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Fresh pastures, age-old problems


It is 8pm on the Wednesday of the second week of my first headship in a new county. Despite various documents being thrust my way about the importance of getting the right "worklife balance", I am still in school.

As I attempt to catch up on what seems like a million emails, letters and requests, I am just beginning to reflect on my first eight days in the post. No words can adequately describe the feeling of actually leading a school. It is exhilarating, exhausting, challenging, rewarding, exciting and frightening, all at the same time.

The responsibility hit me when I gave my first presentation to the staff. True to form, I couldn't operate PowerPoint 2007 and every time I began to speak passionately I managed to reverse into a filing cabinet that appeared to have been strategically placed to cause maximum embarrassment. It struck me afterwards that one of the great things about being the principal is that nobody tells you if your performance was dire!

The looks on the faces around me were generally positive, with a high ratio of nods to shakes but a few raised eyebrows when certain topics were broached. Nobody likes change, but I was encouraged that there seemed to be a real willingness to embrace it.

I believe passionately that there is no point in taking on a challenge of this magnitude not to mention the prospect of over 30 years in headship (I am 31) if I do not want to make changes that will have a positive impact on students' lives and life chances. I wanted to hit the ground running, but I am slowly learning not to get too frustrated with the fact that I cannot and should not effect change overnight.

I am lucky to have a good leadership team some gee me on, others rein me in with a "well..." or an "I'm not sure that...", and I think this honest and transparent approach is both necessary and refreshing. I genuinely want to create an environment where students, teachers, governors and parents feel valued and supported. But without the element of challenge (the critical friend approach), we "will always get what we've always got". It is hard to engender a supportive atmosphere against a backdrop of performance related pay, league tables and targets. I don't believe these things have done anything for the teaching profession.

Despite being in a different county, I find I am faced with the same issues: attendance, behaviour, uniform, the conflict between standards and the Every Child Matters agenda, too many initiatives and significant funding issues particularly acute for our depressingly underfunded local authority, an F40 group member.

I wonder why central government doesn't allocate funding for schools and young people's service equitably across the country. Failure to do so stifles creativity and makes it difficult to make a difference.

Ben Slade

Principal, Manor Community College, Cambridge


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