Life after Headship: Interims and Consultants
This is the second in a series of articles looking at some of the roles that head teachers take on when they leave teaching. The first article, which looks at how to prepare for and make a change in career, is available online here
One of the most common post-headship careers is consultancy: working as an adviser to schools, government or business, either independently or as an employee of a big education service provider. Another growing and closely related area is interim headship, in which experienced leaders run schools that need someone at the wheel while they recruit a permanent replacement.
Both of these options can offer flexibility, challenge and the ability to stay in touch with frontline education, without the “high-stakes accountability” of headship, says Peter Earley, professor of education leadership and management at the Institute of Education. There is also the potential for significant overseas travel, adds Anne Munt-Davies, a former head who is now professional lead at Cambridge Education. “It’s not that glamorous, though – I always fly economy,” she says. “And I think that sitting in airports and hotels is the least good part of the job.” The part she enjoys most, and which forms the core of her work as a consultant, is helping head teachers to build their capacity as effective school leaders. For example, she has advised principals in the USA on how to develop self-evaluation systems for new schools, and helped restructure SEN provision at a local authority in England.
However, despite the rewarding aspects of the job, Peter also sounds a word of warning for would-be consultants: keep an eye on the political environment. Political and economic pressures associated with public sector budget cuts may well mean that consultants – and the big education support firms that often supply them – are seen as a cost that can be removed without cutting front-line services. “There have been a lot of opportunities for heads as consultants in the past five years, but I think that will change radically as organisations now are trying to cut back and save money,” Peter says. He expects to see more schools turn to internal experts, such as national leaders of education and school improvement partners, who are employed by other schools, ahead of external consultants.
John Laycock, a partner in the interim management team at Veredus, an executive search firm, is much more optimistic about the interim market. “The head teacher interim world has got very busy of late,” he says. “An increasing number of former heads, not yet ready to retire, are becoming professional executive interim heads who are parachuted in to a school for between one and three terms, generally because either the school has failed to recruit a substantive head, or because they have parted company suddenly with the existing head.”
Interim heads need to be able to command immediate credibility and begin building relationships with stakeholders immediately in what can be sensitive or difficult circumstances. “They have to be able to pick up the issues facing the school, which are often staff-related, straight away,” John says. “Schools in this position need people who don’t need an induction – that’s what the governing body is buying.” While the rate they pay will depend on the school and the level of challenge it is facing, “we are talking hundreds of pounds a day” – more when the role involves overseeing a federation.
He is not overly concerned about the effect of budgetary pressure. “It may mean that there will be more use of secondments from other schools, but there will always be a demand for people who can go into difficult situations and turn schools around when there is no in-house alternative.”
Linda Kiernan has spent 35 years working at schools across inner London as teacher, head and, most recently, an interim head. “I decided I wanted the variety of challenges that come with short-term assignments rather than long-term work,” she says. “Interim heads are really in demand now, although when I started five years ago not many people did it. There are a lot of secondary people doing it but there weren’t many interim primary heads. Now all the agencies ere looking for people – not just heads, but deputies and other senior leaders.”
But it is not a job that will suit everyone. “You have to be a particular sort of person,” says Linda, who is currently on assignment in South London. “You have to be able to face a challenge and be willing to realise that you won’t be able to earn respect straight away. Often these roles are at schools with low morale and deficit budgets. In many cases they will have had a series of leaders who have not been successful. You might also be in a situation where you have been put there by the local authority against the wishes of the school.” Other problems can include difficult relationships with parents – particularly as communication with them might be constrained while you challenge teaching and learning – and governing bodies, particularly where the interim has been brought in without their input or even against their wishes.
Having confidence in your own professional judgment, experience and ability is absolutely critical, Linda says. Decisiveness and speed are also important. “You also have to be able to move things on very quickly. Usually the local authority will be expecting you to improve things and create a situation where a new head could come in and lot of the groundwork will have been done.”
The next article in this series will look at what it takes to move into academia or writing.
What does being an interim mean?
The Institute of Interim Management, which represents professional interims across all disciplines, describes the role as that of senior, experienced managers – usually overqualified for the task in hand – who are expected to have a high impact in a specific role or on a specific project, often at short notice.
The organisation explains that they operate on a freelance basis, either through their own limited company or as a self-employed individual, rather than as a temporary employee. This means that they have to make their own arrangements when it comes to holidays, sick pay, pensions and so forth, as well as ensuring that they have enough of a buffer to tide them over when they are between assignments. Many also take out professional indemnity insurance.
However, note that a number of people working as or with interim heads say that schools are increasingly keen to put them on the staff payroll, which can have tax and other implications.
Carly Chynoweth is a freelance journalist who writes about leadership and management in both the public and private sectors.
Page Published: 02/08/2010