Our story begins and ends with our members. In the late 19th century, 14 head teachers shared a vision for creating a unified national voice. More than 125 years later, NAHT now represents more than 37,000 school leaders across the UK.
A changing vision for head teachers 1897 – 1903
Formalising a united approach 1904 – 1945
Gathering momentum 1946 – 1971
Representing school leaders across the UK 1972 – present
Founding president Edward Bolus
At the close of the Victorian era, the function of the school had evolved. Once a luxury only the rich could afford, schooling was now compulsory for all children aged five to 11. The school was regarded not only as a place of learning but also key to a child’s overall development and successful transition into adulthood. With this shift in attitude came an urgent sense of responsibility for those in charge. A handful of head teachers joined together to consider education beyond their local communities and embarked on making national improvements to schooling.
These head teachers united together to create NAHT (formally the London Head Teachers’ Association) and pioneered the idea of a unified national voice. The intentions of the association were made clear in the founding president’s address at the first annual conference in 1897. ‘I have the most sanguine hopes as to the future of the Federation and that its efforts will be of the highest service to the country, to the children, to the teachers and to the cause of education generally.’
The early days of the association were centred around East London and the very first members were head teachers of Board schools. The new association had its trials. There were many in the ranks that opposed its foundation. During this time, there was a growing trend of professional bodies forming to galvanise a political voice and as ‘black coated’ workers, head teachers were told “it was not quite the thing” to be involved in an association that campaigned for governmental change. Despite forebodings of the loss of social status and unperturbed by warnings of all kinds of dire consequences, the early members persevered, and the association grew in size and influence.
In the mid-20th century, NAHT gained traction in its national influence and continued to grow its membership. In 1963, the association gained its first seat on the Burnham committee which advised on senior leader’s pay. And in 1971, the association changed from an affiliation to a trade union under that year’s industrial relations bill.
Over the past few decades, we have seen all school leaders needing support and protection. Since the 1980s, we have grown our membership to include all school leaders. Now representing more than 34,500 head teachers, deputy heads, assistant heads, school business managers and middle leaders, the association has grown in numbers and in strength. The political and cultural landscape of 1897 seems a world away from today; however, a critical element stays the same and unwavering: the passion for leading and for creating a better system for tomorrow.