"Nothing worth achieving comes easy"

By Gareth Burton
Headteacher, Cheltenham Bournside School and Sixth Form Centre

It was Autumn 2010 and having spent the past seven years working my way up the internal pastoral promotion ladder in a fabulous school in the north Cotswolds, I knew it was time to widen my experience of different school contexts in my applications for Deputy Headships.  Up until this point (and beyond!) I have been very fortunate in that I have always received tremendous support from the senior colleagues with whom I worked and in addition to this, will always be grateful for the opportunities they gave me along the way to further develop my leadership portfolio.

I’m far from an arrogant person, however, I do believe it is rare to find an effective leader who is not confident in their ability and as such, I began applying for external Deputy Headships with a fair degree of self-assurance. Having not been shortlisted for interview in my first application and in my second, reaching the interview stage only to be sent home at the end of day 1, I quickly learned how competitive this market was and that I also needed to seek some external support if I wanted to make the necessary step forward. 

Renewed confidence
My Headteacher at the time suggested I attend the ASCL residential course ‘Towards Deputy Headship’.  My school supported me with half the cost, and I contributed the rest.  I’ll spare you the details, but the course, consisting of a Friday and Saturday in a hotel in the Midlands engaging in tasks, and receiving feedback from other course leaders across a range of different facets of my leadership, remains the single most influential piece of CPD  I have ever engaged in.  

As intense as the two days were, I learned so much about myself as a leader and although difficult to take at times, the feedback shaped me and my development to the point that I left the course with a renewed sense of confidence.  

The course took place in February 2011 and the next post for which I applied, I was successful and began my new life as a Deputy Headteacher in January 2012.  The rest is history, and after serving as a Deputy Headteacher for five years in that school, I was honoured to be selected in an external process to be its Headteacher from September 2017 and still serve in this position.  

Leadership is a complex business and believe me, I make mistakes and have at times left school at the end of the day questioning whether I have what it takes to lead a school at such a high level.  The colleagues and students with whom I work every day are simply fantastic and although they throw up new challenges for me every day, I always remind myself how fortunate I am to come to a job that offers such a high level of intrinsic reward and the opportunity to impact and influence the life chances of 1,800 students through the actions of nearly 200 adults.  

What makes an effective headteacher?
I frequently challenge my own leadership values and feel it is important to be able to easily articulate these. What are your core values and what are the leadership traits that you model for your team? Over the past couple of years, I have given much thought to what makes an effective Headteacher, and Deputy Headteacher, and for me, the answer lies in four areas:

  1. Having boundless optimism, even in the face of unparalleled adversity.
  2. An endless well of intellectual curiosity.
  3. Someone who regards problem-solving as fun and complexity as the norm.
  4. No sense of pity or paranoia.
Albert Einstein coined the phrase “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.”  In February 2011, my career took a path that I don’t believe it would have done had I not attended the ASCL course and specifically, took on board the candid feedback of my group coach for the two days, Tim Ovenden, a serving Deputy Headteacher at the time.  When Tim invited me in 2015 to join him and others to deliver the same ASCL residential course at which I’d been a delegate four years earlier, I was humbled and jumped at the chance.  

Having being part of a great team of people delivering this course for the past four years, it is now a pleasure to co-lead this course as we progress into the 2020s.

Incidentally, the title of this blog is one of my favourite quotes. Spoken by Theodore Roosevelt, it has been a guiding influence to me through periods of significant leadership challenge. 

Gareth co-leads ASCL’s two-day residential course Towards Deputy Headship  and leads our one-day course Aspiring to Headship.   

If you are an aspiring Deputy Headteacher and would like to discuss with Gareth whether the course may be appropriate for you, please get in touch in the first instance with ASCL Professional Development (email or call 0116 299 1122) .
Posted: 12/11/2019 11:58:09