Sunday, 15 March 2020

School Leadership: Hard or Complex?

‘The work that school leaders do is complex.’ – Tom Rees/Ambition Institute

You can say that again!

I’ve been moving up through the hallowed ‘ranks’ of school leadership, for the past 5 or so years and my one word summary of it is that it is hard. Hard and getting harder – the increase being due to increase in responsibility that the move to a more senior position brings.

But Tom Rees’ article for Ambition Institute has made me re-evaluate my one word summary.

Perhaps it’s not so much that it’s hard, more that it is complex. Do I work hard? Yes, I’d like to think so. Do I work hard for excessive amounts of time? No, I’m quite good at managing my workload and know that downtime is essential. But is the work complex? Yes, definitely.

Checking a dictionary definition of the word ‘complex’ confirms the difference between the two words: ‘complex’ means consisting of many different and connected parts, whereas the most fitting suggestions for the word ‘hard’ are difficult to bear; causing suffering and requiring a great deal of endurance or effort.

My timetable belies the complexity: one minute coaching a middle leader, the next co-teaching with another teacher. Half a morning planning with one year group, the rest of the time spent teaching children working at greater depth in maths. A meeting with the science coordinator, an NQT meeting, lesson drop ins, overseeing proceedings in the canteen, gate duty, SLT briefing, reading with year 6 children, catching up with the lunchtime supervisors. And that’s just the regular stuff.

On top of that are the myriad other things that it is my responsibility to be involved in, most of which come with no notice: the oh-I-was-hoping-to-catch-you-about- type conversation on the stairs that turns into a half an hour conversation; the behaviour report that comes through the online system that you have to deal with; the safeguarding issues that arise; the million things you see during a school day that set the mind racing as to potential solutions – the list really could go on and on.

And there are the irregular things too. This week: taking part in business continuity planning in case of school closure.


When you put it like that – the job certainly is hard because it is complex. 


It may well be the case that no one single issue is that difficult to handle – it’s just the old thing of keeping all the plates spinning at once. With all those things spinning around in a brain-bound tornado it is difficult to deal with: the hardness comes as a result of the complexity.


At this juncture, I can offer no solutions to the problem of how hard the job can be as a result of its complexity. But I think there is some comfort to be found in the acceptance of the fact that being a school leader is complex and therefore is difficult (or hard) to do. In fact, it also points to certain logical solutions: when the job is becoming too hard, the complexity might need to be reduced. This reduction might only be temporary and probably driven by prioritisation, but it could be exactly what is needed to make the job, at least for a short time, a little less hard.

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