Book Review: Primary Heads – Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School, by Bill Laar.


Stepping up to the role of a head-teacher is not an easy decision. Many considerations need to be taken into account: the impact it will have on your family life; the accountability / lack of trust agenda; being disliked by certain groups of people; how you react to power; inspections (going from ‘outstanding’ to ‘good’!); working with agencies…in fact, this list could go on exponentially – which makes you wonder why any sane person would even consider becoming a primary school head-teacher.

Fortunately, there are a majority of sane head-teachers, who manage to keep a check on reality despite all the responsibilities and pressure currently placed on schools. You may have previously been described as ‘inspirational’, but without having the correct staff on-board, your vision is doomed for failure. Do you run a ship based upon fear, so staff are too scared to cross you in case their jobs become unbearable? Do you keep a certain clique of staff around you, keeping their ears to the ground? Are you brave enough to trust the staff, empowering them to teach creatively harnessing a school which pupils really enjoy attending? Are you big enough to admit your own mistakes and weaknesses? Do you encourage, or quash the micro-politics that inevitably is evident in a primary school setting?

[pullquote]Bill has written an exceptional book, using case studies of eleven head-teachers.[/pullquote]Faced with such questions, where do you turn to for support and advice, especially if you are being kept awake at night with thoughts and decisions that you need to make. This is where Bill Laar steps up, in his book “Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School”. A former head-teacher and Local Authority inspector, Bill Laar has written an exceptional book, using case studies of eleven head-teachers (all based in England) to analyse and advise on common situations faced in primary schools. For example, Suzanne (a primary head-teacher in Durham) talks about the isolation faced when dealing with negative dissenting voices within a school. She concedes, “This aspect of the job can make headship an isolated and lonely occupation. [You need] a readiness to examine rigorously and reflect on one’s own behaviour, dispositions and prejudices.”

One strand, which keeps being repeated in the book is our old friend ‘Accountability’, the “transforming force in the development of the contemporary primary school”, but also being the source of much paranoia, irrationality and potential cause of narrow focus within the current education system.

Many of the head-teachers in the book share their experiences, challenges and joys of the role, and this can act as a source of inspiration, guidance or sanctuary for head-teachers who will feel pushed into a corner every now and then. Although the example are from head-teachers based in England, there will be some resonance for head-teachers based in other countries, as many similarities are true due to the nature of the job. The book can also act as a guide for teachers wishing to step up into the role, sharing clear examples of some of the challenges that are likely to be faced.

Laar offers wisdom to readers, sharing the types of leadership (distributed, transactional, or transformational), management and administration of the role, as well as briefly exploring the criteria to becoming an outstanding primary school. Laden with real-life case studies throughout the chapters, the book certainly gives essential guidance to ensure head-teachers fully do the job ethically, professionally, and positively.

Primary Head – Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School, written by Bill Laar is published by Crown House Publishing, with a RRP of £18.99, and available from via the link below:


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About @digicoled 446 Articles
Colin Hill - Founder, researcher and editor of ukedchat. Also a bit of a tech geek! Project management, design thinking, and metacognition.

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