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Twenty-eight years a school leader – part two

facing-window-sunlightSteve-BakerSteve Baker, recently-retired former principal of Lipson Co-operative Academy, spent 28 years as a school leader after becoming head of humanities in a Lancashire school in 1988. Here, in this two-part interview, he reflects on his career, how the education world has changed in this country, and the trials and joys of school leadership.

Continued from part one…

Needed: grey-haired revolutionaries

But school leaders are now in danger of becoming automatons, he believes. “I worry about the teaching profession: as the NUT put it, ‘Stepford heads’. That would be a great shame. To survive in school management you almost have to be seen to be doing better than your neighbours. Changing that perception is going to be the challenge.

“How to resist such developments? As Peter Scholtes of the British Deming Association once said, ‘it is time to lie down in front of a train’. Not enough headteachers have been willing to do that recently. It used to be that all headteachers were mavericks, and treasured as such.

“We need more of the grey-haired revolutionaries such as Ted Wragg – their wisdom, experience, passion and life experience, which inform what is worth fighting for.” He also rates Michael Fullan and the inspirational Andy Hargreaves in this context.

Advice for an aspiring leader

What advice would he give an aspiring school leader? Lifelong learning: “think of yourself not as the head teacher, but head learner. Keep investing in yourself as a reader and researcher. Don’t rely on the superficiality of government to tell you what to do.

“There has to be more to life than the next set of GCSE, progress 8 or A-level data, though data are important. You have to understand the part that everything plays in a school’s and a child’s success. And what is realistic to achieve.

“Questions should be used to dig deeper: not as sticks to beat people with. You should not be worrying about the next Ofsted judgement. The path to improvement is professional development, not the carrot and stick.

“Understand why things work, but translate for your school context. For example, the three closest schools to me here are all single-sex grammars – we couldn’t use many of their solutions and they couldn’t use many of ours.

“Come up with your own values, and stick to them. Nurturing an outstanding ethos for learning is the school leader’s most important principle.

“If you can do all this, to misquote Kipling: ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’!

“If you look at working towards a peer-led system rather than a fear-led one, you will be doing the world a great service,” he believes.

Joy of leadership

“The great joy of leadership is developing good leaders into outstanding leaders. It really is.”

He recalls seeing film of the end of the recent Euro 2016 football championships, in which injured but triumphant Cristiano Ronaldo was warmly congratulated by his former boss, Sir Alex Ferguson. “They still had that bond, even though it was years since they had worked together: you could see the joy in Ferguson’s face.

“You take great pride and pleasure in seeing the saplings you’ve sown grow into magnificent oaks. Some 14 people I’ve worked with here have now gone on to headships, and a number of others as HMIs and leaders in research. To me, that’s what it’s about, the people you’re leading; and for them, it’s the children.”

Read: Part one of the interview with Steve Baker

Steve kept a blog during his time as headteacher at Lipson, read his last entry here.

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