2019 Autumn Term 1

The know zone

  • The SATs debate
    One senior politician has suggested that SATs should be 'scrapped'. Here Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris highlights ASCL's position on this important issue. More
  • University challenge
    As the new term begins and students start their UCAS applications, Kevin Gilmartin looks at the university choices of this year's freshers. More
  • Balance the facts and the figures
    Business Leadership Specialist Hayley Dunn shares top tips on setting pay and conditions for school business leadership roles. More
  • Just the job?
    ASCL Pay and Conditions Specialist Louise Hatswell shares advice on how to avoid any pitfalls when changing jobs and moving to another school. More
  • Listen up...
    We asked our members what advice they would give to someone starting in their first leadership role and one word featured in most responses - 'listen'. Here, ASCL members share their thoughts... More
  • Providing an alternative perspective
    Executive Headteacher John Bradshaw is the new voice of ASCL Council elected to represent Alternative Provision (AP) in education. More
  • Mark my words
    Rather than playing with fire, play it safe and change your language to fit your audience. More
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We asked our members what advice they would give to someone starting in their first leadership role and one word featured in most responses - 'listen'. Here, ASCL members share their thoughts...

Listen up...

Be prepared

Leadership is a privilege and you are in your role because others believe in you. Listen intently in the first few weeks and stick to your leadership principles. Your level of preparation will depend on the context but knowing how line management is structured and basic expectations will help. Every school has its own custom and practices and these must be considered even if you are going in as the head.

Make brief notes after each day covering things that impress you and things that frustrate or annoy you. This is useful when leading change or when considering improvement projects.

My final tip surrounds feedback; leaders need that regularly and honestly. Listen to it and act upon that which resonates.

Benjamin Bond
Headteacher, The Clere School, Newbury, Berkshire

Don’t lose focus

The most valuable piece of advice (apart from joining ASCL for all the support) I could give, is to listen to as wide a range of viewpoints as possible before starting on something that may be met with resistance. Give yourself time to reflect every week on why you’re doing what you’re doing and don’t be afraid to admit it when something isn’t working out as you planned. Seek help from others in the leadership team (don’t underestimate the word ‘team’ – it will be your backbone) and develop your people skills – staff need to feel valued. 

Don’t aim to be liked by everyone or be their friend (this could pose problems in the future if you have to challenge them) but try to earn the staff’s respect by being hard-working, fair and approachable. 

Above all, don’t lose focus – it’s the next generation’s futures we’re responsible for!

Theo Nickson
Co-Headteacher, Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School, Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Top ten tips

  1. Remind yourself that you’ll be fine – you have been successful and your new school believes you have all the right credentials for the job.
  2. Always remember your values and ethical leadership principles.
  3. Be realistic – tackle the more operational quick-fix things to begin with.
  4. Get out and about and be high-profile.
  5. Find time to reflect, write lists and plan.
  6. If you have a teaching commitment, keep this high-priority.
  7. Deal with emails once a day for no more than 45 minutes. 8 Don’t profess to know things when you don’t. ‘I’ll find out for you’ is a good stock phrase.
  8. Don’t profess to know things when you don’t. ‘I’ll find out for you’ is a good stock phrase
  9. You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll learn more from these than the early successes.
  10. Pace yourself and get home on time.

Dr Chris Ingate
Principal, Birchwood High School, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

Listen and be humble

Congratulations! School and college leadership is an amazing, rollercoaster vocation – there’s nothing like being able to make a difference to so many young people’s lives. The main advice I’d give you is this: listen and be humble.

Make time to listen to colleagues who won’t naturally talk to you – the cleaners and caterers, perhaps, or grumbler who sits in the corner of the staffroom. Even the grumbler will have some telling observations to share. Make time to listen to the learners (especially the disaffected) – at break, after school, around the site.

Making time to listen also helps you to be humble. For me, the acid test of humility is when I make a mistake. The humble way to handle a mistake is to own up, apologise, make amends, forgive yourself and move on. If you do that, others will follow your example.

And one practical tip: always carry some tissues with you. You never know when they’ll be needed.

Stephen Brierley
Principal, St Margaret’s Church of England Academy, Liverpool, Merseyside

Pace yourself, listen, observe

Take time to understand what the priorities are and remember you must take your team with you. Listen carefully to everyone in the team, observe work in practice, get to look at all sides of ‘the debate’ and then determine what your priorities are for focused drive and improvement.

Once you’ve determined your priority work focus, set about it as a leader of people – you don’t have to do it on your own. Empower and celebrate the talents of everyone around you. Be authentic with it.

David Waugh
Head Teacher, Poynton High School, CEO, The TRUE Learning Partnership, ASCL Vice President 2019/20