In this blog, Richard shares his thoughts and experience on how to tackle the first few years as a new headteacher.
Congratulations on your headship. As a former head, I am writing with some words of encouragement in case you should have cold feet.
Of course you would be right to have cold feet; I was pretty terrified when I got my first headship, and there was so much less, in those days of innocence, to get worried about.
The great thing about headship is that, despite all this, every hour, every day, week in, week out, you will have fun. I promise.
It’s such a privilege to be a head. In my first headship, I walked around for weeks with a glow of pride that these children, these parents, these teachers, had put their trust in me. I could have been weighed down by the responsibility but it lifted me up. Writing this, I can feel it still.
Stepping into a classroom and hearing a child describe with pride what they have just achieved, being summoned by a teacher to witness an experiment with creative teaching, helping the pastoral team nurse a disturbed teenager to personal confidence and exam success, arguing the toss over lunch with defiant Year 9 girls about school uniform regulations; all these are daily, constant sources of joy, pride and privilege.
But when you’ve settled in, start thinking beyond your own school and immediate community. Look at the other schools in your area and think about what they need and what you can offer them. From your first day you will receive messages of support and solidarity from other local heads, and I hope you’ll have the good sense to take them up on their offers. It’s like being in the playground: you never refuse a crisp or a sweet that a child offers, however unappetising it may seem, for your acceptance builds community and your refusal is a powerful rejection.
As a head you have a responsibility, not just to the parents, teachers and students at your own school, but also to any child in the system. You need to feel a sense of pride at the achievement of a child at another school, even if one of your own children loses to the competition. If you’ve got a good maths team and if support from them will help the school next door, then give it with a smile and without hesitation, even if you are in direct competition with them.
I’ve said the ‘C’ word: competition. Politicians will tell you how important competition is to the education market. Ignore them: your job is to ensure that professional values and the moral purpose of teaching come ahead of market values. Every time. Even when it hurts. In 1959 Volvo developed the three-point seat-belt which is now standard on all vehicles. Volvo could have made a fortune with a good patent, but to their eternal credit, they chose not to enforce the patent. If a car company can put moral purpose ahead of commercial advantage, then you, as an education professional, can commit to moral purpose before competitive advantage every time.
But while we are talking of taboo words, another is the ‘P’ word: performativity. Performativity determines that schools are judged by artificial targets that purport to represent the needs of children, but actually represent what the government can easily measure and what fits the government’s current party-political, populist pre-occupation. Performativity makes me burn with anger. But the system depends on heads, like myself and yourself, being so absorbed with the day job that they accept the system instead of challenging it.
So have courage, take on your headship. But be bolder than I ever was. You can’t ignore performativity – if you try to, you and your school will go under. But that does not mean you have to accept it: stay angry and fight it whenever and wherever and however you can.
Good luck. Have fun. Smile if you meet a Volvo salesman.
A former colleague,