The first paper in the Symposium on ‘Narratives of Educational Leadership’ focuses on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on headteachers in Scottish schools. Drawing from data collected through life history narrative interviews with headteachers, this paper addresses specifically the question of what it means to be a headteacher in a turbulent and uncertain context. As part of the Future of Headship research programme, life history narrative interviews were conducted with a sample of Scottish headteachers from different sectors, to explore their journey and experiences of headship. However, as these interviews were conducted against the backdrop of the pandemic, a further question was added. Headteachers were asked to compare their experiences of leading a school during the pandemic with their experiences prior to this. In these discussions, headteachers explored the impact that leading the school during this period had on their role and understandings of headship, as well as considering the long term impact of Covid on their schools. The life histories were co-constructed (discussed in paper 4) over a series of meetings between the researcher and the headteacher, working collaboratively to explore the experiences of the headteacher, before analysing the data and reporting on the findings.

Schools in Scotland were initially closed, open only for pupils identified as vulnerable or the children of frontline workers. For the majority of learners, teaching and learning was transferred to online provision. Consequently, headteachers were concerned with a hybrid context, working with some staff and pupils in the school building and at the same time, supporting the online learning environment. As schools re-opened, headteachers balanced the need to comply with the regulations regarding Covid whilst at the same time, looking for ways of re-establishing the school as a community and staff as a collaborative team. Leading their school during the pandemic was a highly significant experience and caused headteachers to reflect deeply on their leadership. Drawing from this data, a number of areas are explored: the ways in which headteachers had to change or adapt their practice as a school leader, what factors supported or hindered their role, and how this experience shaped their understandings of what it means to be a headteacher.

As schools moved between online learning and face to face teaching, of necessity head teachers had to utilise distributed forms of leadership. Here head teachers reported on the importance of established practices related to collaboration and of relational trust, particularly when staff and pupils were remote. The pandemic underlined the importance of schools within their local communities. Existing inequalities were exposed and further barriers to learning were created for different groups of learners. Schools became a hub for many communities through which a variety of services were provided including the distribution of food. The pandemic crystallised the importance of an outward looking school, building and sustaining links between the school and families, recognising and building on the central position the school has within its local community.


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Cite as

Mitchell, A. 2022, 'Being a headteacher through the Covid-19 pandemic', British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS 2022), Liverpool, UK, 8-10 July 2022. https://eprints.gla.ac.uk/279506/

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Last updated: 20 September 2022
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