I have been a Headteacher for nine years now and at the age of 47, this much I know…
I hardly remember a single lesson from my own school days. In third year French I fell off my seat backwards and Mr P. made me lie on the floor for the rest of the lesson. Anyone who says teaching is getting worse has a short memory – the profession in the 70s was shocking!
You need to know your core purpose, what it is that gets you out of bed each day to come to work. Ours is “to inspire confident learners who will thrive in a changing world” and that guides every difficult decision we make. It certainly helps me if I need to challenge inadequate teaching. And what you must do is restructure your school to accommodate your core purpose, not contort your core purpose around the existing structures.
Education is about relationships. Michael Fullan is great on this: you have to develop the culture of the school and every interaction you have as a leader with students and staff helps set the tone of the place. That’s why the values system of your school matters so much.
Our values are respect, honesty and kindness. When I came to Huntington one sixth former said to me, “You don’t enjoy main school, you just get through it – and if you cause trouble they nail you.” Through four and a half years of relentlessly demonstrating behaviours which reflect our values, the school is now a pleasant place and the results have never been better.
I understand what Wilshaw and Gove are on about when they say context is irrelevant, but, whilst the fact that some of my students will have heard several thousand fewer words by the age of three than my son did at that age is not an excuse for my students’ limited literacy, it does help explain why they find it more difficult to read and write.
The Coalition’s educational emphasis is encapsulated in the fact that they equate the BTEC First Diploma in Construction, where students learn the basics of brick-laying, painting and decorating, plumbing, electrical wiring and plastering, with Grade 6 in the Flute.
Without being idealistically naïve, stick to what you believe in rather than be a feather for each educational wind that blows – there are some things in education which are eternal verities.
I have to create the conditions for students and staff to thrive; if I can do that, then we will all grow – students, staff, parents and Governors.
Target your resources on what matters most and just make do with everything else. Teaching is the thing that makes most difference to children’s academic performance so invest in high quality CPD; train people to be good teachers. Find a way to do catering and cleaning as cheaply as possible and then invest in your staff.
When I admitted I couldn’t be a perfect Headteacher, I became better at my job. It was in my fourth year as a Head and I have just prioritised ruthlessly ever since. Some things can slip through my fingers now and then, but I still sort out the important stuff.
Keep things simple: if I ever write a book about Headship, I’ll call it “The Power of Simplicity”.
To some extent, I missed my eldest son growing up. Joe is 15 years old now and a young man. When I cuddle him I can’t believe the width of his shoulders and he squirms away as quick as he can. He thinks I’m an idiot! Read “Death of a Salesman” if you want to know why you should spend more time with the people you love. I taught it last year and now, whenever my sons ask me to do something, I do it, irrespective of my work.