Serving a community

Kate Myers talks to Jim Callery

Jim Callery, 41, is headteacher of Tormusk Primary School, in Castlemilk, Glasgow. He has been a head for a total of 11 years, eight of them at this school. He works with 15 staff and they teach 270 pupils

Did you always want to be a head?

I wanted to be a teacher from the moment in primary school when I sprained my wrist. Because I couldn't write, the teacher allowed me to read for three days - the most wonderful three days of my life. I decided I wanted to teach so that everyone could read. I then remember going to see Mrs McOuat, the head, and found her sitting in front of the fire in her office reading the paper. Although she spent a long time trying to convince me that she'd been in school since very early that morning and that this was the first time she had sat down, I still thought this must be a wonderful way to spend your time. Once I started teaching, I wanted to become a head because of the inspirational heads I worked with. I regret that I have not had the experience of being a deputy at all.

How would you describe your style of headship?

Peculiar. But I want to make sure that what I do, and what the class teachers do, connects us, rather than separates us. I want to play a significant role and there is always a tension between being responsive but not being excluded from the debate about what is thought to be good practice. In reality, I want to be both a part of the staff and separate from them. I want to promote teachers' rights but also their responsibilities, and I would like to give them the opportunity to engage and make sure they take the responsibilities on board. We have to remember that we are here to serve the community, that nothing is more important than that. I think my staff would describe my style as responsive, strong and open, but people not in our school might see me as being difficult.

What is the most important aspect of a head's job?

To establish the direction and vision, ensure that there is a shared vision and a clarity of purpose, which is to serve this community and help the children and their parents in every way we possibly can. Being a head also means trying to make sure it is possible for teachers to do their job - and that they do it.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Genuinely everything. I do believe it must be the best job in the world. I work with some inspirational teachers and a supportive local authority. Our parents overwhelmingly support and value us and our children are kind, decent and honest.

What don't you enjoy?

I don't enjoy the feeling of a lack of real control about staffing issues - we have no control over who goes when we are overstaffed - and the lack of investment and underfunding. I don't like the fact that the only way to reward good teachers seems to be to give them more work and I also hate the way that poverty is sometimes equated by people with stupidity.

What's the most difficult thing you do?

Getting the pace of change right and making sure we go forward in a way that's measurable and realistic without losing the enthusiasm of those who want to go fast. Knowing when we've failed.

Who most influenced you in your approach?

There is an endless list. All the heads I've worked with, Mrs McOuat, Muriel Lain and Sally McDade, had particular gifts and strengths. Teachers who taught me and worked with me. My mother and Aunty Betty who were dedicated, funny, kind and wise and who cared about children and neighbours more than themselves. And John McBeath, Brian Boyd and Cameron Munroe at the University of Strathclyde Quality in Education Centre, and Maeve McDonald, the education officer.

What was different from what you expected?

Everything. Life doesn't become harder but it becomes more complicated. Before I became a head, I thought that teachers were there to serve me and it came as a big shock to realise that it was the other way round. Nothing was the same after that.

What would you do differently next time round?

I'd learn how to manage the system more quickly, to get more finance and support. I would be less quick in deciding who are the good and the bad teachers and I would never get angry. I've been angry three times since I've been in the job and would never let it happen again.

What keeps you sane?

My six cats and my wife, and a lot of people in education including the teachers here. Then there's also the game of football. And, remembering that I am a powerful and relatively affluent person who has choices. My house is warm, I can buy books and records. Many people here do not have these choices.

Who are your heroes?

Tommy Burns, manager of Celtic, Lynn Bennett my deputy, lots of the teachers and auxiliaries here, Mrs Ferguson, one of our parents who keeps going, very cheerfully in difficult circumstances, and John Miller, the local minister who is a profoundly good and decent man.

If you were Secretary of State for Scotland...

One of my preoccupations would be to support local authorities, not try to destroy them. And I would also increase investment in school building, tell teachers how much I valued them and make sure that the good teachers did not get lost from the profession.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Good looks, a lovely nature and remarkable football skills. But if people thought that what I do is connected with what class teachers do, that would be good, too.

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