It's a London Thing: Headship and Beyond

London leadership is unique, special and complex. You can wear many hats, all complementary and spin many plates, all precarious. My role as Headteacher of Barham, an expanding, titan, multi-everything, global majority, family-feel primary school in Wembley, for the last thirteen years has evolved and morphed into an experience similar to the lure of a chocolate fountain: rich, indulgent but with a health warning. 

My transferable skills have overflowed into working as a School Effectiveness Lead Professional, an opportunity to broker school-to-school support and be proactive, constructive and collaborative in challenging pupil outcomes. My work as a Leadership Coach with the Future Leaders Trust and the Mayor of London Getting Ahead London project permits me the license to empower the next generation of London leaders.
Being a member of the London Leadership Strategy, an ever more eclectic board of experienced, visionary, reflective practitioners with an evangelical quest for meeting the educational needs of London and beyond is a stimulating journey.  

I have been a school girl, student, teacher and leader in London with the built-in opportunities to compare and contrast schools in the Ukraine, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Canada, Beijing, Sao Paulo, as well as schools nationwide. My experience of London has been inclusive, deprived, yet ambitious: Safe, Happy and Learning.  

My commitment to delivering our children entitlement is strong, especially as all of our families came a long way to London with few resources and an abundance of hope. 

I'm fond of a SWOT analysis to organise my thoughts about London Leadership:

Strengths/ Rewards: the absolute privilege of Headship; the abundance of resources in our nation's capital; the geographical proximity of our networks; diversity (all different, all equal); stimulation of dealing with complexity; school is the only place to be if you love working with people - young and old. 

Weaknesses/ Challenges: discomfort of accountability vs autonomy; our pupils are not a homogeneous group - they have multiple characteristics with the potential to compound disadvantage; pockets of deprivation and deployment of resources with fairness and transparency; a retention crisis that is mostly underplayed and a recruitment crisis that challenges us to compromise. 

Opportunities: to positively influence the life chances and the quality of lives for future generations just by the decisions you make and authorise; as a credible serving Head you are in great demand to contribute to system leadership which provides an eclectic range of stimulating professional development opportunities; the potential for so many alternative, innovative and flexible models of leadership (Head of School, Co-Headship, Executive Headship) to meet the needs of young, diverse leaders starting their own families; the opportunity to lead even larger, all-through organisations due to the demand and subsequent supply of school places in our metropolis, bringing with it more resources due to economies of scale. 

Threats: financial constraints over the next three years; the daily challenges to our ethical and moral leadership; the precariousness of ultimate responsibility; our duty of care to every man, woman and child in our organisation; the dark night of the soul, standing on principle between a rock and a hard place. But no pressure... we have the 5Rs: 

1. Relationships - putting people first and exploiting our networks.  
2. Reflective - resistance to knee jerk reactions, being strategic, building on your existing experiences, sleeping on difficult decisions. 
3. Resourceful - creative deployment of human and fiscal resources, therefore seizing responsibility for spending taxpayers’ money effectively. 
4. Risk-takers - creative, divergent, entrepreneurial thinking. 
5. Resilient - tenacity, stamina and emotional maturity.

Uniqueness of top leadership in Greater London - high-calibre resources offered by the Mayor of London, the London Leadership Strategy, as well as the leadership brokerage available to you - just ask or Google! 

Your commitment to London leadership is a public declaration that you have the determination to be a great Headteacher. You're here because you want top leadership, in all its manifestations. You realise that you don't have to fit a stereotype. You can reflect the communities that we serve. You understand London and its complexities. You have to make it work for you. You will learn more about yourself. You will grow and learn from others. 
I'm here because systemic leadership, leadership brokerage, makes my heart race.

I'll close with a confession, I understand it's good for the soul. I submitted my notice last year, seduced by my work with the LA and everything else that makes my eyes light up. After two unsuccessful rounds of the Headteacher recruitment process, on the last day of term, I asked the Governors to rescind my resignation because I believe it is the best job in the world and can't think of anything else I'd rather do! 

Karen Giles
London Leadership Strategy Director and Headteacher of Barham Primary School
September 2016

28th September 2016
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