Although they were successful in industry (normally working there for 10 to 15 years), they wanted to have a greater impact on society. So they looked around for a different career and discovered teaching. They’re insightful, humble and visionary leaders who believe schools fail because they’re poorly designed, or do not serve (and thus are not supported by) their local community.
They believe it takes time to improve a school and, therefore, take a long-term view of what they need to do. “After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as another Architect said. They redesign the school to create the right environment for its teachers and the right school for its community. Typically, they start by acquiring or setting up a primary school so they can teach students from a younger age, to give them more time to have an impact and embed positive behaviors earlier on. (In the UK, a secondary school can take over a primary school as long as the government agrees to this. This results in them combining their accounts, assets and liabilities; and enables them to share resources between the schools.)
They also improve their future opportunities by, for example, setting up a sixth form to help more of them get into university. They then improve student behavior (by moving poorly behaved students into a separate pathway), increase revenue (by developing non-teaching offerings) and improve teaching and leadership (by introducing coaching, mentoring and development programs). They also collaborate with local organizations to bring students’ attention to the opportunities around them and arrange trips abroad to open their eyes to other cultures.
In short, they take a holistic, 360-degree view of the school, its stakeholders, the community it serves, and its role in society. In many ways, they combine the best parts of the other leaders, but they make these changes in a different sequence and for different reasons — to transform students and communities. For example, both Accountants and Architects also acquire a primary school early on. However, Accountants do this to increase revenue, but Architects do this to this so they can have more impact (by teaching students from an earlier age).
Performance is slow to improve as the Architects spend most of their initial time and energy engaging with the local community and building the right environment inside the school. But then examination results start improving in the third year of their tenure and continue improving long after they’ve left. They are visionary, unsung heroes. Stewards, rather than leaders, who are more concerned with the legacy they leave than how things look whilst they’re there.
Who Gets Recognized and Rewarded
Perversely, although the Architects are the only leaders who improve long-term examination results, they are the ones we least reward, least recognize and rarely appoint.
Instead, we honor and reward Surgeons for dramatically increasing examination results during their tenure, even though these improvements cannot be sustained. In our study, 38% of the 68 Surgeons we identified had been knighted by the Queen, 24% had received a CBE, MBE or OBE and they are typically paid 50% more than the other leaders. However, we fail to see are the long-term problems created by simply excluding poor performing students and focusing resources on improving immediate examination results. In some cases it took schools four years to recover from these changes, with up to $2 million paid to consultants to help clear up the mess.
The Philosophers were the most publicly recognized leaders in our study, with 30 per cent of the 161 we identified receiving a CBE, MBE or OBE from the Queen and 43% appointed as National Leaders of Education, to establish best practice and guide other leaders. They are also the most frequently appointed, 82% of leaders if our sample of 411 leaders is representative of the total UK educational system. However, they were the worst performing leaders in our study, both during and after their tenure. Although they talk passionately about the importance of good teaching and get everyone excited, they don’t actually change anything and their schools either coast or decline.
Even the Soldiers and Accountants who only focus on financial performance receive more public recognition than the Architects (30 and 27% received a CBE, MBE or OBE respectively) and, along with Philosophers, are paid typically 20% more than the Architects.
Meanwhile, the Architects who quietly redesign their schools and transform their communities, go unnoticed. Is this because the improvements can’t be seen until late in their tenure or after they’ve left? Or is it because they’re outsiders who’ve not worked in education their entire career and see things differently? As one Philosopher exclaimed, “You can’t run a school unless you’ve taught for 20 years!” This clearly isn’t true.
Is it because they’re leaders first and teachers second? In a profession that prioritizes teaching and often thinks schools can’t, or shouldn’t, be managed. Or is it because they don’t publicize what they’re doing and quietly get on with the job in hand? As one Architect explained, “Schools can’t be run on personality alone. I want mine to keep improving long after I’ve gone.” Or, as another simply put it, “No one should notice when I leave the room.”
Finding More Architects
Our findings suggest the Architects have the most positive long-term impact on exam results (on average, 15 to 23% higher than other leaders). Other research has found a 50% increase in exam results leads to between a 0.7% and 1.5% increase in gross domestic product (GDP), as better educated students are more knowledgable, more innovative and earn more money.
If our findings are representative of the whole UK educational system and the relationships between exam results and GDP is consistent with previous studies, then finding and developing more Architects to make them 50% of all school leaders would increase the UK’s schools’ performance by 9.68% and its GDP by between $3.8 billion and $7.6 billion.
How can we appoint more Architects? We also need an educational system that identifies, appoints, rewards, and recognizes them. One of the simplest ways to do this would be to change how we measure their impact.
Currently, we compare schools, and their leaders, by looking at the percentage of students achieving at least grade C in five or more subjects and the level of spend per student. However, these measures do not show how the leaders achieve these results or the value they add to society. For example, they might have cut the number of students to improve the percent with five or more grade Cs, or delayed critical long-term investments to reduce this year’s expenditure. Equally, spend-per-head gives us no view of the surplus they’ve grown to be reinvested in the future. And, crucially, we ignore what happens after the leader leaves.
Instead, we would recommend assessing a leader’s social and economic impact both during and after their tenure using new measures. Measuring and comparing the actual number of students graduating with a grade C in five or more subjects (rather than just the percentage) and the total budget surplus they create (rather than their spend per student) would be one place to start. This would help surgeons be seen as expensive cutters (not transformational leaders) who reduce the school’s social impact and create long-term issues. Philosophers would be seen as ineffectual debaters (not inspirational leaders) who talk a good game, but have no impact. Soldiers would be recognized as temporary cost-cutters and Accountants as good long-term financial investors, with neither significantly improving student outcomes.
By contrast, the Architects would be highlighted as the transformational leaders they are and could then receive the recognition they deserve. As one Architect explained, “My measure of success is — are parents complaining more? And are we issuing fewer anti-social behavior orders (ASBOs) within our local community? If so, then parents are engaging more with the school and our community is improving.”
Surely, this is the kind of strategic, transformational and inclusive thinking we need, if we want to actually improve results.