As readers will know, I have a long career upon which to reflect when considering education issues. This career was across a range of schools, with varying philosophies and under very different styles of management. Some were empowering, some were disabling; the former because teachers were encouraged to think, the latter because the school was the opposite, you had to think alike.
I became a head in 1990, taking over a small village Primary which had shrunk because of local Private schools and being close to a County boundary where the neighbour took children at the end of year 6 into Secondary, where we still had a Middle School system. This school was always thought of as a “good” school. The head was regularly given the role of trainer to other colleagues and LEA training. The reality when I arrived was different, with a number of staffing issues to be resolved very quickly.
As a result, I had almost a complete staff turnover within two years, at which point, I felt that I could start building properly, based around a core of dynamic staff prepared to develop as a team, ensuring that any wavering was mopped up and all moved forward together.
The act of creation is a very special dynamic, in that you can think openly, discuss widely, bring in the available external expertise and synthesise processes that everyone can buy into and make work. If you are “in on the ground floor”, you have a purpose in making sure that it does. It’s “your baby”.
Four years later we had our first Ofsted, which was excellent in all aspects; everything held together very tightly.
Then we had staff turnover. Deputy to headship, senior teacher to deputy headship, NQT to second post and, as a result of 35% turnover there was a need to induct new people into the systems. Induction is a very interesting process, in that there is the potential to over-simplify aspects of practice as it has become everyday practice, whereas we were doing things that were being noticed in the area as very good practice. The normality for us could be retold, but needed the underpinning, developmental thinking to interpret fully. This may have been a weakness. It needed mentoring to be embedded. New teachers had to play “catch-up”.
Inevitably there was a wish from new staff to make a mark and subtle hints were introduced. As they were in the correct forum they could be discussed and where they constituted an improvement, they were incorporated. Over the next few years, the school changed slightly, but was still judged very well at Ofsted as results were consistently high, across all areas.
Further change followed, as lives altered, and aspirations meant further promotion. I realised at this stage that I was staying for two reasons. I was providing a level of continuity that was needed and my first wife, having been diagnosed with cancer, had relapsed and family needed continuity too.
Having rebuilt once, it was possible a second time, especially as it coincided with alterations to the National Curriculum, which provided a base for auditing school provision. Change was evolutionary, rather than complete change, growing from earlier strength, supported by opportunities for in-school research.
My last year as a head was tough. If you want to read the full story, I have been candid; suffice to say that it included the death of one teacher from cancer and the death of my first wife, with a d=side order of other long-term staff physical illness, which resulted in my teaching full time for the autumn term.
I realised that I had become the weakest link and decided to step away from the school so that it could continue to develop and move forward. A hard, but necessary decision. I could have gone back, but that would have meant the school carrying me, when the larger aspect of headship is to support others to do their job well.
Schools are organisms, beyond the individuals who make up the body. They grow and change with loss and new additions, eventually to become different organisms over time. They learn to adapt to situations, to evolve and grow new members from within.
They are rarely, if ever, once and for all organisations. Someone once advised me “expect the unexpected”. That still stands.