process that allow people to apply for higher level jobs to further their career' (Garrow and Hirsch, 2009: 390).

Nevertheless, Davies and Davies (2010: 418) highlight the importance of developing through fast track and in-house schemes in education in order to find 'able and talented people who will create new and different leadership roles in the future'. Hartle and Thomas (2003) propose that a talent management strategy is about:

  • identifying 'pools of talent' within organisations that may be developed towards taking on key leadership roles within the organisation
  • identifying talent at different levels in the organisation
  • positioning individuals against future leadership roles (Hartle and Thomas: 31).

Hartle and Thomas (2003: 33-34 adapted) also identify 'pitfalls' in leadership talent management which, translated into a Scottish education context, include:

  • Staff unawareness of a 'leadership talent management process' and the opportunities available for them
  • A fixed view of what leadership readiness is and looks like
  • Limited recognition, appreciation or registering of the leadership skills and abilities of all staff
  • A focus on particular leadership skills especially 'hard skills' rather than looking for ability across different aspects of leadership
  • No clear processes of leadership talent management: instead a reliance on individual staff stepping forward
  • A disconnection between leadership talent management and line management responsibilities around PRD and Professional Update
  • Creating a stance that success is only in terms of 'upward mobility'
  • Leadership development programmes with no flexibility to address individual strengths and areas for development

Rhodes and Brundrett (2006) found that the approaches in primary schools to talent identification and management tended to be unstructured. Part of the issue is that talent identification tends to rely on tacit knowledge of the educational professional informally spotting and encouraging leadership potential. Further, Rhodes and Brundrett (2006) found a disparity between what the headteachers identified as indicators of leadership potential and what the middle leaders thought they had to demonstrate. One of the issues of an unstructured approach to talent development is the danger of 'tapping'. Myung et al. (2011) illustrate the way in which such processes may lead to lack of diversity. They found that those 'tapped' tended to be male and have the same ethnicity as the principal spotting their talent. Myueng et al. (2011: 697) distinguish between 'sponsored mobility' and 'contest mobility'. Sponsored mobility might address an immediate shortfall in leadership applications with the headteacher identifying and 'sponsoring' an individual to take up a leadership development opportunity. Myueng et al. (2011: 721) report that 'tapping by one's principal appears to motivate teachers to consider becoming a principal'. However, sponsored mobility can create or intensify inequities. On the other hand the difficulty of 'contest mobility' is a lack of interest by staff to come forward. Therefore, talent management is not simply about 'spotting' and 'tapping' talent but identifying, encouraging and developing and growing talent. Further, there needs to be a clear basis upon which talent is identified and developed. Standards or competency frameworks, available to all are tools for talent management. In Garrow and Hirsh's view the engagement of the whole organisation in a 'talent management mind-set' (p. 400). They raise several questions which are useful when considering a talent management programme for schools and an education system.

  • How will a talent management process achieve the broad objectives of schools and the wider education system?
  • How would a talent management approach relate to values, purposes and ethos of schools and the Scottish education system?
  • What are the aspirations of staff to be served by talent management?
  • How might a talent management process challenge the expectations of employees of their employers – that unspoken psychological contract of career progression?
  • How does talent management fit with other human resource strategies and policies?
  • Is there the capability to design, develop and lead a talent management process in the school/educational system?

Leadership Apprenticeships and The Transition to Headship

In efforts to build pools of potential school leaders and to aid the crucial socialisation process (Crow 2007) in the 'transition' into headship, some programmes look to enable potential leaders to 'think themselves into headship' through structured programmes including work shadowing, internships and acting headteacher posts. This point of transition is for many aspirant headteachers critical. Gronn and Lacey (2004) record the vulnerabilities experienced by aspirant headteachers with concerns about what the role entails and whether they have sufficient ability to be effective. Gronn and Lacey (2004) identify three critical issues: (1) the sense of seeing oneself as a leader - building a leadership identity; (2) a sense of self-belief to be able to take on the challenges of leadership - 'got what it takes' and (3) the space to be able to reflect on their role as a leader and how it will impact on themselves and on others.

The Hay Group (2007: 9) identify three key transition points in accelerated leadership development which we can translate into a Scottish education context. An important aspect of these transitions is not only developing the skills, knowledge and attributes for this new role but 'unlearning' some of the unquestioned assumptions that have underpinned the role the teacher is leaving.

  • First line: moving into what Hay term 'tactical implementation'. Within Scottish education we can see this as the equivalent of middle leadership and their role in ensuring improvement in pupil learning. This is the first time in a teacher's career that the quality of their performance relies on the quality of the performance of other staff and part of the 'unlearning' is recognise this and build the skills and motivation of others thereby not relying solely on their own skills.
  • Top job: 'strategic alignment' where the person carries the ultimate responsibility for the school. Here the focus is on being able to align their own vision and values and build these with staff and to reconcile these with wider expectations and accountabilities. Among the unlearning here is understanding how to avoid being driven by a need to master the detail and instead maintain a strategic perspective.
  • Emeritus: this is the move into system leadership and exercising influence across several schools or working in collaborative entities. The important issue here is the realisation that the leader can no longer rely on authority and power – as in the case of the top job. Instead a leader must seek to influence by building connections, networks and genuine collaborative practice. The unlearning is to avoid the drive to be directing and making decisions.

Work shadowing

Work shadowing is either a stand-alone programme of professional learning, as in the case of Tomorrow's Leaders Today (Simkin's et al., 2009) or one of several methodologies used in a structured programme of preparation such as the Master of Secondary School Leadership (MSSL) in New Zealand (Victoria University, Wellington). Service et al. (2016: 256) describe this as a form of 'cognitive apprenticeship' but this is not simply observation - it includes discussion and reflection 'to clarify the nature of the job, the skills and knowledge needed to do it'. In the case of Tomorrow's Leaders Today, the participant spends between 4 to 5 days over a 3 to 5 week period shadowing in another school. Simkins et al. (2009) argue that this scheme provided a structured programme to allow the DHTs the opportunity to consider what it means move into headship, explore their capabilities for this role and begin to build an identity as a HT – essential elements in taking on a new professional role. In the MSSL programme, again the shadowing programme was undertaken in schools other than the participant's own. In this case, the participants undertook a 4 week programme over two years, in one week blocks in contrasting contexts.

Part of the purpose of work shadowing programmes was to provide different perspectives and to be able to see headship in action in different contexts. While senior or even middle leaders do have opportunities to observe their own headteacher in action, Service et al (2016) argue, that given their own duties, this observation is largely incidental and unstructured with little opportunity for discussion. Further, one of the issues that emerged from the Scottish study (MacBeath et al. 2009) on recruitment to headship, was the perception by staff based on these incidental observations - the pressures of the role and the stress experienced by the headteacher. Service et al. (2016) and Simkins et al. (2009) point to the importance of aspirant headteachers witnessing leadership being enacted in different circumstances. The participants in the MSSL Service et al. (2016: 260) report they 'were exposed to the intensity of the principal's work…how the principal was able to manage his or her role, and which specific skills were required'. Discussion and reflection were essential elements of the process. In addition, in the case of the MSSL, there were clear structures and protocols regarding shadowing, taking notes and the subsequent discussion and reflection. What Service et al. (2016) found was that participants after work shadowing, 'believed they could aspire to principalship without compromising their true selves' (p. 262).

Section 5: Conclusion

The challenges around headteacher recruitment are to be found in many systems. From the literature, there are very few examples of the use of accelerated leadership development schemes. Those schemes recorded have tended to be short lived. Further, as Earley et al. (2010) suggest, it is not clear whether such programmes lead to additional numbers of teachers coming forward to embark on a career in leadership or whether such programmes provide a structured approach to those teachers who were already planning to pursue a leadership career.

While there are few examples of accelerated routes in the different contexts there are efforts to create more comprehensive but flexible programmes of development to build career-long leadership development. Fink (2011b) argues that we need to move beyond a replacement strategy to a strategy for building leadership through succession planning and talent management. Many systems now have a leadership development framework similar to SCEL's Educational Leadership Development Framework (Hamilton et al. 2018). Conceivably these frameworks can now be utilised to create talent management processes and succession planning for leadership in schools.


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