Broken but not beaten

Reflections on how we support new headteachers navigate in unchartered waters​.’

For the second year running I have been invited to lead the Bury Mentor Heads Programme. This is a course I designed with executive leaders in Bury, Greater Manchester to support experienced headteachers who have agreed to mentor new headteachers in the area. Bury County Council have funded the programme and it’s a great example of how leaders in education have an ability to prioritise, whatever pressures they are under.

In today’s session we focussed on 3 key documents and how we use them to navigate mentoring sessions and best support new heads.

  1. Headteacher Standards
  2. Nolan Principles
  3. Ambition Institute’s ‘7 Persistent Problems in Headship’

The mentor heads meandered and debated about the role and relevance of these guidance documents in the current climate and here is where we landed:

1. Headteachers are now operating within a broken system.

The mentor heads all agreed that this needs to be said and considered in all aspects of decision making in schools. However they were not sad, downtrodden or beaten by this fact – just brilliantly pragmatic. For example, once participant talked about no longer being able to reach gold standards in SEN provision but still being able to ensure their SENCO was as supported and effective as possible and that their teachers had strong knowledge of SEND.

2. There will always be a place for the Nolan Principles in headship.

Despite a heated discussion about many government ministers in public office having little or no regard for these principles, we all agreed they had a forever place in headship. While high accountability measures can make it tempting for headteachers to push the boundaries of integrity, the mentor heads felt passionately that without a standard the we hold public officers to, education could lose its way. This in turn would lead to poor outcomes for children and society as a whole.

3. Headteachers have the power to influence culture beyond their schools.

When discussing and agreeing best ways to support new heads, overwhelmingly we landed on a sense that the only thing to do was to lead in principled way. There was a strong air of triumph in the commitment to building school cultures that serve young people, which in turn influence the communities around them. This was a key concept mentor heads committed to exploring with their mentees.

Much more was said about ‘fighting the good fight’ and influencing how Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) evolve in the next few years and I left the session terribly proud to be working with this extraordinary group of leaders.

I share these reflections with their permission and invite you to continue the conversation with me by emailing me (

*Nadia is an executive school leadership coach and supports headteachers through coaching, training and group programmes.*

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