November 2012

The know zone

  • Warning signs
    Schools and colleges owe a duty of care to pupils and the wider public and could be held liable where damage is caused to a person or property by their actions or failures. Richard Bird explains. More
  • Energy crisis
    Exhausted teachers donít make for good teachers. As funding gets tighter and pupil-teacher ratios increase, schools need to help staff lighten their load, says Sam Ellis. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Mark Twain, Aaron Levenstein, WIE Gates, Louis Brandeis More
  • The Write Stuff
    Alistair Macnaughton, 53, has been head of The Kingís School, Gloucester, for five years. A former arts journalist, his previous posts include director of theatre at Charterhouse School and second master at Kingís School, Worcester. More
  • Political insight
    Parliamentís Education Service aims to inform, engage and empower young people to understand and get involved in Parliament, politics and democracy. More
  • Clean bill of health?
    Nearly half of ASCL members say that preparing for inspection is one of their top concerns. Here, leaders share their views on whether the latest inspection reforms, especially short notice and the focus on teaching quality, have made inspection more or less fit for purpose? More
  • Adding value
    Startrescue.co.uk was one of the big stars of the road this summer, providing roadside assistance to members on their way to be part of the Olympics, off on their holiday or even something as simple as taking the kids to school or driving to work. More
  • Leaders Surgery
    Teachers' Standards advice and Advice on allegations against teachers More
  • Shifting sands...
    With flawed data being used in this yearís performance tables and by Ofsted inspectors, exam results being kept artifficially low, and the huge inconsistencies in GCSE marking, how do schools and colleges measure improvement? How do parents and governors? Is it now time to take matters into our own hands, asks Brian Lightman? More
  • Layered Cake
    Most people have an idea of what to expect when becoming a headteacher, but there are many aspects of the role that simply only experience will reveal as Geoff Barton explains. More
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Most people have an idea of what to expect when becoming a headteacher, but there are many aspects of the role that simply only experience will reveal as Geoff Barton explains.

Layered Cake

1 Vision is overstated
Everyone bangs on about having a vision for your school. When the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) was still mandatory, hours would be spent drawing diagrams, shuffling diamondshaped cards and giving each other presentations on our educational vision. Hereís the reality: no one ever loses sleep for not having a vision. We lose sleep over other stuff Ė like the difficult conversation we need to have with a staff member the next morning Ė but not about being visionless.

2 It doesn't get easier

I had assumed that ten years in, the job would be easier than when I started. In truth, I'm more neurotic now, more cautious in my decisions, and more thin-skinned about being seen as 'yesterday's man' than I ever was. Of course, there are some things I no longer worry much about Ė like running meetings and staff briefings Ė but it surprises me that after so many years that it all doesn't seem a bit easier.

3 Being head is better than being deputy

Not everyone, of course, will agree with this one, but one of the best perks of headship is being able to choose what you do and, more attractively, what you donít. You can, in other words, quietly ignore the stuff you're not very interested in or not very good at Ė or give it to someone else to do.

4 Sleeplessness isn't worth stressing about

I never sleep well on a Sunday night. In fact Iím writing this in the early hours of Monday morning after around four hours sleep. That's about normal at the start of the week. It's not that there's anything tangible Ė any specific burgeoning issue Ė that keeps me awake; it's just a general sense of another week needing to be dealt with and reacted to. I used to stress about Sunday night sleeplessness. Now I see Monday night as the time to catch up and recalibrate myself.

5 People talk rubbish
Iím never convinced by those people who tell me that being a head is the best job in the world. I haven't tried all the other jobs, so how would I know?

6 The 'teacher' part of 'headteacher' matters
Again, not all will agree, but I couldn't conceive of being headteacher and not doing some teaching Ė if only through covering for absent colleagues. It's why we came into the profession and how we reinforce our credibility with colleagues. More than that, I find the classroom a sanctuary from all the nonsense that so often swirls around outside.

7 People overstate the amount of paperwork
When my PA and I sit down each day to open the post, I fling most of it into the bin. If there's a letter, for example, addressed 'To the headteacher' rather than with my name personally on it, then itís unlikely to be opened. I see my job as keeping as much junk away from colleagues as possible. That may mean I occasionally throw away stuff that I shouldn't. But I figure if it's important then the sender will re-send it.

8 Routines help
You learn that certain routines and approaches help. With a ranting parent, for example, I just let them rant. If they've insisted on seeing me in person, I'll reach for my notebook and ask them to tell me what the problem is. Iíll then switch on autopilot, make the occasional note, and allow them to let rip. It's not worth interrupting or trying to soothe. Just let their spleen be vented. Sometimes, if they're on a particularly long roll, Iíll be writing down notes about other things I have to do that day. More often than not the act of ranting will prove cathartic and a solution to the problem can then be navigated.

9 Schools should be funny

Young people have their futures ahead of them. We should feed their optimism. Funny stuff Ė dressing-up days, staff making fools of themselves, Quidditch tournaments, and a weekly whole-school quiz: these are the things that our youngsters will remember.

10 We all have a sell-by date
I hope Iíll get bored of my school and leave before my school gets bored of me and feels Iíve outstayed my welcome. When I no longer feel the need to be on the back gate at the start and end of the day, I suspect the time might have come.

  • Geoff Barton is head of King Edward VI School in Suffolk

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you'd like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

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LEADING READING