Beaten, but not bowed

The Borders head filmed during an alleged assault by a pupil addressed a group of aspiring heads on the joys and perils of leadership

Alan Williamson, the victim of an alleged "happy-slapping" attack in his school, admits his first four months as headteacher at Hawick High have been tough.

Pictures of him apparently being assaulted by a 15-year-old pupil two weeks ago made the front pages after the attack was filmed by another pupil on a camera phone.

Ironically, the 37-year-old former rugby referee was chosen to enthuse aspiring heads on the prospects awaiting them during a conference in Peebles last week for the first cohort who have taken the Flexible Routes to Headship.

He conceded his experience as a new head had been testing. He has had to suspend a teacher for an alleged assault, discipline a janitor, cover for four deputes and cope with the aftermath of a pupil's death on Boxing Day.

Mr Williamson said the alleged attack was terrifying: "On my first day someone smashed the door when I told him he'd been excluded. I never thought I'd be assaulted. I saw this guy coming towards me and thought: 'You're going to have a go.' The adrenalin kicks in, but when I got home I thought pound;65,000 is not enough to put up with that. But I came in the next day.

Mr Williamson's experience did not seem to daunt the 30 candidates to whom he gave advice on managing staff. He suggested reflective conversations, and argued against using the royal "we" as it removed a degree of responsibility from staff. He urged would-be heads to develop better listening skills to build trust and collegiality, and warned against prejudging situations. Getting out of the office, away from emails, and into classroom observations was critical. "Emails don't improve teaching and learning."

Despite his turbulent baptism, Mr Williamson said he was reminded of the highs of the job at a sixth years' Burns Supper two days after the alleged assault.

"Seeing them making speeches and playing the fiddle, I thought: 'What a pleasure it is to be head at this school'," he said. "That is the world of a headteacher and I love every minute of it."

Jack Harland, depute rector at Berwickshire High, considered the Scottish Qual-ification for Head-ship but feared the impact on his school and his family life. "When this flexible approach came in, it sounded more sensible because a lot of it would be done as I work. I could fit it in with the work I was doing in school, and I would also get accredited for the work I have done."

Dawn Lawson was promoted to be head at Murray Primary in East Kilbride after being accepted onto the course, but decided to continue: "I had planned to do the SQH but put it off because I have young children. The flexible route seemed more in tune with my work and home commitments."

Robert Stewart, depute head at Uddingston Grammar, said he was deterred by the SQH because it seemed too theoretical and had too little effect on teaching and learning. The flexible route "is not just a tool for promotion, but makes you better at the job you are doing".

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