Primary Heads

Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School

By: Bill Laar


£19.99

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Ebook


Size: 182 x 222mm

Pages : 240

ISBN : 9781845908904

Format: Paperback

Published: March 2014


Primary Heads contains lessons on leadership from a group of highly successful primary head teachers. The book starts with an overview of current thinking on good leadership practice and then takes the reader through the personal stories of 11 head teachers who have, sometimes in the face of extraordinary adversity, transformed their schools. Each has a very personal view on what it has taken for them to succeed and what successful leadership in primary schools should look like. Bill then draws out the key elements from their accounts and details how primary schools and primary heads can create the best possible environment for learning by concentrating on the identified aspects of exceptional leadership. This detailed translation of theories into notably successful practice, presented through the personal accounts of a group of outstanding head teachers, will have a particular resonance for practitioners engaged in the challenging business of education today.

Stories of achievement by the successful are not always a source of inspiration or comfort for other teachers, who may search in vain for evidence of the difficulties and adversity they encounter in their own work or possible solutions to them. These clear and honest accounts, however, explore the subject of effective leadership in a way that makes them essential reading for all those, from head teacher to the least experienced staff, who bear responsibility, in varying degrees, for the management and direction of primary schools. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in primary education, adding value and developing effective partnerships with parents. These stories will be a source of motivation for any one striving for success in their school.

For all primary school leaders. The book will be relevant, too, for administrators, school governors and those involved in teacher training and continuing professional development.


Picture for author Bill Laar

Bill Laar

A former primary school head teacher, Bill Laar has been a local authority inspector in Birmingham, Oxfordshire and London, where he was deputy director of education. He was patron of National Primary Heads (NPH) and is a well-known speaker. He has written for school leaders and teachers on inspection, learning, literacy and leadership.


Reviews

  1. Stepping up to the role of a head-teacher is not an easy decision. Many considerations need to be taken into account: the impact it will have on your family life; the accountability / lack of trust agenda; being disliked by certain groups of people; how you react to power; inspections (going from -˜outstanding' to -˜good'!); working with agencies-¦in fact, this list could go on exponentially -” which makes you wonder why any sane person would even consider becoming a primary school head-teacher.

    Fortunately, there are a majority of sane head-teachers, who manage to keep a check on reality despite all the responsibilities and pressure currently placed on schools. You may have previously been described as -˜inspirational', but without having the correct staff on-board, your vision is doomed for failure. Do you run a ship based upon fear, so staff are too scared to cross you in case their jobs become unbearable? Do you keep a certain clique of staff around you, keeping their ears to the ground? Are you brave enough to trust the staff, empowering them to teach creatively harnessing a school which pupils really enjoy attending? Are you big enough to admit your own mistakes and weaknesses? Do you encourage, or quash the micro-politics that inevitably is evident in a primary school setting?

    Faced with such questions, where do you turn to for support and advice, especially if you are being kept awake at night with thoughts and decisions that you need to make. This is where Bill Laar steps up, in his book “Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School”. A former head-teacher and Local Authority inspector, Bill Laar has written an exceptional book, using case studies of eleven head-teachers (all based in England) to analyse and advise on common situations faced in primary schools. For example, Suzanne (a primary head-teacher in Durham) talks about the isolation faced when dealing with negative dissenting voices within a school. She concedes, “This aspect of the job can make headship an isolated and lonely occupation. [You need] a readiness to examine rigorously and reflect on one's own behaviour, dispositions and prejudices.”

    One strand, which keeps being repeated in the book is our old friend -˜Accountability', the “transforming force in the development of the contemporary primary school”, but also being the source of much paranoia, irrationality and potential cause of narrow focus within the current education system.

    Many of the head-teachers in the book share their experiences, challenges and joys of the role, and this can act as a source of inspiration, guidance or sanctuary for head-teachers who will feel pushed into a corner every now and then. Although the example are from head-teachers based in England, there will be some resonance for head-teachers based in other countries, as many similarities are true due to the nature of the job. The book can also act as a guide for teachers wishing to step up into the role, sharing clear examples of some of the challenges that are likely to be faced.

    Laar offers wisdom to readers, sharing the types of leadership (distributed, transactional, or transformational), management and administration of the role, as well as briefly exploring the criteria to becoming an outstanding primary school. Laden with real-life case studies throughout the chapters, the book certainly gives essential guidance to ensure head-teachers fully do the job ethically, professionally, and positively.

    See the original review here.
  2. This is an excellent resource for all teachers who are contemplating moving into management and leadership of a school. Bill Laar has extensive experience of the realities and positive response of promoting effective and motivational leadership. He extends his experience by recounting easily read and inspirational accounts by eleven other heads who have found personal success and recognition by implementing successful leadership skills. The translation of what you hope to happen and the challenges faced in the pursuit of change are all clearly expressed in the sections by Andrew Carter, John Foley and Lois Crane, giving the reader additional skills to avoid being intimidated by a range of challenges associated with leadership. This is a stimulating read for all teachers who are reluctant to move into “leadership roles” to gain the skills and confidence to promote their vision to raise the aspirations and achievement of all learners at a range of levels and promote a harmonious school community.
  3. This magic carpet ride into eleven schools will enrich your thinking and inspire your practice. Bill Laar's accessible book presents the multi-faceted characteristics of successful school leadership in a human and practical style. The common essentials that emerge from the contributing outstanding heads provide an invaluable reference point for school leaders, particularly those who are new to the role of headship.
  4. Stepping up to the role of a head-teacher is not an easy decision. Many considerations need to be taken into account: the impact it will have on your family life; the accountability / lack of trust agenda; being disliked by certain groups of people; how you react to power; inspections (going from -˜outstanding' to -˜good'!); working with agencies-¦in fact, this list could go on exponentially -” which makes you wonder why any sane person would even consider becoming a primary school head-teacher.

    Fortunately, there are a majority of sane head-teachers, who manage to keep a check on reality despite all the responsibilities and pressure currently placed on schools. You may have previously been described as -˜inspirational', but without having the correct staff on-board, your vision is doomed for failure. Do you run a ship based upon fear, so staff are too scared to cross you in case their jobs become unbearable? Do you keep a certain clique of staff around you, keeping their ears to the ground? Are you brave enough to trust the staff, empowering them to teach creatively harnessing a school which pupils really enjoy attending? Are you big enough to admit your own mistakes and weaknesses? Do you encourage, or quash the micro-politics that inevitably is evident in a primary school setting?

    Bill has written an exceptional book, using case studies of eleven head-teachers.
    Faced with such questions, where do you turn to for support and advice, especially if you are being kept awake at night with thoughts and decisions that you need to make. This is where Bill Laar steps up, in his book “Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School”. A former head-teacher and Local Authority inspector, Bill Laar has written an exceptional book, using case studies of eleven head-teachers (all based in England) to analyse and advise on common situations faced in primary schools. For example, Suzanne (a primary head-teacher in Durham) talks about the isolation faced when dealing with negative dissenting voices within a school. She concedes, “This aspect of the job can make headship an isolated and lonely occupation. [You need] a readiness to examine rigorously and reflect on one's own behaviour, dispositions and prejudices.”

    Many of the head-teachers in the book share their experiences, challenges and joys of the role, and this can act as a source of inspiration, guidance or sanctuary for head-teachers who will feel pushed into a corner every now and then. Although the example are from head-teachers based in England, there will be some resonance for head-teachers based in other countries, as many similarities are true due to the nature of the job. The book can also act as a guide for teachers wishing to step up into the role, sharing clear examples of some of the challenges that are likely to be faced.

    Laar offers wisdom to readers, sharing the types of leadership (distributed, transactional, or transformational), management and administration of the role, as well as briefly exploring the criteria to becoming an outstanding primary school. Laden with real-life case studies throughout the chapters, the book certainly gives essential guidance to ensure head-teachers fully do the job ethically, professionally, and positively.
  5. The role of the head teacher is now regarded as one to avoid and the position is hard to fill, country-wide, because of the perceived demands from the government, parents and the media. This book has been written at the right time to support all those managers who secretly believe that they could be head teachers but are afraid to make that leap of faith!

    Bill Laar, a very special and experienced leader in education has documented eleven personal journeys of head teachers who have excelled in their profession. They have been concerned only with the best interests of their learning communities, have been able to prioritise the needs of their staff and pupils and are confident that they will succeed in creative and exciting ways. From each account, in spite of the differing characters and leadership experiences, each and every one has an inner and unwavering confidence in what they can do, want to do and then make themselves accountable.

    They are all belligerent (in the nicest possible way), proud, determined and dogged in their mission on behalf of their institution. They can spot talent, they like and respect people and have the knack of using people's strengths to develop their wider knowledge and abilities. They grow people through modelling good practice and permitting staff to take risks -” informed risks. They are not selfish. These stories prove that leaders are born with leadership attributes. Their heritage, their experiences throughout their lives, has made them who and what they are. They see their mission as supporting staff to recognise this ability in themselves, at whatever level.

    This is a great read for many teachers who feel they would like to take on a school but feel they are not courageous or good enough -” it will inspire many who can find similarities in the character of one or more of these Heads to understand that they can do it too. (One size doesn't fit all!)

    Every story is engrossing and shows the many difficult issues Heads have to face -” but do so by thinking and planning in creative and lateral thinking ways. They communicate their vision and plans in a way that involves everyone. I enjoyed each and every account because although heads are surrounded by people, it can be a very lonely job for those who are afraid to share problems. A problem shared is a problem solved and this will be an invaluable read for aspiring head teachers.

    This book could only have been written by Bill Laar. His wealth of experience as a practitioner at all levels in the education field has given him great insight into what it takes to be a head -” he can spot them from miles away. This is a must for every staff room.
  6. In this veritable Pandora's Box of methods and experiences, one gains insight into modern headship of a calibre never been seen before. For intending headship candidates, or indeed anyone contemplating middle management, this is a fountain of knowledge and practical common sense. It must take pride of place in any establishment worthy of its name. Investment in people to provide the wherewithal for a superb educational experience for all children is a paramount requisite. Human resources are the most costly element of any school budget. This highly illuminating book is a beacon of success.

  7. Bill Laar's book, Primary Heads, shines a bright light on the real life stories of eleven heads who have had transformational success as primary school leaders. Their stories are mapped against accepted qualities of leadership, revealing how successful heads significantly surpass these qualities. Laar tracks the teachers' journeys, tracing their beliefs back to childhood, revealing ways in which beliefs and early experiences are manifested in practice, and exploring how their practice has changed and transformed others. The stories are inspiring and complex, revealing the struggles and costs as well as the rewards of realising their visions. Examples of extraordinary practice are shared: we see teachers at their very best, functioning at the peak of their skill in spite of constraints, challenges and blocks. The book is an inspiration to any teacher questioning the value of their work, any enquirer wondering what -˜success' might look like in a primary school, and how it can be achieved; it is a mantra against the defeatist. Primary heads such as these answer our search for role models: they assure us that, whatever the onslaughts from the outside world, our education is in safe hands and that it is its best leaders and practitioners we should be listening to. This book, from an author with decades of insider experience, gives us the opportunity to do so.
  8. Primary Heads reveals the secrets of eleven exceptional heads, who together encompass a great breadth of experience and a wide range of primary school contexts. Bill Laar has always been a gifted story-teller: here he writes engagingly about different approaches to headship. All of the vignettes demonstrate the importance of a clear vision and the courage to pursue it in the face of resistance. The heads provide honest descriptions of the difficulties they have confronted and how they overcame them. There are no easy answers here, but this book is an amazing resource for anyone who would like to learn more about what distinguishes outstanding leadership of primary schools.
  9. In 524 words in his Introduction, augmented by his Overview chapter, Bill Laar describes the essence of what works in education. His long and impressive experience has taught him about the realities of learning beyond the narrow current confines of selective attainment. He reminds us that education is about life and living and at a time of imminent and radical changes in education it is essential we focus on the truths of the processes.

    The focus on headship very properly explains and acknowledges the considerable research evidence showing that leadership is central to quality. Individual teachers can display leadership. Many will be good teachers. The effective school is one that recognises such strengths alongside the capacity to improve and the central binding element that shapes real success is leadership. Bill deals with key elements -” continuous professional development, succession planning, monitoring and evaluation -” very clearly.

    Bill has been a commanding influence on the professional world -” always much admired and respected even by those who occasionally might not share his views 100%. His humour was infectious and his astute teasing out of views greatly aided the help he was able to give through his many leading roles and, particularly to me, as a trusted adviser. He was seen to be in touch with what happened in schools and classrooms and even while writing this book was regularly himself still teaching.

    Bill knows quality. He described the new National Curriculum in the 1980s as -˜the best thing since sliced bread!' And so it was. It gave teachers clear maps of important learning journeys for the first time, not least in primary education. It set clear stages for progression. It balanced knowledge with the skills needed to convert knowledge into the understanding that enables utility and application. Central to achieving this are head teachers.

    The book proceeds to describe rich examples of those introductory criteria in action -” readers can judge for themselves just how well they fit the criteria Bill sets for the job. He has selected the case studies from a wide range of contexts that enable readers to see just how significant are those criteria for effective leadership. Nor does he duck the pressures. He describes the expanding definitions of the leadership role and the increasing complexity alongside ever increased demands for accountability -” conditions that have increasingly brought stress to some.

    On the other hand, he argues and demonstrates the support available from schools in which parents and local people are constructively engaged in a sense of partnership with the staff, support that adds real enhancement to children's education. Ofsted reports and summaries have regularly proclaimed the benefits.

    Finally, he powerfully reminds us that beyond criteria, qualification, performance data his head teachers are exemplary in recognisably human ways -” real people, passionate and compassionate, who endure and enjoy challenges, adapt to circumstances with intelligence and sensitivity and are deeply devoted to their cause. We do need them, and many more. So read on!
  10. A publication that aims to address the challenges and complexities of primary school headship will always be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of those involved in this demanding field of school leadership. To this end, Bill Laar's latest book, Primary Heads, should prove to be essential reading, not only for serving head teachers of primary schools, but also for those who are considering headship as the next step up on their career ladder.

    Essentially, the author offers us a compilation of eleven case studies, based on interviews with primary school head teachers who are regarded as being highly successful in their field. Each is supplemented by insightful commentaries that draw upon relevant theory and the author's extensive knowledge of primary school leadership. We are presented with profound insights into the lives and professional backgrounds of the individual heads. These, in turn, illustrate how early influences have shaped their personal philosophies and values, and subsequently their aspirations for their schools, their teaching colleagues and other staff, and the pupils entrusted to their care.

    The narrative is enlivened with direct quotations from the participants; the reader can feel reassured by identifying with some of the daunting issues and dilemmas they have confronted, whilst being encouraged by the solutions they employed. It demonstrates, with sensitivity, some of the high points and the low points of headship. One can feel real sympathy for the head who talks about her -˜dark night of the soul' following an encounter with abusive and threatening parents, and share the joy of another who expressed -˜Ours is a wonderful job and vocation'.

    However, it would be naive to suggest that such case studies offer an assured blueprint for success, (as the contexts and human variables differ so much in every instance). Nonetheless, there are many sound lessons to be derived from reading about them. There are common threads running through them that can profitably be taken into account when engaged in the multifarious tasks of school leadership. 

    The book addresses such wide-ranging matters as ensuring high quality teaching and learning, whilst leading by example, and monitoring and evaluation strategies to support this; distributed leadership - whereby the whole staff share, to varying degrees, responsibility for learning within the school; management of staff; design, implementation and management of the curriculum to ensure it is relevant, broad and accessible; and community involvement, especially in relation to working with parents and developing good working relationships with them. 

    Amongst other highlights, there is much to be gained from the passages on accountability and performance management; strategies and procedures for the effective management of change, crises and the unpredictable; resource management and professional development - especially in relation to succession planning; inclusive education; and mixed views on working effectively with school governors.

    Above all, the head teachers agree on how absolutely crucial it is to have a vision for their schools, a vision which, when realised in practice, can be a transforming force in the lives of the children who attend them. Their contributions to discussion, controversy and agreement on the subject of primary school headship are worthy of inclusion in this well conceived text.
  11. Bill Laar sets out the framework for leadership of primary schools as we see them today and charts the way the role has changed over time. He then tells the story of a series of heads as they describe their passions, philosophies and working practices. He draws out what matters in headship with incisive analysis. The book has that lovely balance between the theoretical, the practical and the personal -” just like a good primary school.
  12. This is a timely, well-written account of the challenges and joys of being a primary head teacher during a very challenging time in English education. He has given a voice to a diverse range of heads, who all have a clear belief and a passion about their role.
    Bill Laar has always made sure his knowledge is up-to-date and relevant and throughout this book his love of children and those who teach them is evident.
  13. There are many books on school leadership, but few which speak through the voice of the primary school leaders themselves. In rectifying that gap in the literature, this book provides a most welcome service, deserving a prominent place in every head teacher's study. The highly experienced Bill Laar reproduces the interviews he has had with head teachers of many schools which are recognised for their successes and high quality. The schools represent a wide range in terms of location, intake and religious status, and the questions and their answers address the many problems which head teachers have to face. As the book points out, there is now a dearth of teachers responding to the need for school leadership. This book confronts the reasons why that might be, but also shows how potential but doubting recruits might see how they too might become good 'Primary Heads'.

  14. Bill Laar brings his characteristic insights and passions to this highly readable collection of leadership stories. His own significant experiences as head teacher, inspector and leading local authorities underpin his sharp, carefully crafted analysis of what great primary school leaders do for the communities they serve. Each head he has interviewed has a distinctive journey to share, both personally and professionally. There will be few primary heads in the country who will not want to turn and turn again to the wisdom and inspiration in these pages.
  15. Bill Laar has spent a lifetime enchanting primary heads and teachers -” not to mention their pupils. He weaves magic and here you will find out why and emerge from reading this energised and with renewed determination for the years ahead.

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