Looking forward

Evolution or Revolution?

Lucy Hayes (Partner and Head of the Global Schools Practice) and Rosemary Fisher (Senior Consultant) from Perrett Laver consider what qualities will make for successful Headship in the future.

Over the course of the last decade, the nature of headship has changed markedly. Such evolution will continue, most likely at a greatly accelerated rate, as the independent sector moves through a period of unprecedented challenge. We share here some thoughts on what constitutes successful school leadership today and some reflections on headship in 2020 and beyond.

The changing nature of the job has naturally led to a shift in the balance of skills, knowledge and experience required of headship candidates. There is increasing awareness of the ‘Chief Executive’ dimensions of headship, with far greater emphasis placed on the strategic, the external and the business and commercial elements of the post. This has frequently been accompanied by a change in structure which allows for greater delegation of the internal management. As headship becomes ever more complex and multi-faceted, successful Heads need to be strong capacity and capability builders, at ease with a collaborative and distributed approach to leadership.

The leading Heads of today are visionary and they are powerful advocates, positioning their establishments as 21st century expressions of the best educational offerings in the world.

This role of advocate extends widely. With the focus as much on presenting their schools compellingly to prospective students and parents as to potential donors, successful Heads must set out the employment opportunities at their school in a way that is distinctive and appealing in a fiercely competitive, global market. They are engaging with admissions, marketing and development in a hands-on way, ensuring a joined-up approach and a sense of ‘customer’ journey, and increasingly leading fundraising and philanthropic engagement personally. We have been consistently inspired by the ways in which the leading Heads develop future leaders, preparing them for success within and beyond their schools.

School leaders in 2019 are engaging with their students in new ways – inspiring them, relating to them and understanding their challenges. We are increasingly working with schools in the UK and abroad where fostering student democracy, engagement with a diversity of social issues and the development of leadership in young people is core to the Head’s responsibility as an institutional leader and guardian of educational culture. Success in this context means personal and authentic resonance with a school’s values, and a keenness to engage with issues of equality, diversity, inclusion, social mobility, access and innovation.

Rapid growth and diversification of the international market has also led exploration of different ways of approaching internationalism – from the development of new schools abroad to digital platforms and global partnerships.

In terms of headship interviews, we have observed several success factors for candidates and their prospective governing bodies in finding a strong mutual fit. Above all, we notice that those boards who keep interviews conversational and two-way tend to see the best outcomes. We encourage both candidates and governors to prioritise ease and enjoyment of conversation, aiming to build a strong connection rather than over-complicating interviews. For candidates, we have noticed that those who are willing to be self-reflective and show vulnerability and humility are the
most successful.

Mindful of the pitfalls of interviews, we have built a myriad of ways to make processes more candidate centric and have developed a more rigorous and rounded approach to due diligence. This expansion of our appointment processes has created greater and richer opportunities for candidates and governing bodies to gain understanding of each other professionally and personally.

We have developed this expansive approach for our clients because of the shifts we are seeing in the requirements of modern headship. Whilst the changes in the more readily quantifiable experience and skill areas described have been important, it is in some of the less tangible aspects of headship – values, approach, perspective, leadership style – where the more interesting and impactful change is likely to take place; and thus where a fuller exploration of who candidates really are can add even more value.

School leaders in 2020 and beyond must engage with a context – politically, socially, economically and educationally – fundamentally different to that which shaped the careers of their predecessors. They must engage with generations of students and staff whose needs and expectations will bear little relation to those of cohorts past. And they must lead at a time when technology is transforming how knowledge is valued and governed, and globalisation, growing inequality and increased political polarisation are shaping an unpredictable world. The present challenge in the UK to the independent sector is vivid, albeit the political process is yet to manifest in full; the implication of this has direct bearing on the role of a Head as an advocate for the independent sector.
In particular Heads must be able to evolve their vision for their school to show society how these wonderful institutions make a tangible, powerful and profoundly generous contribution to communities in tackling the challenges that face all of us in the modern world.

Maintaining and strengthening the relevance of independent schools against this backdrop will be critical. The leading Heads of the future will be those who can ask, and perhaps even start to answer the question, what will cohorts of students leaving in the 2030s, 2040s and beyond need from their education in order to flourish? What is needed to thrive in careers which will be non-linear, global and subject to change multiple times in a lifetime? What are the value sets and perspectives which will enable them to navigate the challenges, find joy in the opportunities and ultimately to live lives of consequence? These Heads must be able to meet the post-Millennial generation on their own terms, with an alignment of values which allows for authentic, meaningful engagement.

Similarly, the Heads of the future must be able to attract and inspire staff with different drivers and aspirations. Changing expectations in terms of working patterns, workplace culture, training, professional development and progression, the rise of portfolio careers and a desire for increased flexibility are all factors shaping the modern workplace. These will inevitably impact upon the teaching profession. The most successful Heads will engage with these shifts, thinking creatively and strategically about the management of talent in an increasingly fluid market. The rapid expansion of the global schools market presents opportunities and challenges in this respect. The risks of ‘talent drain’ away from UK institutions aside, the prospect of progression opportunities in a global group or family of schools will be a significant draw in attracting and retaining aspirational teachers, administrators and future leaders.

We continue to be inspired by the breadth and depth of skillset and understanding offered by Heads and aspiring Heads. As we find ourselves working across the independent, international, academy and state sectors, we see potential to continue to evolve world class appointment processes in partnership with clients, mirroring the continuing evolution of headship itself.

Topics and values successful Heads engage with.