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Best of times, worst of times

John McNally: head of St Bernadettes RC Primary, Birmingham

Honesty played a big part in my first interview. I left St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, in 1967 and I applied to a school in Birmingham, where I had earlier taught unqualified for two years.

I wanted to buy a house, and a guy from the mortgage company said that if I earned pound;1,000 a year he'd have no problem offering me a mortgage. The salary was pound;875 and in those days a graded post was worth pound;125, making the earnings up to pound;1,000.

So I decided to go for this job. At the interview they asked me why I wanted it - I said I needed pound;1,000 a year to get a mortgage. And so I got it.

I have spent my career in Birmingham, having been promoted to a headship in the city at the very early age of 28.

It was daunting to start with. I was appointed head of a school where I had previously worked, and ther were minor difficulties because of working with colleagues on the one hand as the teacher next door, and then going back after a short space of time to be their headteacher.

But I'm not one to use the old army phrase "pip conscious". I work with my colleagues - we're all doing the same job.

I've had two headships in the city and have been brought into a number of schools with difficulties, as a troubleshooter.

The interview process has changed immensely over the years, although I have to say that being in the voluntary system, we have always had our own governors.

Ever since the 1944 Education Act, voluntary schools had a set of governors, which many LEA schools did not have until delegation in 1988.

So that was an advantage - I was a bit cosseted. We haven't had to build up relationships with governors the way other schools have.

Martin Whittaker

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