Bouquet of the week

LINDA HILLEBRANDT

Crises are a way of life in schools these days. Now, perhaps more than ever before, the ability of staff to cope with the unexpected and to keep calm under pressure is a standard requirement.

Take headteachers who are sent in as troubleshooters to failing schools and the gap they leave behind in the schools they've been running so well. Bereft of a leader, the strength of their home team is really tested - as Dave Thomas, vice-principal of Ellesmere College, will confirm. Ellesmere, a large secondary special school in Leicester, has 250 students with moderate learning difficulties. It had an outstanding Ofsted report last year. This summer, Dave received a phone call saying his principal, Fiona Moir, was urgently needed elsewhere - to turn around another special school. So, instead of studying headship in theory (Dave was half-way through the NPQH) he got to do the real thing as acting principal of Ellesmere.

Fortunately for him, Ellesmere has a school manager cum bursar, Linda Hillebrandt, whose work was found to be "excellent" by Ofsted. "I always knew she was brilliant," says Dave." I just didn't know she was absolutely brilliant."

Linda has responsibility for a budget of Pounds 1.8 million, for staff contracts and for running the office. In a school with 85 staff, where every pupil has a statement of special needs, efficient administration is crucial. In nominating Linda for Bouquet of the Week, Dave writes: "Linda knows everything. She has all the answers, and without her I would never have coped."

Linda herself says she's an organiser by nature and that she loves her job, which began as a school secretary. "I like organising things and making sure things happen."

Ellesmere has a great atmosphere based on teamwork, she says. "I've never worked anywhere like it - there is tremendous support all round."

She has lots of contact with students and only last week brought her 13-year-old twins as guests for tea in the school's residential unit. She and her husband are foster parents too, so she's used to difficult youngsters.

"We have a very challenging group of students," says Dave Thomas," and if there's a flare-up it's not unusual to find one of them cooling off in her office."

And Linda's verdict on her boss? "He's doing very well."

Bouquet of the Week is given in association with Marks Spencer. Names, please, on a postcard - and why - to Sarah Bayliss, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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