'I went to sleep a deputy head and this morning I woke up as a headmaster'

8th September 2015 at 17:38
Felsted School

Last night I went to sleep as a deputy head and this morning I woke up as the 28th headmaster of Felsted School, a 451-year-old co-educational boarding school in Essex. 

Of course, the reality is that the change from deputy to headmaster has been an ongoing process since I was appointed in March. During the past few weeks in particular, the demands of meetings, results, recruitment, planning and preparation have taken an increasing hold on my time.

Even so, today marked the real start, with the first full day of school and the inevitable transformation that 540 pupils bring to the place.

As with schools up and down the country, the new year began with an assembly. What to say for maximum impact? What to do differently to put my own stamp on this? What would they all think of me? But before any of that, I had to sit in the headmaster’s chair, at the front of the chapel, trying to look composed and confident while the chaplain led a service of worship.

When the moment arrived to speak, I quickly put aside thoughts of dropping my notes, losing my nerve and worrying about making an impact: actually, there is nothing very daunting or difficult about speaking to pupils of their hopes and expectations for the coming year. And it was about them, not me. 

The assembly was over quickly, the messages were delivered, and the pupils were ready to get on with the real business of the day – tutorials, lessons, sports and activities. I think I did OK.

Of course, life as a headmaster was always going to be different: in the past, all my decisions have been made knowing that they could still be reviewed, whereas now they're final (or more final, at any rate). Also, as headmaster you are expected to be an expert on all matters when asked the difficult questions (although a better approach is to know who to go to).

Relationships with colleagues have to change, as well as those with the pupils. Remembering to treat everyone with respect and understanding is crucial. 

My family has had to adjust rapidly, too, and my own two children being schooled at Felsted may face some interesting moments in the weeks ahead. My wife, an assistant head at a local academy school, will keep us all sane and sensible, and I am greatly looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that the coming years will bring.

It is a huge challenge, but a great privilege and responsibility to be able to serve this wonderful community, and I am looking forward to every moment of it.

Chris Townsend is headmaster at Felsted School in Essex. The image shows Chris Townsend with heads of school Anastasia May and Josh Wisbey

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