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How Can School Principals Avoid the Final Whistle?

23/05/2014 16:31 BST | Updated 20/07/2014 10:59 BST

Little did David Moyes know a few short weeks ago that his time as manager of Manchester United would soon be up.

Like premier league football managers, school principals in independent schools can often lose sleep over job insecurity. Feeling under increased scrutiny, a significant proportion of heads worry about how they will prove they've made their mark and are conscious of having time called on them.

I've been working with fee-paying schools for many years, where heads have traditionally remained in post for a very long time. With the education landscape constantly shifting and issues such as exams reform to navigate, goal posts can often move. For this reason, like other professions, working as a school principal is no longer viewed as 'a job for life'.

The role of a head teacher is arguably one of the most accountable professions. But to stand themselves in good stead for a long and prosperous career, a principal has to show that the school and its pupils have made progress under their leadership - both academically and in their social and emotional development. Insight from data and good communication hold the key to preventing the whistle being blown on their careers.

Parent Power

Like the manager of a football team, heads need to get everyone on side and all moving in the same direction, right?

Parents need to know and be reminded that the decision they have made to educate their child privately is reaping rewards. But there is a difficult balance to be struck in making the changes needed to move the school forward, while preserving its unique heritage and ethos. This is, after all, just as important to parents who have put their faith in the school. Often it's about evolution not revolution.

As parents, you're the school's best reference point. Happy parents talk to other parents and good word of mouth is one of the best ways for schools to attract new students. And how can they keep you onside? It's a numbers game like any other and the end result is important. After all, if you have doubts about the style of football but your team is at the top of the league, you are less likely to have reservations. As with any football team, once they've won your support in the first few games, you tend to stick with them for life.

Proof Positive

Heads need to be able to prove the value they add to the chair of governors too, who has the power to influence their role or terminate their appointment. It is no longer ok to start a new job and merely maintain the status quo.

Heads know they need to make their mark. Benchmarks based on accurate information on pupils' achievement must be immediately established so that comparisons can be made as the school year progresses.

It is also essential to have a clear focus on developing a school's most valuable asset - its teachers. The data schools record holds the key to unlocking this information and is critical to demonstrating to governors and the wider community that the school is providing the rounded education children need.

Driving excellence

A good head quickly learns to identify exactly where a school is and where it needs to get to. They will be clear on the current stability of the school as a business, whether there's a healthy demand for places and whether this demand is higher for boys or girls, day pupils or boarders.

Good school principals are doing their utmost to ensure your child achieves their personal best - whether that's in physics, fencing or the flute. The difference is that the success of a football manager is frequently judged on the performance of the team at the end of the season.

Half of the premier league managers have reportedly lost their jobs in the last year. This cannot be good for the stability of the profession or their teams. School principals need to be given sufficient time to prove their value. Judgement on their performance should not be based on one set of bad results or a poor inspection; they should be playing the long game, considering the deeply held traditions of the school and where it wants to be in say five years time.

The effectiveness of a principal is measured, quite rightly, on their school's ability to give every child the best possible start in life - year after year.

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