Do Headteachers Really Make A Difference? (Research Reveals 2 Surprising Facts!)

by Annie Boate

Do Headteachers Really Make A Difference? (Research Reveals 2 Surprising Facts!)

Let’s make one thing clear from the outset – I never wanted to be a Headteacher! That’s because I was absolutely convinced it was an impossible, unrealistic role.

We all know that Headteachers are responsible for absolutely everyone and everything in the school…and outside of it – including the country’s morals (or lack of!)

So why did I spend 15 years being the one thing I vowed I’d never be? The truth is, it wasn’t my fault – I was driven to it by moral indignation!  I was temporarily working in a secondary school in special measures, and was so angry at what I was experiencing during my term there. I knew it could be so much better for the staff, parents and especially for the 1000 children who wouldn’t get a second chance at this phase of their education. It was really clear to me what needed to be done to improve the school culture and outcomes for the students, but I wasn’t the Headteacher.

Then the Headteacher left due to ill health, and I gradually came to the uncomfortable realisation that I needed to ‘put my money where my mouth was!’

But what proof did I have that I could or would make a difference?

Let’s move away from my subjective experiences now – I want to look at the objective evidence for what drives us to choose such a seemingly impossible job as headship, and whether we really do make a difference.

If you’ve looked at the UK & international research from over the last 20 years, you’ll be aware that:

  • Most Headteachers are driven by a moral purpose – that is, wanting the best academic outcomes for their pupils
  • They share common core values

And the good news is that:

  • The Headteacher’s leadership is seen by others as important to the school’s effectiveness, and…
  • The Headteacher’s leadership has been proved to have impact.

But what kind of impact do we have as Headteachers? And on what?

Interestingly, empirical research reveals two surprising facts:

1. As Headteachers, our direct impact on pupil outcomes is minimal.

So, while we have ultimate responsibility for pupil outcomes, we only have indirect impact on their outcomes.

So, does that mean we should all give up now?

Not yet, because…

2. Our direct impact as Headteachers is on our staff.

So, as Headteachers, we need to always bear in mind that, unless we teach & tutor every child personally, our impact on pupil success across the school is indirectly through our direct impact on our staff.

That knowledge should help us to constantly refine our priorities & practices in the role.

In particular…

-How can we maximise the direct impact we have on staff, in order to improve pupil outcomes indirectly?

-How can we be really effective in our role as Headteachers?

-What should our priorities be?

Find out the answers to these key questions in my next article.

how do headteachers make the greatest impact across their schools

Monica Austin

(Recently-retired Headteacher & Coachinginschools Accredited Trainer)