You don’t have to be a megalomaniac to work here, but it helps.

perfect-candidateAre you sick and tired of slogging it out in the classroom? Do you long for the chance to have your own office complete with swivel chair and internal lock? Would you rather be giving the orders than following them?


Then it sounds like you’re ready for headship!

I’m joking, of course. Firstly, if you are tired of working in the classroom then headship probably isn’t for you. Yes, the amount of triple marking you’re required to do reduces by about 100% but there’s plenty of other paperwork to keep you busy. Secondly, as much as having a swivel chair is really cool, don’t expect to have too much uninterrupted swivel-time. As a Head, you may not have a class of thirty kids who want a piece of you every minute of the working day, but, you’ll quickly find that there is an even larger number of people who want immediate and unlimited access to your mind, body and soul. Thirdly, while it’s nice to be in charge, there’s still the inconvenient truth that if you want people to follow your orders you’re going to have spend time, you know, getting them to ‘buy into’ your ideas. This takes time, shrewdness, tact, good communication skills and bribery. (Not necessarily in that order.)

If you are thinking about headship then I’m sure it’s for all the right reasons. (I could list them, but, let’s be honest, it’s only going to be a list of ‘good’ and ‘noble’ things. You’d be better off looking at some job and person specs to see for yourself.)

But, wanting it isn’t enough. You need to get through the interview first. Nobody really likes the interview process. Spending two days with a knotted stomach as you try to appear ‘normal’ to your prospective staff and governors is nobody’s idea of fun. Keeping your paranoia and self-doubt in check as you complete a range of tasks whilst maintaining a confident smile is no walk in the park. On top of that, there’s the awkwardness of meeting the other candidates. In my experience, there are three main types of candidates that you meet during an interview:

  1. The Detective

This candidate will not leave you alone. They seem to have been given a secret task of finding everything out about you. You can’t rest for five minutes between tasks without them trying to suss out whether they’ve got more or less experience than you. They bombard you with questions and follow up each of your answers with a passive-aggressive evaluative comment like ‘Oh, so you’ve only really worked in small schools, that’s nice.’ They then proceed to, ever so casually, ask you how you found each task, in the vain hope that your answer will somehow further their chance of success. A simple way to distract this candidate is to make up a task that isn’t anywhere on the itinerary – ‘I thought it was very sneaky of them to add making a call to the LADO in the middle of the data task’ – and notice how quickly they quieten down as they wonder why they haven’t been asked to do that yet.

  1. The Professional

This person is all about making an impression. They arrive at the school three hours before anyone else, just so they can shake every staff member’s hand in the carpark before school starts. They meet and greet the parents. They offer to take the register of the class whose teacher has just rung in sick until the supply teacher arrives. They’ve bought biscuits and a fruit basket for the interview panel. They don’t ask you any questions because they’re too busy helping the caretaker put up the bunting for the Y5 disco (which they’ve also bought a ticket for) whilst memorising every child’s name in preparation for their assembly. At break they can be seen by every member of staff playing catch with a group of children as they just so happened to have chosen the spot in the playground directly outside the staff room window. There isn’t a minute of the day when they’re not showing everyone just how much they ‘live and breathe’ school more than you.

  1. The Square Peg

Not wishing to sound unkind but you have to wonder how some people have got as far in their careers as they have. I mean, we all know that being ‘on interview’ can cause anyone to behave out of character, but this person…wow! They seem blissfully unaware that, with every utterance, they are moving further away from a job offer. Sometimes it’s a case of wrong person/wrong setting. Sometimes, though, you’re left wondering if they’ve ever worked in a school before, or ever interacted with human beings. As a fellow candidate, you could be forgiven for thinking that their bizarre, and at times socially-awkward, behaviour is in fact a brazen tactic to throw you off your game – like critiquing your assembly resources just before you walk on stage. As the day develops, however, and you hear them loudly list all the ways in which this school seems behind the times, or all the reasons why they’ve just got to leave their current school, you begin to realise that, although they may have plenty of chutzpah, they have also raised the hackles of every member of the interview panel.

My advice, when dealing with any of these candidates, is not to be distracted by them. Be pleasant, be polite, and quietly let them crack on. Because your real challenge lies in the interview tasks themselves.

When it comes to headship – or any leadership interview – there isn’t a great deal you can do in advance to put yourself ahead of the game. You will have already researched the school before applying and you may have been required to prepare an assembly, or presentation, in advance. Aside from that, you just need to relax into the day. Easier said than done, considering your timetable will be packed, but if you don’t allow yourself the thinking space to soak up the vibe of the school, how can you properly assess whether you want to work there or not?

Don’t forget, you will be expected to mooch around the school, eat lunch with the children and visit the playground during break time. Don’t, like ‘The Professional’ candidate, treat that as a hoop to dutifully jump through. Don’t feel that you have to go and have really upbeat and enthusiastic conversations with every person you come into contact with. This is not the time to leave a memorable impression on them, it’s a time for them to make an impression on you. Use that time to observe and to listen. What are the people like in this place? What are they up to?  Do you feel you could do some good here? Would you enjoy working in this environment? You still have to be nice! Don’t be a silent weirdo lurking in the shadows; have your conversations with people, but ensure they are beneficial for you.

As for the tasks, well, they’re going to be leadership tasks. They’re probably going to be things you’ve already done in your current setting. There is not a special and secret set of tasks that everyone, apart from you, knows about. Your tasks will most likely be, in no particular order:

Data: identify the strengths and weaknesses and suggest some priorities to work on. It’s not rocket science, just look for the gaps.

Teaching: observe a lesson and give constructive feedback. Tread carefully and make sure you put whatever you say in the feedback in context. (Don’t give a judgement!)

Learning: review some books or a work scrutiny and share your thoughts. Again, avoid making too strong a judgement, and try and link it with other information you’ve had access to, like the data.

Meet the staff: don’t come across as a pillock. Much harder said than done, especially on interview! Try not to try too hard to make them laugh. Adults can see a poor joke coming a mile off, but they’ll probably forgive you because they’ll assume you’re nervous.

Meet the school council: don’t come across as a pillock. Much harder said than done, especially on interview! Remember, try not to try too hard to make them laugh. Kids can see a poor joke coming a mile off and they won’t forgive you.

Hold a meeting: maybe with a pretend disgruntled parent or with a group of staff. Strength, compassion and clarity should see you through safely. If it’s a deliberately delicate/volatile simulation then it will be as tricky as it is in real life, only you’re less likely to be physically assaulted on interview.

Formal interview: relax and allow your experience to answer the questions. Do not just say what you think they want to hear. Tell them what you believe. Back that up with what that’s allowed you to achieve in the past. If you’re not honest about your philosophies, strategies, challenges and successes then they are in danger of appointing an inauthentic version of you.

The hardest part will always be when they want to know about your plans for their future. Again, be honest. Share your evaluations based on what you feel you have learnt about the school so far. But be very clear that you are basing your answers on minimal knowledge. Demonstrate, through your answers, that they can trust you to work with them. Also, ask them. What do they want? Reflect on whether you can deliver that.

Finally, when they ask you if you would accept the post…think before you answer. The right answer is not always ‘yes’.

I don’t enjoy interviews. They are uncomfortable. Half of the time you are in two minds about whether you’re doing the right thing or not. But leadership interviews are not one-way contests with an overall winner. They are a process, and the risks – to the school and interviewee – are far greater if a wrong decision is made at the end of it. Play it straight and true, and, whether you get the job or not, it will be the best decision for everyone.

Go get ‘em!

Take another little piece of my heart


I love the song ‘Piece of my heart’, first recorded in 1967 by Erma Franklin.  In fact, I think this song should be the headteacher’s anthem. It captures perfectly the ebb and flow of the strength that is required in school leadership. It beautifully illustrates the juxtaposition of other people’s expectations versus your own capacity and determination. I can think of no other time, in my professional life, where a feeling of being drained manages to, in of itself, provide me with the fight to carry on.

Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only man,

Didn’t I give you everything that a woman possibly can.

But the more of the love I give you, it’s never enough.

Well I’m gonna show you baby, a woman can be tough.

Don’t we all love our schools? Aren’t we all, every day, turning up because we care? I know I am. There isn’t a week gone by where I haven’t tried to improve the state of things for everyone in the school. From the smallest actions to the biggest decisions, I go about my days trying to make things better. I love the school and want the best for everyone in it. I want the school to be special. Thus, I try to give the school everything a headteacher possibly can.

Every decision made doesn’t suit someone. Somebody will disagree. At least one person thinks an alternative would work better for them. Sometimes they assume you haven’t considered their point of view because, how could you have done and still made ‘that’ decision? Sometimes, they expect a volte-face. Sometimes they expect an apology. Sometimes they are happy just to let you know they’re not happy. And why not? Everyone has a right to be heard.

I can’t always predict every objection. Even when I think I’ve covered all bases, it can sometimes feel like nothing would ever be good enough. But my job is to be resilient and respond to, or absorb, any fall-out so the school keeps moving forward.

I won’t lie: this can be harder than it sounds. It’s heartbreakingly, soul-destroyingly depressing to be repeatedly told ‘you’ are not making people happy. Even on your most successful day it will be the lone voice of dissent that ends up whispering in your ear depriving you of sleep. But you can’t be a slave to your detractors. You can’t always presume that unhappy people are right. You can listen, for sure. And there’s nothing wrong with holding up your hand and saying ‘Do you know what? You’re right, sorry. I’ll sort that out straight away.’ That is caring and compassionate leadership. This should come easily to anyone in a position of responsibility. But, sometimes, you have to show your love by being strong and standing firm.

Take it. Take another little piece of my heart now, baby,

You know you got it if it makes you feel good.

I have found that being in a (relatively high profile) position of responsibility can have drawbacks beyond people not always agreeing with your decisions. Drawbacks that nobody really tells you about during your NPQH. At times, it can feel like people think they own you, and every facet of your being, just because of your job description. I have lost count of the number of incredibly personal comments that have been directed at me during my time as headteacher. My private life, is apparently, fair game. All manner of stakeholders, from governors to parents, have, at one time or another, deemed it appropriate to enlighten me on their perceived knowledge about me. At best, I could put this down to curiosity (my homelife, my own education etc.); at worst, it is a bizarre presumption that they have a right to know everything about me (my political allegiance, my sexuality etc.). Not only that, some people feel they have a civic duty to tell everyone else what they think, including me – as if I would somehow be unaware!

Just in case you think I’m being over-sensitive I’ll share with you my favourite: whilst sat in my office a parent informed me that everyone had noticed I had ‘let myself go’. It’s either that or the time I was called a balding Nazi.

Nobody told me that the role of headteacher came with such a strong sense of public ownership. And, since I am often taken completely by surprise when such sentiments are presented to me, I tend not to dignify them with a response. (Although, I would like to stress that I am not a fascist and I am, and always have been, in peak physical condition.) It seems odd though that when I have shared this with my masters, I am expected not to mind (it’s just part of the job) and, due to being in a position of respectful responsibility, am not allowed to ‘robustly’ tell these people to mind their own business. I must be dignified and continue to lead without prejudice. I must allow them to have little pieces of me that they can chew up and spit back at me whenever the feeling takes them.

Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah,

Hey! Have another little piece of my heart now, baby, yeah.

In dealing with – or ignoring – these personal invasions I, like Erma, gain strength from a different side of emotional ownership and one that headteachers are often privy to: when supporting those that require your emotional strength because they have none left themselves. Over the years, I may have run out of patience, once in a while, but I have never, and hope I never will, run out of compassion, empathy and love for members of my school community. Schools are beacons for those in need. And, as @smithsmm wrote in his recent blog, headteachers are now expected to take on supportive roles far beyond their job description and training. I often feel incredibly ill-equipped and isolated as I try to support members of my community in the way that they need; the only thing that hopefully benefits them is that I am guided by my compassion. It is my duty to help them and I will gladly break off as many pieces of my heart as is necessary to support an individual in crisis.

And each time I tell myself that I, well I can’t stand the pain,

But when you hold me in your arms, I’ll sing it once again.

Headship is hard. Strip back all things academic and it’s still a daunting and seemingly impossible job to do. It is not made any easier by the people that inhabit our schools. We all have dark days. We all have times when we lie in bed, after the alarm has gone off, and wonder if we have the strength to go in today. We all should be forgiven for those times when we think that if it wasn’t for the teachers, the kids, the parents, the governors, the government – and anyone else for that matter – our job would be a lot easier.

But, in truth, we need the school as much as the school needs us. Every person, every problem, every success…every smile, tear, hug, laugh…provides me with sustenance. Nothing surprises me and keeps me on my toes as much as leading a school. And that, for me, is what keeps me singing. I know that sometimes life is unfair. I know that in the future I may be subject to a personal attack or feel a victim of undue criticism. But the good will out. I will weather the storms and always come back fighting. I will continue to give the school everything I have, because, that is what we both need.

No more sleepless nights


Being a Head can be the loneliest job in the world.

Yeah, yeah! 


You get paid the big bucks. You volunteered for the job. There’s no point moaning, from the luxury of your leather chair, about the fact that the job’s tricky.  

Quite. Couldn’t agree more.

I don’t mind the loneliness. When you look beyond the cliché and explore why headship sometimes feels lonely, I think I prefer it that way. I wouldn’t want anyone else having the full accountability for some of the stuff that lands at my feet.

I would, for example, never seek to burden teachers with the emotional trauma that often comes from taking part in a child protection case conference. Yes, I’ll share the outcomes, the plans and any pertinent details. But I’ll keep the tears, the abuse, the anger, the embarrassment, the denial and the pain, that often takes up so much time at these meetings, to myself. Walking out of those meetings, after you’ve been hit with another person’s depressing reality, is isolating. Your moral imperative drives your refusal to give up on these children in crisis, but the reality of relentless financial-cost-saving-initiatives forces you to acknowledge how alone you are in trying to protect the vulnerable. At times, it appears hopeless. But how could I share that? So instead, I absorb it. Not because I’m a martyr, but because I need teachers to focus on supporting these families in the present for the sake of their future. Too much information can make you jaded. That’s the last thing that is needed. So, I happily keep it to myself, and so what if I lose a little sleep in the process?

Talking of financial cost saving initiatives…have you checked your school’s budget against the new national funding formula? If you thought 2016 was a depressing year, wait until you count the number of cuts schools will have had to make to their infrastructures in twelve months’ time. I can’t imagine that any school will be safe from some form of ‘managing change’ in their attempt to balance their budget. Having to take a lead in this process is, perhaps, the loneliest element of a Head’s accountability. And quite right too. It’s not pleasant. It is deeply personal for those involved. But it must not be personal for the Head. That is not to say that it does not require sensitivity, transparency and tact; it most definitely does. But don’t confuse being compassionate and showing a little humanity with getting personally involved. Decisions must be made. The Head must make them. It won’t be nice and won’t be comfortable. But it won’t be as uncomfortable or unpleasant for the Head as it will be for those on the other side. So, be tactful and keep your emotions to yourself. So what if all you lose in the process is a little sleep?

Finally, in my little lonely trinity, there is Ofsted. You still can’t escape the fact that, in terms of accountability, Ofsted is about as big as it gets for the Head. When a school enters its ‘inspection window’ there’s not a lot else that goes through the brain. Everything suddenly starts getting viewed through the Head’s O-Vision spectacles. Something good happens: put it on the SEF immediately. Something bad happens: how are we going to explain that to the inspector? It can become an obsession. It can become a distraction. It can, if you’re not careful, prevent you from doing your job. There are still too many anecdotes of Heads who appear to be running their school for Ofsted as opposed to for the community. Shell-shocked staff, anxious about coming to school, shuffle into work in fear of the next Ofsted-orientated initiative that needs to be in place yesterday. The Head, after delivering yet another speech in the staffroom about the new marking criteria, wonders why nobody else seems to care. They can’t see that they have eroded the staff’s professionalism through their obsession with Ofsted. Yes, it matters. Yes, it’s the Head’s name on the report. But even an outstanding Ofsted report can’t fill the hole left by an absence of staff respect and support. Best to keep your Ofsted obsession to yourself. So what if it’s only you losing sleep over it?

It is a lonely job being a Head. But, in the right circumstances, that’s highly appropriate. If you focus on building a positive and professional culture within your school then, although you may still feel lonely at times, you will always know that you are not alone. Carrying out a lonely job is a small price to pay for working in a school where people respect and trust that you carry out your role with integrity. So, the next time you’re having a sleepless night, ask yourself whether anyone else in your school is wide awake thinking about your problem. If you think they might be, probably best to buy them a coffee on the way to work and try leading them a little differently. That way, at least one of you should be able to get a good night’s sleep tomorrow.