Diary of a headteacher: Squeaky bum time

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"...find a way of moving them on." That's just passing the buck. Teachers are humans, and like ...

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As the end of May approaches, our headteacher diarist is crossing his fingers and hoping that he won’t have to join the recruitment scramble…

Sir Alex Ferguson once famously described the culmination of the football season as “squeaky bum time” and as a headteacher, I am approaching the end of May with the same level of trepidation.

The teacher resignation deadline looms ominously and the fear of a receiving a letter from one of my teachers late in May will weigh heavily on my mind until we welcome the month of June.

Every year I wonder whether or not I will be joining in the mad scramble to recruit a teacher late in the summer term.

It really shouldn’t be like this, but we are unfortunately still operating within an education system where teacher shortages are a harsh reality. If one of my teaching staff resign late in May then I will be hoping to recruit a talented NQT – although I know that the best ones will already be snapped up by that point.

Outside of appointing an NQT my options would be limited to teachers who are not currently employed by a school; maybe they are working supply contracts, finishing a maternity cover or returning to teaching after a break.

Sometimes I have been fortunate and I have managed to snag a great teacher late in the summer term because I was in the right place at the right time, but I know this is a rarity.

When a teacher resigns on or around May 31 then a school can find itself in a very difficult situation. There is a need to secure a subject specialist teacher who can perform well and provide students with a high-quality education by the start of the next academic year, but sadly this is very hard to do.

As a headteacher I have this concept of “the parent test”, where I have to be satisfied that I would place my own child in the class of any of the teachers in my school and be confident they would get a great education.

If I cannot answer the parent test question then I know I must support that teacher to improve, or if this is not possible, find a way of moving them on.

This guiding principle enables me to be confident that the educational provision in our school is of a high standard and it ensures we are using a strong moral framework on which we base our decisions and behaviours.

It is no secret that school leadership is a balancing act in many ways and this is no more apparent than when it comes to teacher retention and recruitment. I feel a significant responsibility to retain teachers in our profession – the attrition rates in recent years have been extremely worrying and too many talented individuals have been driven out of teaching for a variety of reasons.

One of my leadership philosophies that guide my work as a headteacher is that I feel that an important part of my job is creating the conditions in which my teachers can thrive. If the teachers in my school can thrive professionally and perform at their best and if I create a culture where we are all determined to consistently improve, then our students will receive a great education and they too will also thrive.

I’ve always felt that school improvement is often over-complicated and there is too much “fire-fighting” in years 6, 11 and 13; instead of engaging in the chaos of an intervention culture where we burn ourselves and our students out, we should focus on building a culture of learning and continual improvement where each year group receives a consistently great education.

I think if we adopted this philosophy across all schools then maybe we wouldn’t be biting our nails as we approach the end of May and maybe we would have a greater pool of talented teachers to select from when a job opportunity arises.

For that to happen though, I know that headteachers around the country would need to be working within an education system in which we are provided with the conditions in which we can thrive – sadly I know we are a long way from achieving this.

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

"...find a way of moving them on." That's just passing the buck.
Teachers are humans, and like other humans, are not all perfect. Some require a greater degree of support at one time or another. Many weaker teachers have gone on to be great after support. But if they keep getting shoved from one school to the next then you will simply add to the retention crisis.
But of course, there is neither the time nor money available to provide that support for all teachers who need it.

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