First term as a Headteacher

I was thinking of trying do a John Tomsett, ten things I have learnt style blog…but in the end I just thought an honest report would help me reflect…

1. It is without doubt the most intense, tiring job I have ever done. There are no moments when you are off the clock. Every word, every facial expression, every interaction is under scrutiny. So far I believe that my honest approach has been well received, but tougher times are coming so it is crucial that I keep this approach.

2. It is impossible to learn everything you would need to do this job. The step from DHT to HT is massive. I have been in charge of T&L, curriculum and student attainment and progress as a DHT. These gave me the foundations of what I need to know. But, I now am a public face to the school, in charge of personnel for 100 staff, need to understand finance, site management, H&S legislation, get to grip with local and national politics. I now make decision after decision over things I never thought I would even have an opinion of.

3. I am convinced that there is a different way that we can interact with each other in schools, but it is swimming against the tide. Too many people are set up for a control method of management, in fact too concerned by management that they have forgotten to lead in schools. It is about improvement and development not checking.  Sometimes getting that message across to all staff is tricky.

4. Do the simple things well; you have to hang your hat onto something. So be clear about your high expectations and repeat them like a stuck record.

5. Support your staff to make their own decisions. If you believe in control and blame you will create an organisation that hides, is fearful and will not enable students to progress. I want my staff to make mistakes, because it means that they are trying. We should work, behind closed doors to minimise repetition, but in public staff will only get my support.

6. The relationship with the LT is the hardest to develop. You inherit a team put together by someone else and they will desperate to get on with the job they are paid to do. Some will be happy for the change, some will wonder how you got the job and some will be looking for the way out.

7. You are told to observe for at least a term. I was very lucky that my first Headship is in a good school with above average attainment and some amazing faculties. So I knew that it didn’t require wholesale change. But, for everyone else operating in a vacuum is really difficult, so I was glad of the crisis when it arrived as it enabled me to get on with the job.

8. The change management techniques of dealing with the current DfE is huge. I was given a reasonably healthy budget by my predecessor. With a annual cut of 1.5% there was work to do in cutting costs, but that could be done gradually. Then the new funding formula wiped off an additional £230k that had to be saved by next April and suddenly my school was faced with a deficit. The positives is that I have had to develop fast track relationships with the professional associations in the school, other local Heads as we had work together to get our voice heard and local politicians. To be honest, I doubt this was what I came into education to do, but you fight when you need to for your students (see final note).

9. I have banned the word “OFSTED” outside of SLT meetings. I have just heard too many reasons for a change in school to be for “OFSTED”. This is not why any teacher gets up in the morning. The framework is clear enough to ensure that we don’t kill our purpose. So we do things to improve the outcomes for the students and/or to develop our practice, but never for the men with clip boards.

10. I believe in reminding students and by default their parents of their responsibility in their learning. I don’t know a teacher that will not try to help, but you have to help yourself. Poor behaviours will often close those support doors on students more quickly than ability. I will fight the corner for everyone of my students to enable them to achieve their best, but I won’t stop reminding them that they have he greatest responsibility in this.

11. I believe that what I am trying to do is right. But, very aware that I just don’t have the answers to everything (although actually I hope that I never think i do). I am encouraged that there are so many Headteacher’s out there who I can admire and talk to.

12. Time is now the most precious commodity that I own. I make sure that I ignore my phone and my iPad for hours over the weekend. My family deserve the same energy that I put into my job, but is very hard to get the balance right. I did like the idea I read of trying to get your work/home balance right, thus removing the concept that work is death.

13. I enjoy the freedom of being the boss. If you like autonomy then there is no greater than that is found by being in that position.

14.  Remain open to staff and students.  I try not to close my door during the day and to be out and about as much as possible.  Sometimes this is just impossible because you are often not the master of your diary.  But leading by action is something I hold dear.

15. I know that it said again and again, but I think that the point that politicians miss is that our job is about people. Every interaction is about some form of relationship and therefore I refer you back to point one.

16. Listen

17.  Like everything I have done in education I have the feeling that I have missed something crucial, that later I will wish to mention

(note DfE realised what the implications would be for the new funding formula and took a step back…the cliff edge is still 2015…interesting in an election year)


9 thoughts on “First term as a Headteacher

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, sounds like you have a clear vision and know how to build up a strong ethos. You are right Ofsted as a word should be banned in school, we have done the same and since then we have just focused on T&L and what the students need, not what Ofsted want.

  2. Really interesting reading this… am currently studying why teachers do or don’t want to become Headteachers and it makes a change to have a positive slant on some aspects that make others run a mile! No leader is ever going to please everyone but you’ve got it right that behind all the difficult decisions the key is to focus on the learning taking place and the well-being of the pupils. All the best.

    1. Thank you…it is interesting why lots don’t I guess I believe it was always my ego driving me. But in reflection I am not so sure. I guess I always thought I could do a good job. Having worked for excellent and useless HT (& most flavours inbetween) I suppose I decided to throw my hat in. It is a little crazy, but I am really enjoying it

  3. Thanks for sharing, I began my headship with my school ‘in crisis’ and I’ve always been glad for it. I was able to be quickly focused and proactive and improve the school quickly. I too absolutely loath the fact that we improve things for Ofsted or because the LA is on the school’s back. In my first two years I have never allowed those phrases to be the reason for improvements, they are only for the children because all children deserve and have the right to equality of opportunity. I love, love, love my job and I really enjoyed hearing the first part if your journey.

    1. Many thanks for your comment…your journey sounds amazing. i really hope that I can keep up the blog, i have promised myself that I will as partly it will appear on the school’s website!

      1. Another job to add to your list 😄, although worthwhile. I’ve been keeping a written journal since I came into my challenging community in 2008. Looking back keeps me spurred on forwards. I look forward to hearing more from you!

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