Unprecedented leadership in unprecedented times

by Hannah Tudor

An on demand virtual event jointly hosted by the NAHT and Discovery Education


In this fireside chat Hannah Tudor, Head Teacher of St Mary of Charity Primary School, and author of NAHT Discovery Education Pathway, discusses with Andrew Hammond how to lead schools following the Covid-19 closures.

Read all about what is going to be covered in our ‘Unprecedented leadership in unprecedented times’ webinar.

I am sure I am not the only Headteacher who cried as they closed up their school on the afternoon of 20th March 2020. We had shut up shop for the majority and had ventured in to the unknown of what has, since then, constantly been described as “unprecedented times”. I was convinced that school leadership would never be more challenging than it was during the week leading up to the UK lockdown. I was wrong.

“Wider opening” has been undoubtedly the greatest challenge of my career as a head. The endless reading of government guidance and the detailed planning of a unique school day in a situation that no Head has ever been trained for. Suddenly, we have had to rethink and risk assess the most basic routines on which the school day is based – staggered lunchtimes, how children enter and leave the building and how we avoid them sharing resources. Every element of what we know inside out about our schools has had to change and leadership teams up and down the country have worked tirelessly to respond to the needs of their communities.

However, to me there is a far more demanding aspect that is in danger of slipping under the radar as we are forced to focus on the organisational demands of wider opening. And yet it is the very thing that will determine every schools’ success when opening up to greater numbers of children and that aspect is; wellbeing, mental health and the power of human connection.

Never has there been a more important time for leaders to be the most human they have ever been. Heads need to know how the lockdown and health crisis has affected the well-being and views of the staff, the children, the governors and the parents if they are to successfully rebuild their communities. I have had staff resign from post as the lockdown has led them to realise that they want to spend more time with their own children and work is preventing them from doing so. I have a teacher who lived alone during lockdown and her mother became very ill with Covid-19 and she was unable to support her father to look after her. What’s more no parent that I have spoken to about wider opening has said that they are desperate for their children to return to school because they are concerned that they might not be able to convert an improper fraction to a mixed number. Parents want their children to return to school because they need to rekindle friendships, have a purpose to leave the house in the morning and reconnect with the culture of community and belonging that is so powerful in their schools.

Good leadership is based on integrity, principled action and our own value systems. We are all strong advocates of equality and the belief that education should be effective for every child in our schools and yet wider opening has led us to have to prioritise some children returning over others. As a leader, I have found this deeply uncomfortable. It does not sit within the values system that is at the heart of my school. We relentlessly talk about “every child” and now I am supporting my staff to deal with the knowledge that some children will have greater access to our provision over the next few weeks, possibly months, than others. That is challenging and yet I haven’t heard many people talking about it. Instead, I have heard talk of timetables and “bubbles” and the timings of lunchtime. All very important, but if we do not focus on some of the deeper issues that wider opening is bringing to the fore, we are not collaborating and supporting our own well-being as well as we should be.

Heads and school leaders are under huge emotional pressure. They are managing the anxiety and uncertainty of their staff team as they return to a “new normal”. They are managing the expectations of parents who will have different views about what is right for their children at this time and differing expectations of what the school should be doing to support them. They are managing the demands of an ever growing risk assessment and being kept awake at night wondering if the “Catch it, Kill it, Bin it” poster has been displayed in every classroom and every toilet in the entire school because that’s what it says on page seven of the action plan. They are trying to think about answers to questions about transition and home learning and how staff make a socially distanced cup of tea at break time.

We would be forgiven for thinking that leaders are immune to the effects of Covid-19 as they manage the impact that this awful disease has had on everyone else. Who supports them? Who makes sure that they are ok as they return from lockdown? Who asks if their family or someone they love has been affected by Covid-19? Hopefully, other colleagues do. Hopefully, the support network of other leaders working in collaboration ask all of these questions because, although we are all in different boats, we are all in the sea together and collaboration has never been more important. Which is where programmes such as Discovery Education Pathway, delivered in partnership with the NAHT, will offer an essential resource to school leaders in supporting them to develop such networks and manage the emotional pressures they face.

Coronavirus is not an educational crisis. Coronavirus is a humanitarian crisis and one that schools will only recover well from if we have the courage to explore the deeper issues that we have been faced with. A humanitarian crisis calls for humanitarian leadership – in every school.


If you would like further information about the Pathway programme or to register your interest please visit: www.discoveryeducation.co.uk/NAHT


Hannah Tudor

Head Teacher at St Mary of Charity Primary School

Hannah is the Head Teacher of a primary school in Faversham, Kent. She believes that the key to good schools is developing good teaching and the key to good teaching is good training, coaching and discussions around teaching. Hannah and her team have taken the school from Ofsted Inadequate to Outstanding in four years with the resolute belief that teachers can be highly effective and have a life! Here she explores leadership at each stage of the school’s journey and reflects on where the school is heading to beyond its “outstanding” judgement.

Andrew Hammond

Senior Director of Learning at Discovery Education

Andrew served in schools for over 20 years, as class teacher, Head of Department, Deputy Head Teacher and Head Teacher in both independent and maintained sector schools. A prolific author, Andrew has written numerous titles for a range of educational publishers. He has a BA QTS from Bath and an MA from King’s College London. He is currently studying for an Ed.D at Buckingham, researching the power of culture to deliver character traits and attitudes in schools. He is interested in how schools turn values-based platitudes into practice and how we best support pupils’ personal and cultural development by supporting the personal development of their teachers. Andrew joined Discovery Education in September 2019 as Senior Director of Learning. He designed the Pathway Programme and is series editor for its content. He is passionate about supporting the whole teacher.