Jenny Griffiths
Education Research Specialist at Teach First

In the midst of uncertainty, how are school leaders responding to change?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school leaders to think on their feet, and make choices with little time but significant consequences. How are they managing?



Matthew Evans - Headteacher at Farmor's School


  • Suzanne Lewis-Dale - Acting Deputy Headteacher for Teaching and Learning at St Joseph's Catholic Academy
  • Emma Robins - Headteacher at New Silksworth Infant Academy and New Silksworth Junior Academy
  • Olamide Ola-Said - Senior Vice Principal at John Keats Academy
  • Rachel Orr - Development Lead for School Leadership Programmes at Teach First


How are schools responding to change?

There has been a lot of discussion over recent years about the complexity of school leadership, all set within the context of a growing attainment gap and a sector facing challenges in teacher recruitment and retainment.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many schools were looking to change direction following the introduction of a new Ofsted inspection framework. This shifted the emphasis towards the quality of the curriculum, rather than focusing primarily on attainment. Furthermore, the pressures of accountability measures relating to phonics testing, SATs, GCSEs and Progress 8, have not dissipated entirely.

But where do they lie now that exams have been cancelled for the second year running? What will this mean for the future?

FFT education datalab have looked at the unintended consequences of such shifts, pointing out a welcome move away from highlighting pupils on the C/D borderline of GCSEs and towards a wider spread of students. But evidence, after almost a year of partial school closures and remote learning, shows more children are moving into poverty and becoming vulnerable. Poverty remains the greatest single factor negatively influencing outcomes at the end of secondary school, which in turn contribute towards the range of opportunities available for the future.

Over the last year, decisions about school closures and openings have often been made with little notice, forcing school leaders to change and adapt rapidly. They have added new titles to their collection (including testing coordinators), as the government explored ways to reduce the impact of disrupted learning due to repeated periods of contact isolation.

Through all this, Teacher Tapp has shown that the anxiety levels of headteachers have almost doubled.

With the number of key worker and vulnerable children entitled to attend school during the current lockdown, some schools are asking difficult questions about how to balance the needs of students and families with maintaining safe numbers in school. Teachers are asking how to combine online teaching with classroom lessons.

How are they looking after the wellbeing of their staff, and importantly, themselves? What are the learnings they will keep from this whole experience? And what are the things they can’t wait to leave behind for good?


Calling all teachers, school leaders and anyone interested in our education system's future – Teach First are bringing together experts from across the sector to explore its most pressing issues and emerging ideas.

This monthly event is a chance to look ahead and discuss what we can do together to help build a fairer education.

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