The Prospect of Headship

A month ago at Wellington College, Sir Michael Wilshaw was asked about Deputy Heads who did not want to step up to Headship as the pressure was not worth the salary increase. His response: “Have some courage, don’t be so feeble about it, have some guts.”

I am a Deputy stepping up to Headship. In his response, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector acknowledges one thing I agree with: stepping up to Headship needs courage.

At every stage in my career so far, there has been someone above me who holds ultimate responsibility. From January, that person will be me. It will be me the Leadership Team turns to for the final word, me the staff look to for a decision, me the Governors hold to account for the performance of the school. If the school is found to be coasting, I’ll be sacked. The buck will stop with me.

“Don’t be so feeble.”

I remember how I felt when my children were born. I remember holding their fragile bodies in the crook of one forearm, and feeling the incredible weight of responsibility pressing down on me. As a Headteacher, I will be responsible for over a thousand children every day, every single one of whom has parents who felt like I did, and they will be putting their trust in me. The safety and well being of the most important thing in nearly three thousand parents’ lives will be on my watch.

“Have some guts.”

The education of those young minds is my responsibility. The curriculum they study, the way it is delivered, the manner in which it is assessed, the way success is celebrated – in the end, I will set the tone for all of this.

“Have some courage.”

The school’s standing in the community is my responsibility too. The Headteacher of the local secondary school is an important community figure and the success or otherwise of the school has an impact on all around it. Regardless of the wisdom of it, there’s a link on every RightMove property to the local schools’ Ofsted reports – the value of people’s houses depends on my effectiveness. I will be a community leader. One wrong move and the Daily Mail is poised to pounce.

“Don’t be so feeble.”

The careers, well being and development of close to two hundred staff will be my responsibility too. As Vic Goddard was told, “you make the weather.” I will make the weather for all those professionals. There are teachers leaving the profession in droves, crushed under bureaucracy and workload, frustrated by the perverse incentives of performance pay. Will I be able to stem the tide? Can I lead a school where teachers feel like they’re making a difference? Where it’s all worth it?

“Have some guts.”

The next five years will see a real terms budget reduction of 7% in school funding. I will be responsible for delivering the highest quality of education on less money per pupil. I will face the toughest of tough decisions – cut posts or cut resources? Slim the curriculum or expand class sizes? Cut corners or do a proper job? I will have to fundraise, bid for every grant going, recruit, and economise, lobby and pressurise to ensure a fair deal for the young people in my care, and hope that someone will listen.

But I will have courage. I will have guts. I will not be feeble.

Because Headship is a privilege.

Because I will have a team around me to advise and help, a wise and experienced Governing body to help set the direction, and a local and national network of Headteachers to consult and support me. Of course, managing that shrinking budget will be hard, but there is comfort in knowing that I will not be alone.

Because Headship is a privilege.

I will be leading a group of teachers. Teachers – the most committed, good-humoured, and dedicated profession, packed with graduates who decided that they wanted to make a difference, to pass on the love of their subject, to give their time, energy and dedication to help the next generation be better. I will make the weather for those selfless, generous professionals – and I will dedicate myself to making sure they know it’s worth it.

Because Headship is a privilege.

It’s right that the school takes its place at the centre of the local community; I want the community to be proud of the school – no matter what Ofsted say – and I will be proud to lead it. I want the community to talk warmly about the quality of education it provides and it will be my leadership that ensures that this will happen.

Because Headship is a privilege.

I got in to teaching to make a difference too. In my classroom I hope I made a difference to the thirty children I had for that year. As a Head of Department, I made a difference to more children, on a larger scale. As a Headteacher, I have the opportunity to make a difference on the largest scale, to set the tone for thousands of children in every decision I take.

Because Headship is a privilege.

Parents treasure their children, thrill in their successes, worry themselves sick about them. The sleepless nights don’t stop when they’re weaned. Those parents place their trust in teachers every day to care about their children just as much as they do themselves. Can there be any greater honour?

Because Headship is a privilege.

The weight of responsibility is not one I shoulder lightly. I am stepping into the role with my eyes wide open, with guts and courage, yes, but also with determination, with confidence. Because, despite the fear, it is a privilege to be a Headteacher. And I am looking forward to it.

Thank you.

This blog was the text of my presentation delivered at #SLTeachmeet for #BELMAS2015. 

12 thoughts on “The Prospect of Headship

  1. EXCELLENT, Chris! Sorry I didn’t get to see this at BELMAS, but will definitely catch up with the video.

    You will make an exceptional head, because you GET it.

    Have a great summer.

  2. A point of clarification. In this post (and in the #SLTeachmeet presentation and questions) I suggest that stepping up from Deputy to Head is a brave move. I do not mean to imply by this that those who choose not to step up lack courage. There may be a million and one reasons why a Deputy would choose not to apply for Headships which are nothing to do with courage. For me, applying felt like a brave move. Choosing not to apply can be equally courageous.
    Just wanted to clear that up and apologise if anyone got the wrong impression.

  3. I certainly agree, particularly that the role of headteacher/principle is a privileged one. As a Principal, I can only be the custodian of the school I lead and of its standing in the community as both of these will remain long after I have left (funding permitting!!). However all of the staff should feel privileged that we are given the responsibility to make the difference to our students’ lives which will last long after they (and we) have left the school – this is why our students must be at the heart of every decision no matter how large or small.
    I am now coming towards the end of my first two terms as Principal and can honestly say that over the last three months I have certainly needed some guts and resilience. I would add that a HT/Principal also needs to have the courage to step into the unknown – there will be decisions ahead where it is impossible to know which is the correct next step. Your principles will be so important at that point together with the support of those around you. Yes it’s hard, it’s testing and the weight of responsibility can sit heavily at times but stepping up to this role is best thing I’ve ever done. Good luck and feel free to get in touch if ever you want to talk things over.

  4. Thank you for such a humbling Blog. I have been a head since 2004 and in the madness of each day I appreciated having the opportunity to reflect on what our job is. We are all extremely brave, courageous and have guts. We are privileged to work with such amazing children and inspiring staff and it is the reason I still spring out of bed with a smile on a work day. (so that’s 24/7)
    I do want to say that there are courageous and brave deputy heads who have many reasons for not going into headship. I value the input from deputies I have worked with. All of them are full of courage and should be supported and challenged what ever their choices.
    I wish you every success in your new role. It is a pleasure to read your blog.
    I have added it to our blog for others to read your words.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. I completely agree about deputies and left a clarification to this effect in the comments above. I appreciate the link and look forward to enjoying the next ten years as much as you evidently have.

  5. Pingback: The Reality of Headship | Teaching: Leading Learning

  6. Pingback: Education Panorama (August ’15) | | @TeacherToolkit

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