December 2018


  • Divergent Pathways
    Education across the UK is heading in different directions and one day, says Geoff Barton, we'll look back and see that we've all been part of an extraordinary educational experiment. More
  • You're not alone
    Managing a school can be the most rewarding and the toughest role of your life, says one headteacher. Here he describes the support he received from ASCL in helping him through a low point in his career. More
  • Lead from the middle
    Headteacher Andrew Clay explains the evaluation and planning model he uses at Coundon Court School to help middle leaders develop their critical thinking and evaluation skills, and produce effective departmental improvement plans. More
  • Planning for PSHE
    CEO of the PSHE Association Jonathan Baggaley sets out the implications of mandatory health and relationships and sex education, and shares tips on how schools can prepare. More
  • A year in review
    Chief Social Scientist Angela Donkin reviews the research carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in 2018. More
  • Mark my words
    Latest research by Oxford University Press (OUP) has revealed a significant and increasing word gap in schools. To help address this, two OUP experts share some teachers' practical steps. More
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Managing a school can be the most rewarding and the toughest role of your life, says one headteacher. Here he describes the support he received from ASCL in helping him through a low point in his career.

You're not alone

Having worked as a senior leader for almost ten years in challenging schools, I took a step to headship with my eyes wide open and with the desire to make a difference. For almost six years, I had the most fantastic journey, bringing my school out of special measures, improving results, converting to academy and then… 

I stepped down. 

My decision to step down cannot be discussed, but, at that moment, I was professionally lost. 

As headteachers, our schools never leave our thoughts. I lived for my school and despite my best efforts, it had become a priority over my family, my health, my world. And then suddenly, all of that was gone and there was nothing. 

My final newsletter felt like a betrayal. I was saying goodbye from a distance to everyone I knew, everything I had spent my career working towards, and all my support systems, friendships and passions. 

As always, my family was there for me from day one but, professionally, the hole was huge, a massive vacuum. I had suffered huge emotional turmoil and no matter what I did, I struggled to come to terms with my situation. 

Next steps 

ASCL’s Planning for the Future Consultancy supported me throughout my ordeal and I was fortunate to have been given the support of an ASCL consultant, who was a former headteacher, almost immediately. The consultancy is for members needing advice and support for the next stage of their career following a significant and sudden job change. With their help, I began focusing on getting a job as soon as possible. 

Support duly received, possible jobs in the pipeline, the first I knew of the ASCL Benevolent Fund was when I received a lovely hamper at Christmas. It was out of the blue, and such a genuinely nice professional gesture. I felt that, somehow, I still belonged to that education leadership community of which I had felt such a part of only months before. 

My reintroduction to education through a short-term consultancy went well on the surface. I enjoyed the professional challenge and was made most welcome by my new colleagues, but I felt no ownership of the work and worse still, anytime I thought about seeing my bosses, dread became a physical pain in my chest. 

Just a couple of months into the consultancy, a discussion was arranged about my future with the organisation. It was to turn out to be a very positive offer, a future on a more permanent footing was beckoning; however, the dread had become so debilitating that I could not accept it. A full-blown can’t breathe, can’t drive, panic attack before that final meeting told me I needed to sort myself out. At that moment, I genuinely felt I could not set foot in a school again. 

A trip to my doctor led to the inevitable recommendation for antidepressants – although after a couple of weeks I reacted badly to them and stopped taking them. 

A lifeline 

I was feeling desperate, however the ASCL consultant had maintained contact with me and, when I explained I needed therapy but wondered how I could pay for it, he told me to leave it with him. 

At that time, I was in such a state that I couldn’t even arrange the appointment; he did it for me, and the benevolent fund covered my first few weeks of treatment. After treatment, I was beginning to see how to manage myself financially out of our situation and had already taken some big strides towards returning to better mental health. 

By September, I was feeling far stronger and once again looking to resume my career – crucially now without the fear and dread from my previous experiences. ASCL had done all it needed to and more, and I was starting to pick up paid consultancy work again, which was building my professional confidence. 

Significantly for my professional rehabilitation, ASCL ensured that the consultant was there for me professionally as I once again found my drive to become a school leader, long after union support had officially ended. Now well over a year since leaving my old school and beyond any initial entitlement or paid-for support, ASCL ensured I received the professional help I needed to start applying for jobs again. 

My first application was speculative and a bit rushed, and the consultant and I dissected its weaknesses as I failed to get an interview. The next job, although entirely in the wrong part of the country, saw my first good attempt at getting an application done properly with the ASCL consultant’s support and advice, and I made it to interview. 

My heart wasn’t in it as the job was at the wrong end of the country, but I was beginning to feel hopeful as, despite my history, I was ‘interviewable’. 

And, again, I was delighted to receive a hamper from the benevolent fund that second Christmas. Professionally, I still belonged, and, moreover, they were helping me back to the job I love. As my confidence grew, a couple of local roles came up and I at last had something I really wanted on the horizon. One school was on my doorstep; the other was a dream job at a school I had known quite well for years. I got interviewed at both; the first – less desirable one – was a great dress rehearsal for the other. 

Brighter future 

Finally, with ASCL’s support, I was successful. Even once it was confirmed I had got the job, ASCL’s consultant made it clear that he was there if ever I needed anything. I can never thank ASCL enough because they went so far beyond what I expected from a trade union. Particularly important for me was the long-term support they provided. 

It wasn’t for over a year after stepping down that I was in the right place in my mind to try again. I am sure that without the support of ASCL, its benevolent fund and, particularly, the professional support of the consultant assigned to me who is now a dear friend, I may not be celebrating the end of my first week back in my dream job as a head in a fantastic local school. 

Some of my story is, I fear, all too common; however, thanks to ASCL, this story has a new and hopeful chapter for me.

I can never thank ASCL enough because they went so far beyond what I expected from a trade union. Particularly important for me was the long-term support they provided.

ASCL Benevolent Fund

The ASCL Benevolent Fund (ABF) provides protection and care for all of its members, past and present, and their dependants. If you know someone who may benefit from the fund or if you think you would benefit yourself, please call 0116 299 1122 or visit:

ASCL Hotline

We’re here to help you. If you need any help or advice, call the ASCL Hotline on 0116 299 1122 or email:

Planning for the Future

This consultancy service is provided by ASCL Professional Development and ASCL Member Support. Members will be supported by consultants who are or have been senior leaders in schools and have many years of experience. See more here:

The author is a Headteacher in England.