Are There Any Good Reasons Why Someone In Their 20s Can’t Make a Great Headteacher?
“Why would any parent believe that I had any knowledge or authority when I still didn’t have to shave”
- by Teachwire
When I was appointed as head for the first time, I was the youngest headteacher in Bristol.
Although egotistically proud of this statistic, it also made me a little paranoid.
Before I started, I was plagued by thoughts of acts of insubordination by the staff, all refusing to be led by a mere child. (OK, being 32 is hardly that young, but this is paranoia we’re talking about.)
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.
I lay awake that night, worried that those ageist critics would be proved correct and that I really would be out of my depth.
Of course, in reality everything was fine. My age never came up as an issue surrounding my headship. They were all far too concerned with my lackadaisical approach to safeguarding. Just joking!
I can remember, as an NQT, feeling existential angst during my first ever parents’ evening.
Why would any parent or carer believe that I had any knowledge or authority when I still didn’t have to shave, only ate banana sandwiches for my tea and still wasn’t entirely sure of the difference between summative or formative assessment?
I felt that I had barely left school myself, and therefore had mentally prepared for my ‘inexperience’ to be an issue for the next 10 years.
As it turned out, nobody ever challenged my age as a teacher.
For some, the fact that I was the youngest member of staff was a real boon. Because, naturally, my lessons would be the most exciting: I’d be dynamic and all my lessons would be drenched in ICT.
Surely it was far better to have a youthful teacher than an old, cynical, jaded husk of an educator?
Well, as my first ever class found out, not all the time!
Maybe parents and carers don’t mind about young teachers because they are still ‘teachers’. No matter the age gap between them, the teacher still has the qualification that the parents do not.
In fact, nowadays when parents come to me, concerned that their child is going to be taught by a young NQT next year, they tend to be teachers themselves. I find this as irritating as I do troubling.
During my reassurances, I make sure not to say, ‘Please don’t judge my NQTs by your own standards’, no matter how much I want to.
I think most people understand that every teacher has to start somewhere. Being at the beginning of your career does not necessarily mean that the quality of your provision is going to be akin to a GCSE student on a work placement, just as being an experienced teacher doesn’t guarantee consistency in every lesson.
Teaching is a complicated job and, in my experience, a person’s age pales into significance against their ability to adapt, think creatively, collaborate with all those around them and their overall level of professionalism.
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 twenty-something know about great leadership? It’s a joke.
Headteachers should be at least 35 (I was an exception) if they are to be able to take command of a school effectively. Fact.
Of course not. 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, and, that they weren’t selected based on the Peter Principle – this states that candidates are selected for a position based on their performance in their current role, rather than abilities relevant to the intended one.
The responsibility for appointing young (or old) leaders is with the interview panel. Ultimately, they are the people who must determine which candidate has best demonstrated the right skills and attitude for the job.
Once the vacancy is filled, it is down to the individual to prove themselves worthy of the title.
Once you are headteacher, I think 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. Find him at theprimaryhead.com and follow him on Twitter at @theprimaryhead.