Diary of a headteacher: We’ve come out fighting

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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This is a great blog on the life of a headteacher. Really telling of the full gamut of experiences ...

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From the good to the bad and everything in between – life as a head is never without challenge or event...

I have a monthly subscription to the BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine. The cover story for the March 2019 issue includes a stunning picture of Barbara Stanwyck. In this picture, she has an asymmetrical curly bob and is wearing a set of large boxing gloves. The strapline goes: “The Good Girl, The Bad Girl, and Everything in Between.” If I were to describe my life as a head – this is a pretty apt description. This week alone, I’ve literally been all three. And I’ve even got the curly hair to match.

The good girl

We’re on a journey of school improvement. It’s a long journey, not least because the school was judged “inadequate” in February 2018.

As head, I’m the keeper and “reiterator” of the school’s vision and ethos. I’m the figurehead on the front of the ship. I literally hold the dream of what the school could and should be in my hands. It’s a fragile dream that, for some of our number (bruised by recent history) still seems far off.

Sometimes, I’m seen as an angel who is leading the school forward, against all the odds. This is occasionally associated with the most wonderful moments. One mum wrote on our Facebook page: “I’m so pleased we picked this school for our daughter. She’s settled in brilliantly and making great progress. The new head and SLT are excellent. Staff are supportive of educational and pastoral needs and our daughter feels happy and secure. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t always just listen to rumours and reputation, but instead go with your gut.”

When being a head is good, it’s very, very good.

The bad girl

Anything and everything that I say is open to intense scrutiny. This should be expected. However, it’s when comments are attributed to me that are not based on any truth that I object.

This week I’ve made a number of decisions that are to the detriment of the workload of my staff and have absolutely no impact on learners. It’s clearly part of my daily practice to make such decisions – every day I hear that I’ve made another one.

The strangest thing is that no-one ever asks if I’ve actually made any of these statements. If they did, they’d realise that the first I hear of them is long after I’ve supposedly said them. People make assumptions about what I think, put words in my mouth and tell others what they’ve heard me say (even though it’s never happened).

On these occasions, the gossip mill goes into overdrive. This week my name was associated with a decision to direct all year 13 tutors to help write UCAS supporting statements for year 12 students. This is because I’ve apparently decided that the year 12 tutors are incompetent and that the year 13 tutors should do it instead – it’s clearly a good idea to “punish us for being good”.

Actually, nothing of the sort really happened. I neither said nor even thought this. Sometimes, regardless of what you actually say or think, being the head means you are automatically bad.

Everything in between

This week, among everything else, I have: “visioned” a dining room with an architect, taken photos with primary students and a year 10 in a sweaty Beast costume, helped catch and set a mouse free, fed siblings who hadn’t eaten for 24 hours (with no recourse to public funds), stopped the school first aider from falling over her blanket in hot pursuit of an injured child who wasn’t actually injured (the crackling of the walkie talkie can sound like the strangest of things).

My favourite Barbara Stanwyck film is Double Indemnity. A classic film noir directed by Billy Wilder. Film noir style is characterised by pessimism, fatalism and menace. Good descriptors of life in a school judged “inadequate” only one short year ago?

Thankfully, my school has moved on leaps and bounds and we are far from that place. During half-term I rewrote the SEF. It needed doing because our school has come out fighting.

We have dusted ourselves off, put on the gloves and are looking, feeling and doing our best. Let’s just hope that when Ofsted comes knocking, we have better luck than Barbara did with her Best Actress Oscar nominations – I think we deserve it.

  • 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.

Now I’ve read all the blogs from this head, I want them all together in one place. The ups and downs of headship.
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This is a great blog on the life of a headteacher. Really telling of the full gamut of experiences a head faces, told in an engaging way. Thanks.
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