First day as a headteacher: How was it for you?

“It was a dark January morning and I left the house at 6.30am. Driving along the Devon country lanes I could just see the school glimmering in the distance. When I arrived, it was just me and the cleaner. I switched on the lights and had a sense of great excitement about the direction my life was heading”.

So began life for Rachel Perkins as head teacher of Charleton Church of England Primary School in Devon. Peter Price has similarly fond memories of starting his headship at the Liverpool primary school, St. Christopher’s, twenty years ago. However the euphoria was momentarily tinged, he candidly admits, by the realisation of the huge responsibility placed suddenly upon his shoulders - and his lack of experience.

“The bell went and the rest of the teachers did what they always do and vanished into their classrooms. There was a moment when I was alone in the staffroom and I thought ‘what do I do now?’ It didn’t last for longer than a nanosecond, but I will never forget that particular moment, when I realised I was the least experienced member of staff in their role,” recalls Peter.

For other head teachers, the first day syndrome may be blunted because they have a long lead in or they have been promoted from deputy. The latter was the case with Elizabeth Moffat, promoted from within at Dowdales School, Dalton-in-Furness.  “There was the advantage in that I was a known quantity and had credibility as deputy” she explains. The downside was that there not any kind of honeymoon period and she was plagued by the fear ‘What if the children won’t listen?’  Elizabeth’s first day was marked by ‘huge excitement and nervousness’, she says.

Sue Dunford, head of Southfield School for Girls, Northants had a long lead in to headship as she was appointed in April and started in January. “By the Christmas holidays the euphoria had died away and it was sheer terror,“ she recalls. “On my way in on the A14 on my first day I saw a heron at the reservoir and I thought this was a good omen. Then Hector Berlioz’ March to the Scaffold came on the radio and that seemed like a bad omen. I recounted this at my first staff briefing and it was a very good ice-breaker.”

Deborah Duncan, head teacher of Horbury School, Wakefield, remembers vividly the feeling of being famous for a day.  “I wore a brand new suit and basically was on public display constantly. I particularly remember sitting in the dining room eating my lunch and being observed.” While this had its attendant thrill, it was also exhausting, she recalls.  It was very exciting and nerve-racking at the same time and everyone was very kind. I got through on adrenalin. By the end of the first day I was absolutely exhausted – I felt as though I’d run a marathon.”


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