The purpose of this research was to explore the perceptions of Headteachers in English secondary schools, to determine how the protracted standards-led programme of high-paced reform, sometime referred to as ‘policy churn’, had impacted on their experiences and on standards in their schools. The research employed a mixed-methods approach using an online survey, followed by semi-structured interviews with 11 practicing Headteachers from across the spectrum of school type, location and experience. Findings were considered against a framework of concepts including technologies of neoliberal reform - marketization, new managerialism and performativity drawn from Ball; concepts of capital drawn from Bourdieu and discourse, subjectivity and ‘care of the self’ drawn from Foucault. The research found that there is a significant dissonance between how Headteachers position themselves and view education in terms of their values, and what they perceive the position of politicians to be. This, combined with a feeling of disempowerment, has left them feeling jaded and cynical, potentially feeding the recruitment and retention crisis. It also found that Headteachers feel ill prepared for the new world of Academies and publicly funded, independently run schools where they have been subjectivated as business managers as well as lead practitioners, and this has led to increased personal and professional risk from legal and regulatory frameworks, previously in the purview of local authorities. The research also identified how the reform-justifying discourse of ‘standards’ has become a technology of Governmentality, using different objectified measures, some of which are opaque and controlled by Government and may be used to reward compliance with policy through official endorsement. To help address the crisis in recruitment and retention, it is proposed that there is greater cross-party strategic planning for education which includes the profession, confronts the negative consequences of the punitive model of performative accountability currently in place and reviews national profession qualifications for Headteachers to ensure they are properly prepared for the significant legal and financial responsibilities they adopt.

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