“Types” of heads and sustained school improvement matters

Centre for High Performance has published a major study in which they identify five different “types” of headteachers. This blog is not about the research methodology or results but will comment on issues which have been highlighted and which trustees need to be aware of.

The study says there are five types of heads but only one of these is effective in ensuring long term and sustained improvement. The first type of head, termed “surgeons” act quickly and decisively to turn around their schools. They do this by

  • Expelling, on average, 28% of final year students
  • Fire around tenth of the staff
  • Drive resources into final year classes

These heads having brought about rapid improvement leave to go to”help” another school. Once they leave results fall again as younger students who had been neglected can’t produce the results. Emma Knights’ blog about this is well worth a read.

Issues for Trustees

These expulsion figures reported in the study are very high. This is something trustees need to monitor really closely. Although it is sometimes necessary to expel students, trustees need to ensure that this was the last step and in the best interest of all, including the expelled student.  Trustees are custodians of the school’s ethos and they need to govern in the best interest of all the students. Below are some of the questions trustees need to be asking. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it does give you an idea of the sort of things you should be monitoring and the questions you should be asking.

If trustees find that majority or all of the expulsions are just before exams they need to ask some really tough questions of the head. They need to ask the head to reassure them that he/she isn’t “gaming” the system. The trustees need to assure themselves that due process has been followed in every case. They need to compare figures for different years and also the numbers expelled before and after the “surgeon” head joined the school.

Are trustees confident that the head and school considered their responsibilities under the Equalities Act before excluding? Are trustees confident that no one was discriminated against on basis of sex, race, disability, religion, belief, sexual orientation, etc.  Are trustees confident that their policies do not discriminate against certain students by increasing their risk for exclusion? Trustees need to assure themselves that any managed move was in the best interest of all concerned. Trustees should also monitor how the school communicates with parents when there is a risk that a child may be excluded. Do trustees get regular reports of number of fixed term and permanent exclusions?  If there is an increase in either, do they know why? If there is a disproportionate number being excluded from a certain year group, do they monitor why? Are trustees/Chair informed immediately of exclusions? Do trustees then review the decision? Are trustees aware of their responsibilities when there are fixed term exclusions? Are trustees receiving regular behaviour reports and do they challenge the head about these?

The report says that results improve while the head is at school but then fall again once the head leaves. This is also something the trustees need to watch out for. Ask the head how he/she will ensure that improvement is sustained. They are hardly likely to say that the improvement was down to removal of certain students! So, ask them to assure you that the improved results are not a flash in the pan! Trustees should also ensure that staff aren’t being put under undue pressure and student wellbeing is foremost too. Trustees should also ensure that each and every child is getting the education they deserve and not only those who are about to sit public exams and hence feature in league tables.

Sustained improvement

The other thing highlighted by the report was that the heads who fall into the “architect” category are the ones who bring about sustained improvement. Their schools continue to flourish even after they leave. Our “job” as trustees is to plan strategically for the long term future. When appointing heads and when working with them and appraising them this is what we must focus on.  Are the people who are leading our schools bringing about sustained improvements or are they only overseeing short-term gains? In order to have schools which continue to improve over time we need to appoint the right people, have a rigorous appraisal process, invest in their development and support and challenge them.


Trustees need to be committed to their own professional development. First and foremost, they need to understand what being a trustee is all about. They need a thorough understanding of and total commitment to Nolan Principles. Appointing authorities should ensure they appoint the “right” people to boards, people who either have the skills to govern schools or the willingness to develop these skills. Boards should put in place rigorous induction programmes so the newly appointed trustees are able to quickly grasp the complexity of governing schools. Boards should ensure that there are opportunities for continuous professional development both for staff and trustees.

Executive Pay

The authors also report that these heads are usually highly paid. Of course we want to recognise the hard work ofour leaders but boards should ensure that high salaries are justifiable. Gillian Allcroft of NGA has discussed the issue of pay here.

Further reading:

Chris Cook, Policy Editor,Newsnight has discussed the report here.

SchoolsWeek has written about the five types of heads.

The day that Buck’s Fizz tasted better than champagne..  by Andy Buck 

What makes an effective Chief Executive? 



3 thoughts on ““Types” of heads and sustained school improvement matters

  1. Pingback: Knowing what governors were reading in 2016 matters | Governing Matters

  2. Pingback: Fourth Anniversary Matters | Governing Matters

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