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!

The secret of my SDP success (part 1)

I wrote this the other day, safe in the assumption that nobody would want to actually read about the joys of school development planning (SDP). Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather when literally ones of people wrote to me saying that they really were interested, and, please could I share my strategic wisdom with them.  Now, I don’t know about you but I like to use the Ofsted criteria for statistical significance, so, when a third person showed interest it was clear that I had to consider a proportional and appropriate response. Hence why this Saturday, as well as attending the school Christmas Fair (where I spent most of the time trying to avoid getting my face painted), I found myself writing this seminal treatise on strategic school development planning.

It was a couple of years ago when I had my SDP epiphany. I was at the Birmingham Inspiring Leadership conference and Alastair Campbell was on stage. He was a late booking because someone more educatey had pulled out. Nevertheless, he was delighted to be here as he had just written a new book called ‘Winners’ and he happened to have a spare hundred copies in his van that he said he’d happily flog us at the end of the show. He also said he’d share a few funny stories about John Prescott as long as we promised not to record them and upload them to YouTube because, in Campbell’s words, Big JP still has a temper and a mean right hook. As it seemed pretty clear we were all going to be winners by the end of this hour we agreed to let him talk. I won’t go into too much detail about his talk because you’d be better off buying his book and reading it yourself.  But there was one detail that really stood out.

The difference between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’.

Lots of people, claimed Campbell, do not know the difference between a strategy and a tactic. Those that do, succeed. Those that don’t, often wonder why things aren’t succeeding as well as they thought they would during the planning stage. This was perfect timing for me as I was just about to start writing my new school development plan. After the conference, as I strolled to the Birmingham library to begin writing the SDP before my train arrived, I wondered if I knew the difference.

First though, I had to write my aim. Alastair Campbell said that your objective, or overall aim, should be bold and simple. That suited me just fine. After seven minutes I came up with one of the key aims of my new plan: ‘All teaching is brilliant’. Nobody, I thought, could argue with that. Why wouldn’t you want all teaching to be brilliant? Surely that is an idea that would unite everyone.

Now I had to come up with my strategy.

I began writing a list. Trouble is, I realised that I was just listing tactics:

  • Lesson Observations
  • Work Monitoring
  • Collaborative teaching projects

I tried putting these into long sentences in the hope that they would become more strategic.

  • Termly lesson observations to identify strengths within the teaching profile and areas of teaching that require improvement.

I imagined handing this over to Campbell for approval. I closed my eyes and could see him rolling up my SDP and beating me with it whilst calling me a small-minded unstrategic idiot. Why couldn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I understand what my overarching strategy was going to be?

And then it hit me.

What was my belief that underpinned all my tactics? Why did I think that these tactics would move the school forward so that all teaching would be brilliant? When I thought about how I would introduce all these tactics to my senior leaders, my governors and my teachers I suddenly knew what my strategy was:

Total commitment to all staff’s professional development.

The strategy was a mind-set. It was a lens that brought into focus the true purpose of all the tactics. No longer would this list of tactics be working on a deficit model of school improvement: making sure bare minimum requirements were reached or identifying where teaching needed to improve. The emphasis would not be on the teachers to try and get through these tactical actions unscathed. It would now be up to the senior leaders to make these tactics worthwhile. This is something they could only do if they were genuinely committed to helping everyone become even better.

When I discussed this with the SLT, I made it clear that only by keeping the strategy in the forefront of their minds would these tactics work. If all they were doing was carrying them out to make a judgement on teachers we would fail. If all they focussed on were the systems of teaching we would never achieve brilliant teaching across the whole school. Only if they were committed to finding ways of improving every teacher’s effectiveness would every teacher reach their potential.

When I launched this to the staff, I made it clear that in twelve months they would be better teachers. I didn’t know the specifics as to how. There was no blueprint. It wasn’t going to be because they used a marking policy or mapped out their differentiation in a way that the SENCO preferred. No, they were going to get better because the senior leaders would be working with them, side by side. Together they would explore the quality of their teaching, in the context of their current class, to identify something that might work even better. No teacher would get left behind. No teacher was too good to get better. No teacher would be unsupported. No leader would be unapproachable because we were all committed to them.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone then stood on their tables and called me ‘My Captain’ but there was a genuine sense of excitement as we started that year. Teachers understood the aim, trusted the strategy and no longer feared the tactics.

And it worked. Not that it’s the only measure of success but I got the Ofsted to prove it. More importantly I developed a team of teachers who enjoy being professionally looked after. They expect me, and the senior leaders, to help them get better. We all start the year knowing that by the end of the year we’ll be even better teachers. This year, we’ve taken it further. We have new tactics. But the strategy hasn’t changed.

So there it is. The key to successful school development planning in three simple words:

  • Aim
  • Strategy
  • Tactics

Thanks Alastair. #winners


Leaders, Assemble!

In recent years, the education conference landscape has changed dramatically. There are still the same traditional conferences knocking about the place but they are being eclipsed by a grass roots movement of pedagogy platforms. Teachers are doing it for themselves. What’s more, they’re doing it at weekends and they’re loving it.

I’ve been to my fair share of these and I’ve always left feeling the same things:

  1. Teachers are cool!
  2. Teaching is exciting!
  3. Why does everyone hate SLT?

In my opinion it’s time for leaders to get in on the action and start a revolution of their own.

And, it was with this thought in mind that I jumped at the chance to be involved in a new education conference for the South West. At the moment, it has a date, Saturday 1st July 2017, but no name: #ConferenceWithNoName.

I am determined that, as well as being an incredible day of pedagogical wonder, it will be an opportunity for everyday leaders to have their say too.

I’m looking for leaders who are passionate about education and who unite teachers through their leadership.

  • Leaders who unify.
  • Leaders who strengthen.
  • Leaders who inspire whilst keeping it real.
  • Leaders who understand.
  • Leaders who care beyond ofsted and themselves.

If you think you could talk for about an hour, on an element of your leadership, and after that hour people would leave thinking:

  1. Leaders can be cool!
  2. Leading can be exciting!
  3. Who knew you could love SLT?

Then I want to hear from you.

I can’t promise you money. I can’t promise you fame or fortune. But I can promise you a firm handshake and a roomful of people who will be interested and a free drink if it all goes wrong.

If you fancy inspiring the next generation of school leaders, or just want to show people that leadership is a force for good, then please get in touch.

Leave me a comment under this post stating the area of leadership you would be interested in talking about and a way of contacting you (Twitter handle or email) and I will get back to you.

Thanks for reading.