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Heads meet for therapy

A group of primary school chiefs are talking through their troubles, says Jenny Legg

Group therapy with its image of holding hands and sharing intimate problems with strangers is not usually associated with headteachers more used to disciplining pupils and balancing complicated budgets.

But a group of stressed primary heads in Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, have turned to each other to work through their problems.

The six female and four male heads meet at least once every half term to discuss and troubleshoot problems such as difficult parents, staff redundancies and government initiatives. They also have a partner who they can meet individually or ring for a chat.

Alan Stancliffe, head of the Reginald Mitchell primary, said: "I thought it would mean saying 'Hello. My name is Alan and I have a problem'. But it's very practical. You describe a problem, consider solutions and come to a conclusion. It's not all airy-fairy and flowery."

Kath Wilson, head of Hilltop primary, said: "Heads have to take on a persona that's positive and cheery all the time. It's good to be able to let down the mask and be perfectly honest with someone who knows exactly what you are going through."

She said the sessions, known as "peer supervision", differed from regular heads' meetings because the agenda was specific to their district and individual schools.

Anne-Marie McBlain, who works in the schools as an educational psychologist, introduced the concept last autumn, mimicking a similar system used for educational psychologists.

She said: "I was met with miserable faces wherever I went and people saying they were going to resign. They all seemed so stressed. I was there to promote health and wellbeing but I could not help them."

Sue Gratton, head of St Saviour's primary, said she would have left her headship post if it were not for the classes. She said: "There were so many initiatives, problems with staffing, everyone was pushing so much paperwork. I couldn't handle it."

She said the local authority provided good support but it was not the same as talking to another headteacher. The heads have attended a problem-solving training day and are to attend one on conflict resolution later this term.

Mrs McBlain, who runs the group sessions and organises the workshops, said:

"This kind of thing isn't traditionally my remit but if you are going to have a healthy school the person at the top has to be in good order."

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