Diary of a headteacher: Singing from the same hymn sheet

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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In an academised system, it is more vital than ever that your values as a headteacher align with those of your trustees, as our headteacher diarist found to his cost

Leading a school is a huge privilege. Having the responsibility for the educational outcomes of more than 1,000 young people and being the person leading more than 100 adults in a school is a genuine honour and I feel very lucky that I have had this opportunity for the past four years.

My first headship lasted for three years and I absolutely loved it. The students were incredible and they made coming to work a joy every day. The staff were pretty good too and I was fortunate to have a superb senior leadership team who were open to change and up for the challenge of continually becoming more effective.

I wanted to stay there longer but I felt I needed to leave as it became increasingly evident to me that the directors of the trust did not share the same values and vision as I did for the school.

This type of situation leaves a headteacher in a difficult position, and for someone like me – for whom values-driven leadership is so fundamental – I felt my position had become untenable given the chasm that existed between my vision for the school and that of the directors.

I remember a conversation with a former mentor, someone who was the first headteacher I worked for, around the time when the academies programme really started to build momentum. He predicted something that I saw come to fruition with my own eyes and that directly affected me in my first headship.

He said back then that with schools moving away from local authorities to become academies, either standalone institutions or part of larger trusts, when potential candidates would apply for headship opportunities, they would need to be 100 per cent certain that the people with governor or director responsibilities shared a similar vision, ethos and philosophy as them.

If there wasn’t this important alignment, he said, the headteacher will find themselves vulnerable, exposed and very much alone, fighting against those who could be holding the proverbial axe of unemployment over their heads.

I had these words firmly in my thoughts when I went through the recruitment process for my first headship and I made sure I interrogated the panel in great detail with regard to their vision and educational philosophies.

At the time I was satisfied with their responses, but there were two problems. Most of those who interviewed me ended up leaving within a year, and others, I felt, misled me. The situation festered horribly throughout my time there and while my relationship with staff and students was excellent and the school achieved record results, my relationship with the directors became increasingly toxic.

Fortunately I was able to secure my second headship at a magnificent school where I am loving life and I have been able to use my prior experiences to ensure I do not make the same mistakes again. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and there are times when I look back and think that I should have stayed longer and persevered; I certainly feel like I have unfinished business there.

However, I don’t regret making the move. I am happier in my current role and I am enjoying focusing entirely on making the school more effective by implementing strategies that are deeply grounded in my values as a leader.

This situation has made me reflect on a number of questions that I think headteachers everywhere will be acutely aware of:

  • What is my expected lifespan at this school or as a head?
  • Who do I turn to if things start to go wrong?
  • Am I one bad set of results away from the sack?

These questions might appear stark and pessimistic but academisation has made education a cut-throat business and each year heads roll when student outcomes take a dip.

As headteachers I believe we have a responsibility to lead our schools in a culture of love, not fear, but the harsh reality is that there are many of us constantly living in fear for our own careers and as a community we need to be supportive of colleagues who are working in challenging circumstances. Sometimes, there is no-one else looking out for you.

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


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