Talking Heads Blog #26: Claire Cuthbert

Leadership Biography

Name: Claire-Marie Cuthbert

Phase: All- through 3-18

Sector: Education

Region: East Midlands

Years Served in Education: 15

Years Served as a Headteacher: first year as a CEO

Leadership Journey:

It’s been an interesting one- RE Teacher, AST and trouble-shooter, Head of Faculty, Assistant Head, Deputy Head, Headteacher and Executive Headteacher.

Twitter Handle: @clairecuthbert9

Leadership Reflections

Why do you think it is important for Headteachers to still teach?

For me the clue is in the name- Head Teacher- you are the head of teaching in your school. I believe it is important that all leaders including myself as CEO reflect and engage with pedagogy and are able to model best and innovative practice. Even though I am a CEO of multi –academy trust I regularly deliver “guest lessons” where staff can observe my practice and give me feedback. I don’t want to be seen as a distant and detached figure that has no concept of what is like on the front line. This term in particular I have really enjoyed teaching Year 6 for SATS preparation.

Why did you become a CEO?

I wanted to affect educational change beyond one setting and truly make a difference to even more young people. I am passionate about social mobility and as someone from a deprived back ground myself I know first-hand the transformative capacity education can have and how it can open so many doors for young people.  A CEO role allows me to affect change on a greater scale, I want to instill a genuine love, and passion for teaching and learning that permeates right across the trust for both staff and students. The CEO role is one that is challenging and very rewarding- it feel like never a dull moment!

How do you talent spot/nurture aspiring leaders?

As a Trust, we are passionate about CPD for all staff. Every single member of The Evolve Trust has their own personalised development plan and there are bespoke accredited pathways for all staff. For example, we run our flagship programme “The Headship Institute” which delivers fortnightly CPD for all our heads across the Trust on system leadership and development. We also have an aspiring heads programme, which is fundamental to our succession planning strategy as we committed to “growing our own” especially as we live in challenging times with regards to recruitment . For aspiring leaders across the Trust there are several middle leadership development programmes run by our Director of School Improvement.  I am a bit of a geek when it comes to reading and research and this can be exemplified by the introduction of a highly successful research fellowship programme that is open to all staff across the Trust. (Reassuring that I’m not the only professional at the Trust who loves research!)

How would you like to change the perception of Headteachers (CEOs)?

As a new CEO on the block, I am relentless in trying to change the perception of CEOs – we are not all white, male, and middle aged. I am a young female 30 something (ahem!) CEO who has stepped into a bit of a “man’s world” but through the opportunities #WomenEd has given me the opportunity to speak about this issue I am trying to change that perception one-step at a time. I have become a huge fan of twitter and this is a medium I am also engaging with to change perceptions. I am passionate about coaching and mentoring the next generation of leaders too and some of them are also female! I am resolutely committed to the values of the Trust, which are aligned to my own personal values and try to fulfill this obligation with as little time behind a desk as possible and as much time in schools as possible.

What are the values that your shape you as a leader?

As an Academy Trust we have five values and these are very much aligned to my own values:

AMBITION– to have ambition for all so that everyone reaches their full potential.

INTEGRITY– this is the core of everything I do as a professional and it is one of the trust values. I believe that Integrity is the core quality of a successful and happy life.

INCLUSIVITY– as mentioned previously I am passionate about social mobility and education is the greatest lever for change in this sphere.  Inclusivity means equitability for all. I am genuinely committed to educational excellence for all

ENDEAVOUR– well you don’t get anywhere without hard graft!

Finally yet importantly,

RESILIENCE– it is not always easy and you will make mistakes but it’s how you learn from these and bounce back.

What barriers have you had to overcome in your career/role?

It has not been an easy journey to where I am now, I am continually learning from the amazing colleagues around me who have been fundamental to my development and I am by no means the finished article but to get to CEO level there have been many barriers and obstacles on the way. One of the biggest challenges I have faced was my very first headship interview. I was super excited about becoming a brand new head and was delighted to get down to the final two candidates (not bad for my first interview!) but the feedback I received was “We believe the local mining community would be more aligned to male figure head than that of a female one” I was completely crushed. I could do something about my shortcomings in say curriculum, lack of experience or even maybe I answered a question too succinctly but there was nothing I could do to change my gender!  This knocked my confidence and also skewed my view of what a “head” looks like. It was a couple of years before I mustered up the courage to reapply.

Leadership Advice

Being a Leader is not about how much power you possess; it is all about personal character and the qualities you possess as an individual. It is about your ability to inspire and empower those who come under your wings.

Leadership Inspiration

I am currently re-reading; “who moved my cheese” The book is about change management. It is an enlightening and amusing story that illustrates the vital importance of being able to deal with unexpected change.  I have also shared this with my heads at our headship institute as a motivational tool especially as since my appointment there has been a significant amount of change.  It has made me reflect on several aspects of my leadership style- that you should try behaving in a new way in the same relationship. Do not change the person but innovate your habits!

Leadership Mantra

“High expectations. NO excuses!”


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