Diary of a headteacher: Decluttering your school


Tackling the areas of school life that need ‘decluttering’ is a key priority for our headteacher diarist this term. And it all begins with the question: why?

As a new headteacher, one term into my first headship, I have had ample time over the Christmas break to reflect on how my first 16 weeks have gone.

Many people have talked to me about the importance of the first 100 days of headship and I have been very conscious about setting myself a clear strategy during this crucial initial period at my new school.

Part of this strategy has been to assess and analyse many of the key day-to-day processes and procedures that make the place tick.

As a result of this, I have learned pretty quickly that there are some areas that need some serious “decluttering”.

Below are some simple definitions of decluttering which, if we apply this to a school setting, really conjure up some images that I am sure you can relate to:

  • To remove mess or clutter from (a place).

  • To organise and prioritise.

  • To simplify or get rid of mess, disorder, complications, etc: declutter your life. 

As the new headteacher I have been afforded the luxury that an internal candidate might not get, of being able to look at all aspects of the school with objective eyes.

Schools are full of clutter, both tangible and intangible, and much of it exists because of out-dated traditions, or “because this is how we have always done it”.

Decluttering, I have come to realise, is an important part of starting a headship effectively and I have gone about this process by simply asking the question: why? Repeatedly. 

I worry about becoming institutionalised by falling into the trap of just accepting certain processes and procedures have to be done in a particular way, so “why?” is a question I am going to ensure I continue to ask throughout my first year of headship and beyond.

Decluttering allows schools to become more efficient by shedding the cumbersome aspects of the operational running of the school, but it is also an important and symbolic part of starting a new headship.

It shows the staff that you are analysing the school with fresh eyes, but equally it shows that you are prepared to make swift and decisive changes for the ultimate benefit of the young people we serve.

The tangible stuff is easy – almost every school I have worked in has been victim to hoarders keeping resources and equipment that is no longer used, or which is out-dated and has long since been replaced.

However, decluttering the intangible aspects of school life is slightly more challenging.

People become wedded to certain ways of working – they may well have been the one who introduced a process or procedure in the first place, so the removal or reinvention of it will undoubtedly cause them some unease.

Managing these people is key, but remaining focused on the main goal of creating greater efficiencies requires a detached involvement that enables objectivity throughout.

Whether it is about decluttering the school or ensuring that I continually ask “why?” regarding all aspects of the school, being prepared to evaluate and ultimately change things for the better is going to be something that I consciously remain focused on throughout this first year of headship and beyond.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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