‘Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested.’ Thus spake Winston Churchill.
This might not be one of his most famous utterances – it doesn’t appear in Darkest Hour – and not everything that he said was inevitably true – or serious. However, it does point at a truth. Heads, past and present, whether for good or ill, whether deservedly or undeservedly, hold their schools, their pupils, their parents and, sometimes, their staff in a dreadful thrall. Perhaps it is the memories of 11+ interviews, of heads striding in their gowns down the aisle in assembly. Perhaps it’s the heads’ portraits hanging ominously on that assembly hall’s walls, perhaps it’s the equal trepidation of parent and pupil, waiting to enter the head’s study to face the head’s displeasure or wrath. When I returned to be head of my old school, forty years on from my first departure, I thought that I could still smell the pipe smoke of Canon RG Lunt hanging in the air. One former pupil, returning 50 years after his departure, couldn’t even bring himself to enter that same study that Lunt might still be in there.
However, the thrall of ‘The Head’ is even greater than this. It is as if ‘The Head of Today’ is perceived, for good or ill, deservedly or undeservedly, willy-nilly as the successor to all his/her predecessors, as if by some divine inheritance, like the Holy Roman Emperor. To an alumnus/alumna, to a former parent, The Head of Today is the modern enactment of The Head of the Past who looms so large in the minds of pupils and their nervous parents.
So, what has this got to do with fundraising? Well, I think this ancient mystery gives to all heads a particular charge, a magnetic field, an avoirdupois that lies beyond their own individual identity. They are The Head, the heir to the past and the road to the future. So, when the head speaks, the school community listens. Since heads have this almost magical power, they must lead any Development strategy. It has to be their vision, their message, their words. And, of course, heads have more direct ways of communicating with the school community than anyone else.
Of course, this does not mean that heads can do all this alone. Such leadership is a necessary condition for success. It’s not sufficient. On the other hand, it’s not just the fading megalomania of a faded head that makes me think that this power does make schools different from other fundraising organisations: people aren’t going to give to cancer research because of the CEO, nor are former students going to give to a university because they are in awe of the VC of the past or the present. However, in a school, the head, that concept and the people who enact that concept, is the key to the door that opens to real development in Development.
John Claughton is Senior Counsel with Graham-Pelton Consulting. Before joining Graham-Pelton, John spent his career in the education sector and was honored for his work multiple times. In September 2015, John was chosen by Tatler as ‘Public School Head of Year’; in August 2016, he was commended for his fundraising achievement by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE Europe); and in November 2016, he was awarded the TES Independent School Lifetime Achievement Award. He was on the HMC Academic Committee and served as Chairman of the HMC Sports Committee for eight years. Contact John directly via email or by calling +44 (0) 207 060 2622.