Diary of a headteacher: Admissions – The pressure mounts

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Despite a successful Open Evening, enrolments for next year are still down and so our headteacher diarist is forced to step-up the fight

Monday morning had started off well. As usual I walked through the school grounds past happy children who all said “hello”. We do have a very happy school. But something wasn’t right – I couldn’t quite put my finger on it...

Then the call came. Not the Ofsted call, something much worse. It was the rat call. Our friendly neighbourhood rat population were up to their games again.

Last week, just before our Open Evening, a giant rat had jumped out of a bin and made a beeline for the chest of the site manager. A bit of a shock, to say the least. Being so close to the railway line doesn’t help.

This October Monday was a bit chilly. The rat call took me to the garden. There I found a perfectly preserved baby rat. Quite cute, really. But definitely dead. An omen? Perhaps.

After dispatching the rat (and telling the worried child who was watching that we would arrange an appropriate burial), back inside to more bad news. In this borough, unlike others I have worked in, heads can check the number of choices through the PAN London application process in real-time. We had 17 first choices – 17/210. Yes, the dead rat was a sign that things weren’t quite as rosy as I had hoped.

It was of course the Monday after the Thursday before. The Thursday was, of course, Open Evening. The most important Open Evening in the school’s history. The Open Evening that will make or break the speed of our school improvement journey.

We have fewer than half of the PAN on roll in years 7 and 8 and we are losing double that every summer when year 11 leave. Our financial deficit is not sustainable. We need to up the numbers and up them fast. No pressure then. The greatest Open Evening in the history of open evenings, that’s what we needed.

It was, actually, a great success in terms of showcasing the school. The student artists in residence, the roving buskers, the Gamelan workshop, our Beauty and the Beast extravaganza – the whole event was truly impressive. I would defy any parent who visited to suggest they had seen better elsewhere.

They told me that we’re now contenders, they were surprised at just how good we were. Once we get them in, they’re sold. It’s just getting them in that’s the problem.

If only we were as successful getting the two-footed visitors through the gate as we are attracting our four-footed friends – 86 families through the door on Thursday night and we’re trying to fill 210 spaces.

As we left late on Thursday, the staff and students were buzzing. We knew the school looked great. But I knew what they didn’t – the Open Evenings that had run on the same night in other local schools had negatively impacted on our attendance. Through no fault of our own, our pool of potential students had shrunk.

Last year, more than 200 families attended Open Evening. That was before the inadequate judgement; at that point, there were only a couple of RIs to contend with: 200 families = 99 on roll. So 86 = 43 on roll? We can’t let that happen.

In best headteacher style, we are again going into battle. The plan: persuade the staff to come in on Saturday and rerun Open Evening on an even bigger scale. It’s a big ask. Will they do it? I wouldn’t blame them if they said no. But, you’ve got to be in it to win it. My staff really are in it. What an amazing group.

It’s funny how quickly things can change in the life of a headteacher. So, after hating Dead Rat Monday, I can tell you now that I absolutely love the Monday before the Saturday Open Day.

The most important Open Day in the school’s history! The Open Day that will make or break the speed of our school improvement journey. And you know what, we’re grabbing this second chance that’s come our way with both hands.

Just one thing to check before we start on Saturday, the one and only thing that could go wrong – it’s got to be the door policy. This time our strategy is clear: no rats (dead or alive) allowed!

  • SecEd’s Diary of a Headteacher is written by two different headteachers. The author of this entry is a headteacher in her first year of headship at a secondary school in east London.


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