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Are school leaders like football managers?

Andy Goodeve

Written by Andy Goodeve

Andy is our Head of Pedagogical Services with extensive experience in education leadership across a range of socially challenging diverse schools in varying locations. His experience includes differing age ranges including secondary, middle, primary and junior schools.

I have been sharing my views on the similarities of leading a school and being a manager of a football club, for many years. It seems ironic that the leaders with the best long-term plans seem to often leave their post after two years into the job simply because they don’t get “the results”.


'You are only as good as your last set of results'

I look closely at the success of Leicester City winning the league and their manager, Claudio Ranieri, leaving the following season. More recently, there's Sean Dyche and his ongoing success at Burnley. Will they get into a European competition at the end of the season? When Burnley, who have a starting team costing around £65 million, take on most premier league teams, who can have single players valued in excess of £65 million, Burnley used to be odds on to lose, but not any more. It is a great testament to the team and its manager Sean Dyche. There are many similarities between the successful management style of Sean Dyche and a successful school leader.


What makes a successful school leader?

  • Conduct: It must start with the leader. How they conduct themselves and their personality. Do they understand and empathise with the modern teacher? It helps if they're approachable. Their ability to relate to their teachers on a human as well as an educational level.
  • Look after your team: There can be a tendency of leaders to 'pass the buck' and promote their own ego ahead of the wider goals of the school. A successful leader is able to protect their staff and treat them all individually. They take the time to get to know staff personally and understand their different drives and ambitions. 

"If you believe you can, or can’t, both ways, you are right"Henry Ford  

  • Pride and Passion: The very best leaders care deeply about what they do, maybe too deeply. They seem to go the 'extra mile' for their staff and pupils. The most successful heads spend time and effort making sure the community engages in the school with high rates of parental attendance at parents’ evenings. Successful schools are now trialling new ways to inform and involve parents – beyond traditional parents’ evenings.

 "The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do" - Steve Jobs

  • Communication: The leader sets the standard, the expectation and the format of what they want. Do the staff understand the messages? Do they understand the basics by leaders communicating in a simple and uncomplicated way.
  • In it for the long term: The most successful headteachers remain in post for at least five year and often longer. Many even develop a longer term plan. It’s important to have this stability in a headteacher to ensure there is stability in a school. Successful school leaders take time to understand a school’s context so they mustn't be judged on their first few results. It is about the future foundations and the capabilty to improve.

"You can't make an omelette without cracking eggs"

  • Settled teachers: A new leader will implement change and this change might not be for everyone.  This does not mean teachers are fired, but that new teachers are brought in and some move on. More than 50 per cent of teacher change is too brutal and will have a negative impact on a school. Less than 30 per cent and the school may not change at all, and will carry on doing the same things in the same way. The secret is to get the right balance. Staff turnover is good for every organisation. It brings energy, fresh ideas and innovation with it. However, be weary in today's climate of difficulties with recruitment. It would be extremely arrogant to think that when a teacher leaves, the school will be filled with a quality teacher. What would be the attraction to work in your school? The best way to achieve teacher satisfaction and low staff absence is for leaders to tackle excessive workload
  • Settled pupils: Pupils need to want to be part of the school. Successful schools have at least 95 per cent attendance. They are willing to put systems, including tracking, in place to ensure the pupils attend. Pupils cannot learn if they are not being taught. Good attendance gives structure to pupils’ lives. The most successful headteachers temporarily exclude 10 to 15 per cent of pupils in the first three years, but permanently exclude less than three per cent. 
  • Delegates: A realisation that the word 'Superhead' doesn't really exist. No one has the ability to do everything. A successful leader is willing to delegate and let other leaders flourish. They understand it is a team effort with everyone being different, but not all in agreement on every issue. Everyone understands the end point and the goal. 
  • Greatest impact: Time is precious so it's important that whatever is done, is done efficiently and with the greatest impact. Bringing together everything so they work in harmony rather than in isolation.

"Maximum effort is the minimum requirement" - Sean Dyche 

  • Work life balance: There is life outside school. There is no point being successful everywhere else and failing to be successful with your own family and friends. Strong leaders build a strong support structure which ensures a stable and focused mind. 
  • 'Glass half full' mentality:  If you don’t believe in yourself, you should not expect anyone to believe in you. You have to believe in your own decisions and have faith in your own abilities. 
  • Reflection: Taking time to 'stand back' and in some cases 'look outside the box'. A willingness to research both from an educational, but a leadership context. School leaders can learn a lot from researching and developing themselves in situations outside education. The best leaders accept feedback and feel challenged.

VIEW OUR WEBINAR ON TACKLING TEACHER WORKLOADYou can read more from me regarding my views and opinions on education right here on the InfoMentor blog. You can also find out more about InfoMentor which is a teaching and learning resource that has been specifically designed to make life easier for schools by reducing workload for the modern teacher. You can download white papersview case studies and request a demo.