Now that my first half-term as a headteacher is over, the week-long break has been an ideal opportunity to reflect, take stock of my first eight weeks, and importantly, recharge some pretty exhausted batteries.
I have always faired reasonably well when dealing with stressful work situations and I’ve never been one to lose sleep worrying about school issues until the early hours of the morning.
But in terms of pressure, expectations, responsibility and stress I have definitely noticed the difference in stepping up to be the boss, compared to my previous role as a deputy head.
As the sole deputy in my previous school, I was in charge of most of the important aspects of school improvement. Someone once described the way that I work as “if it moves in school, he’s on it”. So, I am used to being quite a hands-on person and being the one “holding the ball” for key pieces of work.
But I have never before been the person with whom the buck ultimately stops. Never the face of the school. Never the focal point for the community. And never the one responsible for the health, safety, wellbeing and all-round education of all the students and the staff.
I don’t shirk that responsibility and it doesn’t phase me either, I respect it and I wouldn’t have applied to be a headteacher if I didn’t think I would cope with it.
However, the key difference for me is that in this first term I have started to lead a team of senior leaders who are collectively “holding the ball” for all the different school improvement priorities – and for the first time I am the one who is setting the priorities and then monitoring the progress and impact of my team.
In sports terms, I’ve gone from being the first team coach to the manager of the team, and clearly the level of responsibility and expectation that comes with this change has been very noticeable for me.
The part of this transition I have wrestled to be comfortable with the most has been the fact that although I am line-managing the people in charge of the key aspects of school improvement, I am not the person directly driving these priorities.
Holding middle leaders to account has been part and parcel of my job since entering senior leadership, but now I am holding senior leaders to account and this is a delicate balance to strike.
The stakes are high in senior leadership; the decisions we make and the actions we take can have a significant impact on how the school performs and is perceived. Therefore it is important to have a highly performing team, who I can trust implicitly, but who respond in the right way when they are challenged by myself and governors.
Because I am now the person with whom the buck stops, and because it is me who is ultimately responsible for the provision and performance at the school, one of the fundamental aspects of my job is to hold my senior and middle leader colleagues to account, and achieving this alongside building an effective team is a real priority for me to get right.
Due the high-stakes culture and increased levels of accountability across the country in secondary education, coupled with the more business-like environment created by academisation, headteachers are being seen by some as having a similar shelf-life to football managers.
Indeed the levels of stress can be high for heads and there are high expectations for quick results. I think that the football analogy is a bit extreme, and I certainly hope that governing bodies across the country have more patience with heads than the typical board of directors at a football club.
There is no doubt though, that there is plenty of pressure on headteachers from a variety of sources and I hope that the game plan I have set out in this first term sets my team up for a successful first year with me in charge.
SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.