Leadership Characteristics of Failing Schools and Head Teachers

Failing Ghanaian Schools - School leadership

Failing schools are the result of poor school leadership, as head teachers find it difficult to stamp the right authority in the school certain for effective teaching and learning.


Schools in Ghana at all levels can fail even if they have the best teachers and are well resourced. Thus, a good school is more than just good school buildings, excellent government policies and curriculum, monitoring, quality teachers, and determined learners.


Haven said this, any school in Ghana that does not meet the essential requirements of educating children can not pride itself as being a school. The head of a school is a linchpin and pivot that can make or unmake a school.


For the government, private school owners, teachers, and other stakeholders, a place labeled as a school is an environment where teachers, students, and heads converge daily to learn and teach.


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This understanding is flawed and may lead to the establishment of countless failing school setups.


There are both publicly owned and privately owned schools that do not meet the quality that makes up a school and at best can be described as failed schools or failing schools. Fish always gets spoilt from the head and so, a good learning environment can be as bad as the leadership it gets.


If parents of school children constantly visit the school angry and with complaints. “The best judges of how a school is performing are the parents.” according to Marc LeBlond. The head teacher must be worried because he or she is unable to manage the school enough. Complaints by parents especially at Parent-Teacher Association. If parents keep coming to the school to demand answers, watch out, leadership may be failing. Parents always ask questions in every school but yours may have become a chronic one.


A failing school usually experiences a high turnover of leadership. In such learning environments, the head teachers leave the job within 2 years after taking up the mantle of leadership. If the government and the Ghana Education Service keeps transferring heads of a school too often too quickly due to challenges instead of addressing the problem, that school is failing to function and will have problems.


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The same applies to private schools that change the head-teacher over every issue.  If the head teacher or his or her assistant in a school leaves the job every 18 months to 2 years, the school is a failing one. The longer the head-teacher stays at the post, the better the learning environment, and key players are molded and guided to success. Frequently changing school leadership impacts the school culture, direction, and the environment.

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A failing school seems to have no one in charge. Such schools have the head-teacher very often absent or even if there is someone in a leadership position, no leadership is actually being provided. Such a school is at best in auto leadership mode. If leadership is absent is deeds and is often physically absent, it creates serious problems. His absence is an absence of leadership.


The more the head-teacher spends less time within the school environment, the more the problems of the school that need to be solved on the spot are left in the hands of teachers and students. There are public schools where the head teacher is nearly always absent and using the time to juggle between official and personal responsibilities.


Again, in such schools, students are low achievers at the end of their study. The students fail their exit exams year in year out then you know something is wrong.

In a failing school, collective decision making is not permitted. Instead, the adversarial approach to decision making and the school-wide strategic process becomes a one-man show. The head makes the decision alone or with a few leaders and imposes it on teachers. Leaders who involve their staff in decision making especially decisions that concern the well being of the teachers and their job will easily get accepting the decision and working with it. Every head teacher needs the teachers to get things done, if you sideline them, your school is failing. Head teachers who lack leadership training must learn the act of leading in varied situations, apply different leadership styles, and radiate that spirit when dealing with teachers, parents, and learners. When making strategic decisions for the school or setting targets, involve them in the process right from the brainstorming session so that the teachers can own the strategy. In the absence of this, the school may be failing without you realizing it.


In some failing Ghanaian schools, the head teachers are like King Agorkorli,  Adolf Hitler, and Napoleon Bonaparte. These were leaders who were autocratic in their approach to governance. If a school has such a person as the head, that school is a failing one. In such a school, the blood pressure of teachers rises and falls by the minute. Every member of staff is scared of the next appearance of the head, teachers are even afraid to approach let alone have a conversation that goes beyond 60 seconds. Students are scared of coming to school and would have nothing to do in the head teacher’s office area. This kind of leadership can make the school lose good teachers and students who cannot stand this kind of leadership style. Such monstrous leaders are feared and not respected. Successful schools have welcoming head teachers who are assertive and confident but not autocratic, disrespectful, and abusive.

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In failing schools, the school principal or head teacher lacks every bit of confidence. He or she is often scared of confrontations. Wants to avoid mistakes whiles taking a decision and is constantly working hard to avoid being controversial. Great heads of schools take unpopular decisions and are never worried about making mistakes knowing that they will learn from every wrong action taken. They have a positive mindset about everything around them and their work but are not oblivious of the fact that challenges abound in leading the school. They are only interested in solving problems and greasing the systems to make them work as expected.


You will also find out that, in failing schools, ineffective teachers are tolerated and celebrated. The fact that the head teacher is unwilling to take unpopular decisions such as talking about the poor performance of the teacher, it becomes a norm and every other person soon learns it. Such head teachers do not take the needed action and steps to fire the unproductive and ineffective teacher. Everyone sees the head as weak and may take advantage of this. Hence unproductive and ineffective teachers become liabilities in public schools and are not even queried or reported or helped to improve. At best, they are transferred to another school where they are likely to continue in the same direction.



If a school is failing, then the head teacher probably does not visit classrooms to find out how well teaching and learning are being done. In the absence of effective monitoring and supervision of teachers and academic progress of classes and learners, less constructive criticism in the form of feedback is provided to teachers. The classrooms are like production centres of a factory, visiting can help provide the needed feedback and creates an opportunity to see the errors being made in the production process so that corrective actions, suggestions, and strategies may be reviewed.

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If your head-teacher is the kind who finds it difficult to appreciate the efforts of those giving off their best, you may be impacting knowledge in a failing school environment. The motivation of both teachers and learners is key to unlocking their full potential of teachers. Demoralized teachers are dangerous to every school and it is a common sign in failed schools where teachers are under incredible stress.


Words of appreciation have a positive influence on teachers. A handshake, a tap on the back or shoulder, telling other teachers of the good work of others, and constantly inspiring teachers can revive their commitment to duty. But in failing schools, the teachers always feel less appreciated, motivation may even be followed by negative comments and so teachers want to exit the system.


The more you see several of the above within your school, the more bleak your situation, and the truth is, you are working in a failing school as an educator.



Source: Wisdom Hammond| Leadership Expert and Freelancer




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