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Interview - 'I have become known as a talent spotter'

Lynne Heath, principal designate of Manchester Communication Academy, is relishing the opportunity to build a brand-new school

Lynne Heath, principal designate of Manchester Communication Academy, is relishing the opportunity to build a brand-new school

  • What made you become a teacher?
    • It was always something that I wanted to do. I worked for William Hill in Stockport and became a relief manager in the greater Manchester area. I did my PGCE in Liverpool. I started working as a teacher at a 17-form entry school - Norton Priory. It was an innovative place - ideas just flowed. Gordon Bell, the head, was dynamic. I learnt from him that other people's ideas were to be embraced not feared. I was there for 11 years and loved every minute.

      • Where did you go from there?
        • I then became an adviser in Cheshire between 1989 and 1991, and then I ended up working as an inspector, in humanities. I was lucky enough to get a teacher fellowship working for ICI, the chemical company. It was a real opportunity. While I was there, I met a man called Geoff Butt who was inspirational for me. He was interested in leadership in schools and how it linked to ICI's management training methods. I trained as an inspector while I was working for Trafford Council and was responsible for all the "oligies" (sociology, psychology etc) in the borough. But I realised I didn't want to just inspect.

          • What made you set out for headship?
            • I began to miss the community of working in a school. As an adviser I didn't have the opportunity to make something happen. I learnt a lot strategically in Trafford. But I wanted to get back into school. I got back eventually as a deputy in Lathom High School. Then I thought I might as well go all the way. I applied for the headship of Prescot School in 1997 and got it.

              • What were the early priorities?
                • The school had a lot of issues but a lot of potential. It was a sleeping giant. I felt it just needed careful nurturing. I knew I could do something to help. The staff were great and really committed. I made a decision to experience the school and not make sweeping changes. Instead of a revolution, I made incremental changes with people's support to build on what had been done. It's a difficult balance.

                  After 11 years I thought the time was right to move on. In the end I was at a crossroads of where to go to next. The Manchester academy programme really excited me - mainly because of its inclusive nature. The chance to build a brand new school is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I just felt it was one I had to take.

                  • What do you feel you brought to the job that was special?
                    • I have become known as a talent spotter. Putting a team together - particularly of young staff - and giving them the opportunity to lead on a whole-school issue such as pushing our gifted students. I enjoy giving those teachers support and encouragement. I am happy to try even if it means failing sometimes, and learning and moving on.

                      • Tell me about the Manchester job
                        • It has been amazing. I have spent this year being a one woman band. I have had to produce the ideas and the challenge myself. It's given me real confidence. It's almost like setting up your own business - having to do all levels of tasks. I had forgotten what it's like to do that - and not have a PA fending off some of the real-life events. I have been juggling everything from furniture to health and safety, teaching and learning and even cycleways. It's a wide focus. It's been a whirlwind.

                          • What advice would you give others considering headship in a new school?
                            • I think it's the best job in the world. It's great to be able to make things happen, to be able to influence lives. It's a unique position where there are no barriers to stop that happening. I drifted a bit in my career. I don't think people move around as much anymore; you really need to have a career plan. I think you should take risks and chances to learn from those different perspectives. But it needs to be managed by local authorities and schools. We ought as a profession to ensure these opportunities are worth taking.

                              • If you were Schools Secretary for a day what would you do?
                                • I would make a reality out of all of the rhetoric about collaboration and collective targets for schools - in order to bring up the weaker schools.

                                  • What's the worst excuse you've ever heard?
                                    • The member of staff who took time off sick for "hot eyes", a hitherto unknown medical condition


                                      • 2008: Principal designate, Manchester Communication Academy, due to open September 2010
                                      • 1997-2008: Headteacher, Prescot School Language College, Knowsley
                                      • 1994-1997: Deputy headteacher, Lathom High School, Skelmersdale
                                      • 1991-1994: Inspectoradviser Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council
                                      • 1990-1991: Teacher fellow, educationbusiness, ICI, Runcorn
                                      • 1989-1990: Advisory teacher, design amp; technology, Cheshire LEA
                                      • 1986-1989: Head of humanities, Norton Priory High School, Runcorn
                                      • 1981-1986: Head of history, assistant head of sixth form, Norton Priory High School, Runcorn
                                      • 1977-1981: Teacher, Norton Priory High School, Runcorn
                                      • 1975-1976: Management trainee, William Hill NW Ltd, Stockport.

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