Ask a Headteacher Anything

This morning I asked people on Twitter to ask me anything they had every wanted to ask a headteacher. There were some really challenging questions, and I have really reflected on myself and some of the things I do and why. Below are all the questions and my responses in one place, feel free to ask anything else via @secretHT1

What’s the most annoying trait in a (generic) member of staff?

I find needless negativity really difficult to deal with. Doesn’t matter how great and worthwhile a new idea might be, the one person who always starts with ‘that all sounds well and good, but…’ makes my heart sink and seems to easily followed.

Does age matter when looking at leadership roles?

I was SLT at 25, DH at 29 and HT at 31, so it doesn’t have to. Experience matters, but wanting to find out about strategic things, being a governor, offering to do things and shadowing people can gain you that experience quickly. Dealing with people needs practice though.

What is it about “windy days” and kids? Is it like full moons & werewolves?

Definitely. Avoid them like the plague. Absolutely avoid off timetable wet play, windy, full moon days.

Why do you need to be a “secret” Headteacher?

I have a parent body who would, and do hunt down members of staff on social media. Sometimes what we think, say and the harsh realities of life in schools is not always what parents want to read or hear. Much safer this way 🙂

What do you really think of staff who suffer from stress, anxiety and or other mental health issues? Really..

I have a member of staff absent at the moment. I’m concerned for them, I wonder what I can do to help them, I tell them not to worry about school and they need to focus on getting better. Does it cause me problems/expense trying to cover at times? Yes. Does that matter? No.

Am I better to ask about part time leadership (0.6 or 0.8) before applying, at interview or after offer?

I always think honestly is the best policy. Be up front rather than maybe running the risk of them feeling hoodwinked afterwards. If they aren’t open to it initially then it’s not the right role.

Do you actively see the the societal change where young people can’t be reprimanded without bringing the wrath of “parents” upon your head?

Yes. Should that stop us? No. I always tell teachers I will back them up, but they have to be able to evidence their decisions. If they’ve got that, then I’ll try and back them up all the way. It’s about trust and honesty though, build that with the parents and all gets easier.

Do you think your headship is successful and if so how do you measure that success?

I like to hope so.

I judge myself on, is the school a better place than when I started? I genuinely think it is. Academic results have stayed very strong, but curriculum, relationships with parents, attitude of kids, atmosphere and ‘buzz’ have all improved. I’ll take that.

As a primary HT what are your main sources of frustration when dealing with the secondary schools your students move on to?

Ignoring our handover notes and putting them into inappropriate groups.
Distrust of our assessments.
Taking our Year 6’s for up to a week in July and not having consistent dates across the schools.

Why don’t schools follow the business model and start actively listening/asking to hear what matters to their staff?

I try to. I think most heads do. However, not everything can be done at once, and leaders have to prioritise. However, the key is how this is communicated – I realise this is important to you, but I can’t do it right now because… Why keep people in the dark over decisions?

As a fellow HT, I respect the honesty in your responses.

Interesting to compare – what is/are the biggest challenges you see in the next 18mths to schools and school leaders?

Finance, but not just in schools, in every service which leads to frustrations in accessing help for those that need it.
Recruitment and retention, burn out, disillusionment.
inevitable increase in powers to Ofsted, meaning more schools will do things just for them.

How do you think education or leadership of schools has changed in the duration of your headship?

Mental health and lack of access to services has been huge.
A focus on the curriculum is for the best, but doing it through fear is wrong.
Leaders seem to need to be braver to ignore the agenda and actually put kids first. Shouldn’t be that way.

Do you let your staff have their ppa at home- if not, why not?

Yes, they have the choice. And if they want to use it for a lie in, fine. As long as they’re getting the work done and to a good standard, I don’t mind.

@secretHT1 do you get enough time to be with the children? How do you ensure you are present within the school?

I’m timetabled one day a week. I do all the cover in the school as well, so I’m normally teaching at some point during the week. I’m on the gate every day and popping in and out of lessons all the time.

What do heads or SLT do that other staff don’t see or appreciate?

Constant decision making. My staff are constantly surprised at what comes across my desk and how quickly it needs responding too. Not saying that it different from teachers, but some of the decisions have a greater effect on everyone.

What advice do you have for teachers wanting to progress into management?

Get involved, shadow people, be a governor, ask questions, show an interest, offer to help.

What do you really think of governors? Help, hindrance or necessary evil? Would schools improve without their scrutiny?

I love mine. Governors that have your back are worth their weight in gold.

Are there any types of schools you would avoid and why?

Special Ed and alternative provision is not my calling, but massive respect for those who do. With regards to types, I’d give most a go I think, but would want to make sure I fit them as well as they fit me.

How do you keep going?

Some days I honestly don’t know. Good days are great, bad days can be really bad. Knowing you’re making a difference helps.

Who (what roles) make up your trusted, collective sounding board?

As far as possible everyone! Apart from that, my deputy, another senior teacher and my wife!

Why do some HT get the balance right and others allow their egos to run rampant?

Can’t answer that, but don’t see any need for it to happen. Leader doesn’t mean dictator.

What are your views on growth mindset?

Also, if a teacher made a really bad pun during an interview would you still hire them? Asking for a friend.

Do you know, I just might.

I like growth mindset, but really focus on the power of persistence and hard work with the kids. We try and bust the natural talent myth and teach them you can improve anything with hard work.

Do you respect the person who stands up to you if they don’t agree with your decisions more than the person who jumps through every hoop?

Most of the time. It’s about communication, I’ll have more respect if they articulate why, give good reasons and can offer a possible solution then I’ll always listen. Don’t just bring me a problem and tell me you don’t want to do something.

Why don’t Headteachers budget for a school library and librarian when the research shows that they make a difference to academic attainment across the whole school?

I’m primary, so having a librarian would unusual in a school my size. I guess it may be about priorities. I’m sure lots of HTs would like to run a fully stocked and resources library, but just can’t afford it. I spend 92% of my budget on staff. I can’t afford much else.

What’s your opinion of differentiation in the classroom? Currently writing an assignment on it.

I was trained on it and spend a long time of my teaching career on 3 activities. I’m shifting though. Limits on outcomes aren’t great, but work they can’t access is demoralising. Like everything in teaching, it has a time and a place.

Do you think MATs have had a positive impact on education? Do you feel the salaries of the CEOs are justified?

Haven’t had much experience with them to be honest. Not sure there are hard and fast rules you can apply to every school to expect success. If there was we’d have a completely prescribed state system. context is everything and MATs who impose all sorts of things may hinder this.

Whens the best time to take on a middle leader role and how does one go about achieving it?

Show interest, get involved and put some time into it. Talk to, and shadow existing leaders. Do you feel ready? Don’t be worried about starting with a small role and working up. Every subject leader role is a chance to make a difference.

Do you ever miss ‘teaching’?

I miss teaching, but I don’t miss marking, reports, etc. I still teach every week.

Do you think it’s okay to take SLT team out for Christmas Lunch during school hours?

Personally, I wouldn’t. Seems like it could create a them and us scenario which is unnecessary. Why do SLT need a special ‘do’? They aren’t any different as people or teachers.

I start my new role as LP for Inclusion & SEND in Jan. I’ll be part of a whole new SLT, the person I am replacing had no teaching commitments and I will be teaching full time. Nerves are starting to kick in! Any advice?!

Agree your priorities, expectations and standards as an SLT and stick to them. Be honest about your capacity with such a teaching commitment, esp with your HT – don’t try and set a pace you can’t sustain. Finally, be confident in yourself. They gave you the job for a reason.

Has budget ever been a factor in whether a teacher progresses on the pay scale or is it purely down to PM targets being successfully met?

Not in my school, no. But I am sure there are schools where it has been. Budgets aren’t the teachers problem, shouldn’t affect their pay.

Would you ever make every single TA in your (primary) school redundant and then replace them with new staff in order to save money?

Of course not. If the job role has stayed exactly the same hours and job spec, can that even be done?

what is your opinion on differentiating by giving less able children work pitched at say the year 2/3 curriculum when they’re in year 5? (Particularly in maths – do you think this might just widen the gap further?)

I think like everything, there is a time and place. If they can’t access the work in their year group they it might help. Support, practical resources and time might be just as beneficial though. Don’t put a limit on their outcomes though.

Why don’t schools ‘use’ their experienced teachers more ie ask them what worked well in previous schools, or their opinion on new initiatives? I think experienced teachers hold the key to whole school improvement, and would enjoy playing a greater role.

Not just experienced, strongest. I try to do this as much as possible. Just because I’m head doesn’t make me the best teacher in the school or know what will work – why not surround yourself with other talented people and use them?

How do you avoid micromanagement of staff? Where is the line between support and micromanagement?

We set out what we thought great teaching, monitoring, assessment and behaviour was as a staff. After that I leave them to it. I talk to pupils, pop in and out of lessons and look at books. If there are major problems I’ll intervene, otherwise they are professionals.

How can your teachers best support you?

By putting the kids first and doing what they can for them first and foremost. By trusting, challenging, being supporting to parents and behind the scenes with other staff. By being consistent in their expectations in a way that aligns to our school aims. By being honest.

What is your opinion on a school doing a mufti day that asks families for donations to a teacher wellbeing fund?

If you need a wellbeing fund there is a problem. If you don’t prioritise it enough to pay for it out of your own budget there is an even bigger one.

Do you prefer teachers who don’t have families, so they’ll be more committed work? Ive heard someone say that about a head before and it seemed a daft idea

Motto in my school is family first. Doesn’t matter to me if you’ve no kids or ten.

Do you have difficulty keeping powerful, proactive, vocal parents on side without agreeing to all their demands?

Sometimes, but I try to be open and honest and explain why I took the decision I did. That usually works a treat. If I got it wrong I’ll say so and apologise. Building trust rather than suspicion is absolutely key.

Do you ever hate kids just by sight , because I’m pretty sure it’s why teachers hated me.

Being completely honest, some can grate more than others, but I’ve never hated one. They all need help for a host of different reasons. We are there to give that.

How has your classroom practice changed/been affected etc since becoming a head?
2 positives/2 negatives…?

  • seeing more lessons esp in KS1
  • more time to talk to pupils about what works for them
  • don’t get to teach as much as I’d like
  • when I do it feels a bit ad hoc and my mind is half somewhere else.

What’s your thoughts on teachers who love what they do in the classroom but are happy staying at middle leader (ish) grade and don’t wish to progress through leadership/management?

Brilliant, means one of my classes has a great teacher. Not every teacher needs to go into management/leadership. Nothing wrong with being a great teacher and doing what you love.

Last question, what changes would you like to make in the way you work, or in your priorities, in 2020?

We will keep going with our plans to reduce workload, reduce stuff we do that doesn’t benefit children and engage teaching staff in class based research projects for their appraisal rather than data driven nonsense.

Can I have a pay rise?

If it was up to me…

Do you have a vacancy?

Not at the moment!

Published by @secretHT1

Primary HT. Using this as a space to write honestly and freely about the state of education currently.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: