Diary of a headteacher: On the shoulders of giants

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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When you start the headship journey, the most important thing you can do is have someone at your side to guide you through those early days…

Last week we hosted a visit from members of our multi-academy trust’s leadership foundation. This is a group made up of deputy heads from all the MAT’s secondary schools. A very notable figure in education is leading the group. He joined us to have a look at what we’ve been up to one year on from the “inadequate” Ofsted judgement.

The leader has been a key thinker in education for the past 30 years. He has received an honour from the Queen and has been published on multiple occasions. I would suggest that, if you’re reading SecEd, you are highly likely to have one or more of his books on your shelf. He has worked for the Department for Education and Ofsted and travelled the world advising on how to improve the lot of students in classrooms.

To say this was a big day for us would be an understatement.

I arrived on Thursday morning to find our visitors eagerly awaiting the start of their day in the council car park next to the school. It was a surprisingly cold morning given the recent good weather.

Our colleagues in the leadership foundation work in schools outside of London. It was really interesting to see the look on their faces as they took in their surroundings on a cold and gloomy east London morning.

The day began with gate duty. The start of day had proved an issue for us at the beginning of my time here. On day one, I found more than 350 students arriving late for school. Being late was the norm. In fact, I was told by the then leadership team that no-one knew that students were coming late to school. Why? Apparently, this was before we had erected gates to protect students from the outside world!

I told the story of our school to our visitors. A story (I hope) of rapid school improvement. I focused on leadership and described perhaps the greatest leadership decision I made...

When I was appointed as headteacher in December 2017, I was asked by the CEO of our MAT what I’d like support with. Having seen the school in action when I visited and was interviewed, I knew exactly what I wanted. I needed to bring someone with me to help me in the early days to begin the much needed journey out of special measures.

The CEO said that if I could find someone to act as consultant, we could make it work. I knew exactly who to call. In 2009, I met someone who was working on the leadership team of a highly successful local authority as lead English consultant. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed to bring her with me.

She took some persuasion, but I managed to get her to join me for four days a week for the first term. I am so grateful that she agreed to come and help me. We joined together in April 2018. Before that, we spent the Easter holidays overseeing the decorating of the school and ripping down the mismatched and opposing rule posters dotted all around the building.

We became a team in those first two weeks and nearly a year on we remain a team. We don’t always agree and we have many an interesting conversation behind closed doors, but one constant remains – I know she is with me on our journey.

So, my message for the leadership foundation was a simple and clear one. When you eventually take on the exciting rollercoaster of a journey that is headship, make sure you do all you can to have someone with you. My moment of genius (and of self-preservation) was getting the go-ahead to bring someone with me and then persuading the right person to join me.

Headship can be a lonely journey but not when you have someone there with you from the beginning. If you are embarking on this adventure, make sure you also stand on the shoulders on giants. Pick someone who will make every day better than the last.

On that cold day last Thursday, I was grateful again for having her with me – not least when I heard the news from the most notable of critics that we are en route to achieving that much sought after “good”. Something very nice to hear, especially when standing on that very cold gate.

  • 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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