Five things I have learnt as a headteacher this year

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Our headteacher diarist offers the five things he has learnt after his 10th year as a headteacher...

John Tomsett writes a fascinating headteacher blog entitled This much I know about... This thoughtful, often searingly honest account of being a headteacher details the euphoria and many challenges of leading a school. 

I like this journal for the generosity of his ideas, assemblies accompanied by music I have heard of, and for the moments of meltdown that I can empathise with – the tears of frustration and anxiety at English GCSE results, the feeling of failure as a father and despair at this all-consuming job, the privilege and the awe and wonder of working with so many awesome colleagues and lovely students. It is worth a read!

Therefore, with apologies to Mr Tomsett – and the realisation that I am approaching the end of my 10th hardest ever year as a head – these are the things that I have learnt after another year at the chalkface trying to lead my magnificent school. They are blindingly obvious, but can get forgotten in the rush to improve grades.

1, English GCSE

The English GCSE results really matter and I have spent every day since last August worrying, stalking the classrooms, discussing data, pedagogy, set changes, tactical moves and courses that would suit our children. Yet it will all come down to the exam on the Friday after half-term, where fate has decreed that those students will also endure a science and geography exam. Six hours in total and a madness that could render all our efforts fruitless as students are tested on endurance, not their skill-set.

2, Finance

Finance really matters. The floods of February have receded yet the damage to dilapidated classrooms, after 20 years of appalling underfunding, is taking its toll. My youthful dreams of Abba have drifted into financial English nightmares, frustrated by Michael Gove.

3, Michael Gove

Michael Gove really matters, much as I hate writing this sentence. He leads education and his simplistic zealous promotion of all things public school and his constant need to change and revert to his defiant position of a traditional education alienates the public and, crucially, does not suit many children or the society we currently live in. He is out of step with the city child and I fear he is taking us back to a three-tier education system where, in my city especially, there clearly has become a school that is seen as the poor relation to the so-called good schools.

4, Colleagues

Colleagues really matter and need to be looked after in these interesting times. All are working a lot harder than before. Gone are the archaic traditions of heads of department only taking the best classes, sports days that knocked off early, and trips that were for the benefit of the staff not the children. Every minute matters and during the half-term break unpaid staff crammed with year 11, took year 10 to France, year 9 to Spain, and a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition to Wales. The staff work so hard to give their best and to provide children with experiences that will move their lives forward. All should celebrate the good that occurs weekly in our schools.

5, Being a headteacher

Being a head is a privilege and really does matter. You are the figurehead of your community and your belief, pride and values are central to the children and staff. One set of results does not define a child, or your school, and we would all do well to ensure that examination results do not define the future of British education.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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