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Take the comfort versus ambition test

Robin Precey answers your leadership questions

I have been teaching at a small secondary school for the past four years, having qualified as a mature student. I was made head of year three years ago and have just finished a masters degree in educational management, but I am ambitious to progress in my career. The head and second in my department will not be moving in the foreseeable future and I am at a loss as to what to do to advance my career. At 37 years old I do not want to hang about.

I love the school that I am at currently and would not particularly want to move so would consider applying for head of special educational needs should this arise rather than move school. Yet I also love teaching my subject (English) and have been a leading teacher for the past two years.

Please help. I don't know what to do next and there doesn't seem to be any career development at my school.

A couple of immediate observations. First, you haven't hung around since you started teaching, have you? Significant promotion, recognition for the quality of your teaching and a masters degree in four years - that's some going! Second, this issue you raise will affect more and more colleagues as the number of "mature" entrants to our profession grows with, for example, the popularity of the GraduateTeacher Programme.

Let me ask you some key questions that you need to answer honestly for yourself:

* Is it the teaching you enjoy most or the leadership and management? It is possible to combine both - up to a point - but if you are aiming for senior leadership (as your further studies indicate) it becomes less of a possibility. There are now attractive routes, for example advanced skills teacher, that make it possible to have more status, money and potential effect while still devoting most of your working week to teaching.

* Are you really not prepared to move schools? Waiting around for others to leave whose job you would wish to do is not a good idea. It can backfire on you. Looking elsewhere will obviously make promotion easier and give you an invaluable insight into how another school culture lives and grows.

* Are you only interested in small schools? If you feel you would like to work in a larger school then a move to a similar role on a bigger scale may suit you. If it is small schools for you then a different role is perhaps preferable.

* By your own admission you are ambitious - at this stage how far do you think you want to go? If headship is in your sights then a variety of experiences before going for the "big one" would equip you best for a successful headship.

* Why do you think 37 is old? There will be senior leadership posts for you in 10 years' time. It would seem that increasingly the most senior leaders in our schools are finishing earlier in their careers and the vacancies that they leave behind are not always easy to fill. I understand your desire to move ahead quickly but do try to prepare well so that you can make a real impact when you are given senior responsibility.

* Have you spoken to your head about all this? There may be no perceived career development in your school,but heads usually do enjoy nurturing talent even if it may be another school that benefits from this. Unless they know your thoughts they will not be able to give you advice and opportunities to grow.

There is a lot to think about. The plus is that you are in a job and a school that you enjoy. The possible drawback to this is that it may become very comfortable and erode your current ambitions.

There are some critical choices ahead for you. Whatever you decide I trust you will look back and feel that you have made the right one.

Robin Precey has been in education for 31 years, the past 12 as head of Seaford Head community college in East Sussex. He is also a consultant on the National College for School Leadership's New Visions programme. Do you have a school leadership or management question? Email

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