I have been a teacher for 32 years, a head teacher for 17 years and, at the age of 56, this much I know about when it is time to move on.

One of Huntington’s most notable alumni, Oliver Burkeman, after a decade writing for The Guardian, concluded his last column – entitled “Eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life” – with this final secret:

So, like Oliver, I am moving on from my post as Huntington School’s headteacher at the end of the year. I have lots of other things I want to do in the years ahead – like working with my mate Tom Sherrington again, handing the baton on to a new generation of school leaders – and I am both excited and terrified by the prospect of leaving a job, my colleagues and the school I love. I know I will miss being a part of the Huntington community; as Joe Strummer said, “Without people, you’re nothing”.
Our boys are young adults making their own way in the world and my wife is still working. After 33 years of teaching, with 18 of those as headteacher, there are some things I want to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil, and now is the time to do them before my knees go completely!
I have done my bit: the pressure as a head teacher of 36 results days, setting 18 budgets, leading through a pandemic…
I feel way too young to be drawing my pension, but come September I will be 57, almost exactly the same age as my poor old dad when he passed away, and I would hate to have regrets about things I did not do.
I just feel hugely grateful that I can make such a decision, and that come the week beginning 1 September 2021, I will be salmon fishing on the River Tweed…
That’s not to decry my teaching career in any way. If I had the opportunity to go back 34 years and contemplate a different career, I would still choose teaching. I cannot say it is the best job in the world, because I haven’t experienced every job in the world – I reckon head whisky-taster at the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye wouldn’t be a bad gig – but I have loved being a teacher. I would recommend it to any graduate, without hesitation. From novice teacher all the way through to long-serving head teacher, it has been a blast.
Teaching has been a career where, importantly, I have been able to be myself at every stage. A round peg in a round hole.
And what I love about teaching most is the teaching; how students in my current Year 13 Economics class – my last examination class in 33 years of teaching – are sending me practice paragraphs to look at this very day, a gloomy Saturday in late pandemic January.
I am looking forward to exploring “fresh woods, and pastures new”. Working on exciting projects with the likes of Tom, Stephen Tierney, Mary Myatt, Jonny Uttley and colleagues at the NCE, will be great fun. And then to have time to read and write and fish, and just be.
To be honest, this is a bit of a moment for me, but I have always understood with utter clarity how organisations carry on regardless; that no one is indispensable. It won’t take long before staff at Huntington will be saying, “What was his name? Was it…Tom, or John…maybe it was Ron? Anyway, that bloke who used to be headteacher…grey hair, big nose…you know, what’s his name…he liked primroses, or was it daffodils…and insisted we had shortbread on training days…mmm, it might have been flapjack… anyway, him – ”

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This post has 13 Comments

    1. Hi John. I have followed you on Twitter for a while and your blogs have really resonated with me, especially the one you wrote about being a head and missing aspects of your children’s childhood etc.
      I have been a primary head in several schools and school improvement adviser. Took my teachers pension at 55 (now almost 57). Work as an independent adviser with little work but don’t regret the decision.
      I wish you all the very best.

  1. Thank you John for all your interesting writing. I’ve really enjoyed reading about you and the school. Best of luck for the future. You’ll go well.
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  2. I’ve loved your column and insights into headship. Good luck with the pastures new.

  3. Just 10 years younger than me, John. In returning to headship 2 years ago, rather just Principaling, I’ve discovered after a 10 year break that much change is possible because the children are much more ready, have been exposed to so much, and can be opened up to possibilities. As you move on to new opportunities, do continue to keep the child at the heart of your focus…

  4. Good luck John. I retired 5 years ago after 23 years of Headship and have loved retirement. Knowing the moment to go is a great thing and then looking forward not back. Your columns are full of insight and beautifully written. My son, a teacher too, enjoys them!
    “The Road goes ever on and on
    Down from the door where it began.
    Now far ahead the Road has gone,
    And I must follow, if I can,
    Pursuing it with eager feet,
    Until it joins some larger way
    Where many paths and errands meet.
    And whither then? I cannot say”

  5. The profession has a lot to thank you for- and will keep thanking you in your new projects.
    It’s sad for your school community but wonderful for you.

  6. Hi John
    You are a HT inspiration/hero and admired by so many for so many good reasons. You will be sorely missed but congratulations…. the wider world awaits! I have made the same decision. I’m 55 and having set up a brand new primary school I recognise my time has come. I too want to tread new pathways , spend time with family and simply have time to breathe! I lost both parents in the two years … there is no bigger wake up call. Enjoy your last two terms and it would be great to cross paths on the other side!!!

  7. Good luck you will be huge shoes to fill. But you can spend f atone great days by the river but otherwise John hopefully you might do some work with Haringey Education Partnership we are interested in changing how we do performance management with our schools as a tool for school improvement. Also we are bidding with our Teaching school to be the north London hub so maybe you can work with us although I expect you will be in demand. Ps your mate Tom lives in Haringey and is doing work with us so there’s an incentive.
    I hear the river has been up but Alma just avoided flooding
    Best and enjoy Heather in London

  8. Very best wishes. I am 5 and a bit years younger than you, HT for 15 years and whilst I love my job, like you I know that there will be a time when I will stop whilst I am still young enough to enjoy life. I hope that the rest of this year brings much joy before you walk away.

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