Doing the Wight thing

Dave Kitching is a headteacher in demand on the Isle of Wight. The head of Shanklin Church of England primary has been seconded twice in the past decade to other schools in difficulties.

The first placement was to a school struggling to maintain high standards following the retirement of a charismatic head. Mr Kitching was called in by the island's education authority to uphold parents' and staff's confidence until a permanent replacement could be found. He says the eight months he spent away from Shanklin was a very positive experience.

"Not only was I able to do some good for another school in trouble, but the secondment gave me the opportunity to look back at my own school from a distance, with a wider perspective. It gave me ideas on how things could be improved at Shanklin, including delegation and the role of co-ordinators.

And obviously I gained the experience of working in a different school with different staff, and working more closely with the local education authority," he says.

Mr Kitching believes the staff he left behind also benefited from his secondment. The deputy acted as head and two senior teachers shared her role, giving them valuable professional development.

Rev Alan Swanborough, Shanklin's chair of governors at the time, is equally positive about the time his head was away.

"It worked very well. We were a settled school with an excellent deputy ready to step into David's shoes. If I hadn't had complete confidence in her, my reaction may have been different." he says. "But I could see benefits all round."

Mr Kitching laid down strict criteria before he and the governors agreed to the secondment.

"I insisted that I should be able to maintain almost day-to-day contact with my school," says Mr Kitching. "I also said I did not want to be put under any pressure to take on the second headship permanently. I made it very clear I would be returning to Shanklin as soon as the post had been filled."

Mr Kitching's second stint as secondee took him out of Shanklin only one day a week for three months to help a rural school keep on top of paperwork while its head was on long-term sick leave.

Despite the brief period involved, he gained valuable insights into the process of headship. "I saw how a head's role in a 35-pupil school differs from my own as well as realising the impact such a school has on its local community, and the negative effects of inequality in funding."

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