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Do Younger Headteachers Struggle to Assert their Authority?

February 13, 2018, 9:43 GMT+1
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  • The Primary Head takes issue with the assumption that a young headteacher can’t be a great headteacher
Do Younger Headteachers Struggle to Assert their Authority?

When I was appointed as head for the first time, I became the youngest headteacher in Bristol. While proud of this, it also made me a little paranoid. I drove to school on that first day wondering how long it would take the parents to capitalise on my lack of experience and defy me, claiming that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Of course, in reality everything was fine. My age never came up as an issue surrounding my headship.

As an NQT, I felt similar existential angst during my first ever parents’ evening. Why would parents and carers believe I had any knowledge or authority when I still didn’t have to shave and wasn’t entirely sure of the difference between summative or formative assessment?

I felt I’d barely left school myself, and was therefore mentally prepared for my ‘inexperience’ to be an issue for the next 10 years.

Yet as it turned out, nobody ever challenged my age as a teacher, either. For some, the fact that I was the youngest member of staff was a boon, because naturally my classes would be the most exciting. I’d be dynamic, and all my lessons would be drenched in ICT. Well, as my first ever class found out, not all the time!

Maybe parents and carers don’t mind young teachers because they’re still ‘teachers’. No matter the age gap between them, the teacher still has the qualification that the parents do not.

Teaching is a complicated job and, in my experience, a person’s age pales into significance against their ability to adapt, think creatively and collaborate with those around them.

But what about leaders? I thought being a deputy at 28 and head at 32 was pretty young, but now we’ve got headteachers who are in their 20s. What does a 20-something know about great leadership? It’s a joke. Headteachers should be at least 35 (I was an exception) if they’re to take command of a school effectively. Fact.

Of course that’s not true. I see no reason why a young(er) person can’t become a headteacher, providing they have the experience that makes them the right person for the particular school they’re taking on.

Ultimately, the interview panel must determine which candidate has best demonstrated the right skills and attitude for the job. It’s then down to the individual to prove themselves worthy of the title.

Once you’re a headteacher, you’ll find that the job is far too important, busy, challenging and all-consuming for you to spend even a second worrying about your age. And I say that as an experienced – and still youthful – headteacher.

The Primary Head is the headteacher of a UK primary school.

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