Diary of a Headteacher: How do you hide a swimming pool?

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Great insight into the trials and tribulations of a new head taking over a school in need of real ...

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Pupil numbers are down and our headteacher diarist must act quickly to remind her community of the school’s merits...

It is the beginning of my 23rd year as a teacher and it is my first autumn term as head. I have now been a teacher for longer than I wasn’t. What a scary but strangely liberating thought. My journey started in a classroom in Essex in September 1995 and I’ve seen a lot, an awful lot – the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve worked in schools in Greenwich, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Hackney, a good spattering of London boroughs to have experienced enough. But still, my first encounter of life as headteacher has literally been the gift that keeps on giving.

“Leave me alone.” The subject of an email received by the admin account at 9:06am on September 6. The contents don’t quite explain what we’ve done but it must be bad. It must be the marketing...

My PAN is 210. I’ve inherited a year 8 of 96. My new year 7 has only 95 members. We had 200 year 11s out in July and 95 year 7s in. The numbers just don’t stack up. Money is literally too tight to mention and I must get more students through the doors.

I have to make sure that the school shines between now and October half-term. Marketing is key. I need to rekindle a belief in the school that has been damaged over many successive years. I can’t blame parents for their scepticism, the serial Requires Improvement and Special Measures judgements would dent the faith of the strongest of believers.

But you know what: I believe. After a term and a bit here, this school has gotten into my very soul. I feel like I’ve been here forever and I can see and feel the positive changes we have made. It really is a great place, buzzing with students on their first days of term who have heard from me about the impressive GCSE and A level exam results and who are excited to meet this year’s teachers.

I keep hearing about how great science is now we have got permanent staff. They’re running practicals every lesson for the first two weeks of term! Everyone knows about it – not least because the Bunsen burners are out across the department for the first time in years (and the other staff keep asking “what’s that funny smell?”).
The swimming pool is condemned. The filtration system doesn’t work and I cannot remember when the heater last adequately warmed the pool.

Current finances won’t stretch to either repairing the pool or covering it over. How can you disguise an Olympic sized swimming pool that’s drained and dirty? It is not the look (or smell) I want to charm my prospective parents with.

I have got a long-term plan – fixing the pool is too expensive but this would make an amazing dining or learning space. The viewing gallery will become the museum to commemorate our long history. But the plan requires money, lots of it, and we’re not there yet.

For now? In best Changing Rooms style, my new site team go off to B&Q and return with enough MDF to hide it from view. What we won’t hide is the plaque saying that the PTA purchased the pool with a crisp £5 note back in 1972. What a real shame that it wasn’t taken care of for all these years.

For now, though, the massive windows, covered in MDF and painted, make beautiful frames for the new photos we’ve had taken by our prospectus photographer. It is starting to look so good, you’d think we’d planned it. And you know what, in a very short time, I’ve learned that it’s my job as headteacher to make everyone else believe that we did. Everything is deliberate and calculated to get to that one goal – the wonderful school that our learners all deserve.

Then the one thing I can’t pretend I planned – the site manager leaves my lovely MDF frames and dons rubber gloves... The sewer pipe is looking a bit precarious again. But I mustn’t worry, it could always be worse. This pipe can be fixed with a set of rubber gloves – unlike the main sewer pipe that burst when Ofsted were last in. When the you-know-what literally hit the fan. But that’s a story that belongs in the diary of a previous head, thankfully!

  • 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.

Great insight into the trials and tribulations of a new head taking over a school in need of real change. Wishing you all the success in the world with the job in hand.
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I have really enjoyed reading about your new Headship and all the ups and downs! I never knew being a head could include such a range of bizarre problems! Keep it coming
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