In my experience most schools have one or two competent members of SMT. In a good school this is the Head and the Deputy Head. In a bad school it will be the Assistant Head in charge of PSHE and the Assistant Head responsible for The Sixth Form.
There are a few things that make a good member of SMT:
1) They walk the talk. They enforce the rules they expect you to enforce. They teach the way they expect you to teach. They don’t mind you observing their lessons. They don’t ignore trouble in the corridors, hide in their offices or ignore students who aren’t obeying rules concerning uniform or behaviour around school.
2) They are honest. They keep their promises. If they say they will support you in a lesson then they are there. If they say they will sort something they will sort it. If they don’t know the answer to a question they will tell you and get back to you. If they can’t get something done they say, instead of failing to do it and looking for somebody else to blame. They don’t use euphemisms, if a kid is out of order they will say so. If a job they give you is difficult they will tell you that. If a school is difficult they will tell you that, with no weasel words about how it will be better once you “build relationships”.
3) They are on the teachers’ side. They remember what it is like to teach. They don’t waste time trying to see teachers’ problems from “the other side”, whether that’s the students or management. They have a sincere conversation with the teacher about what can be done. Most importantly of all they are like this with parents. In their book a parent who is unsatisfied with the school needs to find a new school. There are no “personality clashes” and no undermining of staff.
4) They’ll get the kid. If you report a disciplinary incident they deal with it without trying to refer it elsewhere or to pretend it isn’t serious. They assume that if you have gone to them it is because it is serious, and because nobody else will deal with it.
5) They take responsibility. If they are there, then they are in charge. This is particularly important for things like supervising the canteen, or children on sportsday or a trip. There is no need to ask them for help in such a situation, they are looking for the problems and dealing with them.
Few schools have nobody like this, although some schools have so few that they end up overworked. What is rare is the situation where such a person is the headteacher. I have only encountered this briefly, but it is a joy. In particular there are some other qualities that the competent headteacher has:
1) They lead. Almost everything they do is their own idea, and they don’t care for consultation or debate. They will also make it clear what they want or expect at all times. You never have to ask what they want as they have already made it clear. Their aims are clear and non-negotiable.
2) They look for trouble. You find them in the corridors at lesson change over. They ask what the matter is if you look stressed. They intervene in as many incidents as possible, particularly if awkward parents are involved. They will take on new projects if they are likely to make a difference. They are never satisfied with the status quo even when accepting it would make their life easier in the short term.
3) They fight The Powers That Be. They will fight the Local Authority. They will ignore targets for exclusion. They will not ask what other schools are doing before taking on a new idea. They will pick a fight with anybody that interferes, and will rely on the school’s exam relults to let them get away with it. Not only that, but they do get those results. As long as they are in place the school’s results keep going up.
There’s a naïve idea that the best headteachers are the nicest ones. While I know that an evil backstabbing swine makes a poor head, a weak one is even worse. The best headteachers are ruthless bastards, but they are on your side and they are ruthless with dealing with problems, rather than in covering them up. We owe them a lot. I’d like to buy a drink for all the good secondary headteachers in England. (After all I’d probably get change from a tenner).