Suffolk: ‘Super heads’ to rescue failing schools after Suffolk County Council joins Talented Leaders scheme

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said An exception

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said An exceptional and forward-thinking headteacher can have a hugely powerful impact on a school and the quality of education it provides to children." - Credit: Archant

Failing schools in Suffolk could be rescued by so-called ‘super heads’ after it emerged the county council is one of just four authorities joining a new national scheme designed to improve classroom performance.

Talented headteachers could next year be running primary and secondary schools facing the most difficult challenges in the county after Suffolk County Council joined the Talented Leaders programme.

Funded by the government, it will be made up of 100 exceptional headteachers and outstanding deputy heads “who have a proven leadership track record”. They will be deployed for a minimum of three years and will be expected to raise the performance of failing schools.

From September 2015, schools in Suffolk, north Lincolnshire, Bradford and Blackpool can interview and appoint one of the exceptional headteachers – dubbed ‘super heads’.

Only authorities in England where educational attainment and the quality of schools is “often lower than pupils deserve” were approached to join, the Department for Education said.


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The scheme will eventually be rolled out in 13 out of 152 local authorities in England.

The news comes after the latest primary school results confirmed last month that Suffolk is still one of the worst-performing authorities in England for attainment levels among 11-year-olds.

Some 73% of 11-year-olds in Suffolk attained at least a Level 4 grade – the standard expected of the age group – in reading, writing and mathematics in the national curriculum tests, known as SATs, this year.

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It was a rise from 70% last year, but in the same time the national average rose from 75% to 79%. It means Suffolk is now ranked as the joint seventh-worst local authority for attainment at Key Stage Two in England. It was ranked the joint fifth-worst last year.

But the county council has said joining the Talented Leaders programme will boost Suffolk’s existing headteacher recruitment drives and improve efforts to develop “home-grown talent”.

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said: “An exceptional and forward-thinking headteacher can have a hugely powerful impact on a school and the quality of education it provides to children.

“That’s why Suffolk has signed up to the Talented Leaders programme. We want to make sure Suffolk schools have access to the best and brightest leaders to help in our collective efforts to improve educational attainment.

“Schools across Suffolk are working together, and with the county council, to drive up standards. That is the direction we set with our Raising the Bar programme and is what education professionals across the county are united around.”

Applicants who pass the rigorous recruitment process will receive help to relocate to the areas where they are needed and the necessary professional support to turn their school around. Recruited leaders will commit to staying in the school for three years. However, if they choose they will be free to stay on at their school for longer.

But Graham White, the secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, cast doubt over the initiative.

He said: “We have always had really strong reservations as soon as someone is labelled a ‘super head’.

“We are moving down an increasingly acadamised route which is entirely the wrong way of rising standards. There is no proof of this happening, and I suspect some of the headteachers moving in to secondary schools will end up being academy heads – and some of those are not successful.

“The ones moving to Suffolk from London and urban areas – I am not sure you can use the same approach.

“Raising the Bar is fine in principle and we endorse as much collaboration as possible, but I am not sure super heads will improve collaboration as a whole in Suffolk.”

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