Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 12 Mar 2009

I want to apply for a school headship but worry that I might not be able to stand up against government interference

Hillary's Advice

In asking this question you have nailed one of the biggest problems facing heads today -- and shown you are exactly the sort of person who should be running a school.

Targets, inspections, circulars and directives are the bane of heads’ lives
but assiduous box tickers make terrible leaders. To be a good head you need vision, authority, warmth and compassion. You need to be out and about, to know your staff and pupils, and to have a clear and constant picture of what you are trying to achieve.

New heads are often unsure how much they can hack aside the official jungle in order to find room to breathe, but they can learn from older colleagues. I prescribe reading Turning Heads: Reflections on Leadership, a really inspirational new publication from the National College for School Leadership*, to see how great school leaders do it.

There’s no blueprint. These heads, all winners of Teaching Awards, could not be more different, but all passionately believe in their pupils and are determined to do their best for them. None give a fig for anything except those things that help support their vision.

I was asked to write one of the chapters of this book and spent the day with a man who believed his job was entirely about the development and well-being of all around him. His school got fantastic exam results, but chasing these, he said, was like trying to chase happiness. “They are something that come along when you are pursuing something else altogether.”

*(Free online at