Setting the pace as a headteacher – from the pitch to the classroom

by Emmanuel Botwe, Headteacher at Tytherington School. 

I’ve been in post as headteacher of Tytherington School in Macclesfield since September 2015 and I’m learning that it’s a role that requires a balancing act of great precision.

Featuring in the top 20% nationally for our sixth form A Level results and seeing a 15% hike in GCSE headline performance, is testament to the investment we’ve placed on the value of developing a robust leadership culture.

We’ve chosen to take inspiration from the touchline in elite sport and are working in partnership with former head of education at Manchester City Football Club, Pete Lowe, who is director of First Team Ltd.  Like every school we feel the relentless ‘performance pressure’ and it’s prompted us to ensure our culture and strategy are watertight and that each member of staff acts as part of a single cohesive team, clear in the knowledge that this is a moving picture and we constantly need to be curious and adopt a growth mindset to stay ahead of the game.

Like all headteachers, there are issues that sometimes keep me awake at night, so one of my greatest challenges is to maintain consistent leadership against the transient landscape of education, which is a sector increasingly defined by change.

Creating an ‘employer brand’ is a huge priority when education appears to be in a recruitment and retention crisis. The impact of increasing workloads and pressures on teachers is problematic for school leaders and for us it’s a reminder of why the culture here is so important. Pete has helped us to see that we need to embody a winning mindset collectively and he’s right in that it creates a metaphorical glue that is very powerful when we all come together under a single vision.

It would be easy to succumb to external pressures at times – they feel very real and they certainly continue to dominate headlines. However, our priority is looking after our performance and living and breathing values that support continuous improvement. It’s about ensuring the approach to learning we embed in our students equally applies to our SLT and wider team. If you don’t have a thirst for knowledge and want to keep evolving, then how can you possibly model that behaviour to the next generation?

Pete has worked with us to show that great leadership is synonymous with consistency, grit and determination. It’s also, fundamentally, about knowing your team and what to expect of them as you support them to be leaders. After all, leaders create leaders not followers.

For me, there are moral decisions to make that prompt me to return to my intentions as a headteacher to do the very best for our students and support them to achieve their full potential. As a school rooted in the community we are here to help students to be A* people who are ready to go into the world, prepared for their next adventure. So, there are tricky decisions to make around the curriculum to ensure students can pursue the subjects that they are passionate about, and the grading changes at GCSE and A Level have created new schemes of work that our whole staff team will need to adapt to and embrace, without losing the momentum that comes with the passage of each term.

By adopting a mindset that is attuned with the high performance environment of Premiership football, we are learning so much that is relevant to education and we believe it’s important to take reference from outside of the sector to ensure we don’t develop tunnel vision. It’s about creating a universal outlook that refuses to accept limitation and is constantly creative and innovative.

I also think it’s important to stay humble and to keep learning from others. In our pursuit of sustained success it’s about recognising that setting the pace means that success isn’t a finite destination. Mindset is key and it pretty much dictates everything you do. Outstanding teams are those who learn you can’t be complacent and that you’re always looking for how to make things better, even if it’s only a marginal gain. When it comes down to it, you can view that as unwelcome pressure, or it can be the very thing that drives you.





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