Diary of a Headteacher: The weight of the exam results...

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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As a headteacher, how much responsibility do you feel for your school's examination results. Our headteacher diarist discusses the unhelpful and unhealthy feelings that many school leaders feel on results day

I am writing this diary entry sat at my desk, in my office at school, with all sorts of madness occurring around me. We have embarked on a huge IT project over the summer, recabling the entire school computer network and the place looks like a bomb has hit it.

Simultaneously we have just hired a new set of cleaning contractors who seemed very keen to impress on their first week.

They appear to have sent in a SWAT team of cleaners who are manically cleaning up after the recabling contractors as quickly as they are producing the significant quantities of dust and mess.

With only a week until term starts, should I be worried? Not today, I have got bigger things on my mind. As I write, it is Results Day Eve – the day before our students return to school to collect their GCSE results. The day where schools download the results and busily analyse the outcomes to see how they have performed.

I don’t know which group of people are more nervous about this, the students, their parents, the teachers, or me as the headteacher.

I remember collecting my own results and thinking that my future hinged on achieving the grades I needed to access my next education pathway. I recall feeling sick, nervous and very anxious at the thought of failing, or not reaching the standards I knew I was capable of – 22 years on and entering my sixth year as a headteacher, is the feeling any different?

When I started out as a headteacher, these emotions were very much still there for me on results day and the days leading up to it. If the results were bad, then this had happened on my watch and therefore it was my fault. I have come to understand that this way of thinking is deeply unhelpful and unhealthy for a headteacher.

Even in my first year as a headteacher, I had this overwhelming feeling that these were my results, that I was responsible for them, despite the fact that the 600 year 11 students who had just sat their exams had been educated in the school for the preceding four years before I joined.

Looking back at this now, with the experience and understanding I now have of school leadership, I can see just how much of a nonsense it is for one individual to have that amount of ownership and responsibility for examination outcomes of hundreds of individuals.

If headteachers carry this burden alone, it is no wonder that the shelf life of the job is so short and why so many burn out, or crumble under the pressure of the school accountability system in this country.

I read a thread on Twitter this week from a head who was asking how many other headteacher colleagues would be downloading results at midnight. I couldn’t believe how many heads had responded to this question, confirming that this is exactly what they would be doing and that they were extremely nervous about what the outcomes might be for them.

For a moment I questioned myself and thought “am I being lazy, or complacent by not doing this?” However, I quickly saw sense and remembered that there was nothing I could do at this stage to influence the outcomes; they would be what they would be.

So, how should a headteacher feel at this time of year? Nervous, anxious, stressed? Nerves, I have always thought, show that you care and therefore I have been nervous about the results because I am so invested in our students achieving the best possible outcomes for themselves – and for our staff to have a sense of achievement in helping them do so. But I will not allow anxiety or stress to affect me.

I use these nerves and channel them into a positive energy and I am excited to see students tomorrow and watch them celebrate with their friends, families and teachers.

The most important thing for me as the head, if I am to manage the pressure and responsibility of the role in a positive way, is to consistently adopt the mindset that the school can always improve and always be more effective. Every individual within the school can learn, grow and improve every day and if we all commit to this, then the outcomes should take care of themselves.

  • The author is a headteacher in his sixth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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