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Heads who don't teach risk being absorbed by bureaucracy and losing touch, top head warns

Headteachers who never teach lessons risk becoming absorbed by bureaucracy and growing too distant from the pupils they are employed to serve, a leading private school headmaster has warned.

Tim Hands, the new chair of the elite Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of top private schools, said heads should try everything they could to help them focus on children’s experience of school.

“It’s too easy to get too far away from children when you are a head,” he told TES in an interview prior to his organisation’s annual gathering in London next week.

“The more you have policies and initiatives, the more it keeps you away from actual contact with pupils.

“The more legislative frameworks there are, the less you can focus on what really matters, which is the experience of the child.”

Dr Hands acknowledged that teaching still remained impossible for many hard-pressed heads, but said he relished teaching A-level English every autumn term. It gave him the chance to keep in touch with pupils and his subject, he added.

“In my ideal world every head should teach,” he said, “but I wouldn’t criticise anyone who couldn’t do it.”

He also advocated heads taking the time to "walk" in their pupils’ shoes, to help them understand the experience of the “consumer”.

Open door sessions, where heads allow pupils to approach them with their concerns in their private offices, were a vital way to find out what was going on across the school, he said.

But he said heads needn’t feel pressured to take it too far. Heads didn’t need to make grand gestures such as axeing their offices entirely in order to get closer to their pupils.

Dr Hands, who is head of the ultra-high performing Magdalen College School in Oxford, feels so strongly about the issue, the HMC conference is going to be arranged around the theme of “the child”.

Headteachers attending will be made to experience “a day in the life of a child” which will kick off with a “headmaster’s address” from a mystery speaker.

No doubt his “pupils” will wait with bated breath.

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