A day in the life of...
As the principal of Oakbank, a secondary free school near Wokingham in Berkshire, I find that every day is a roller coaster. The school was failing when I joined in September 2014, but now it is thriving. It's been a tough job and there is no typical day.
I am in school by 6am. A highlight of my day is meeting and greeting staff as they pass my office, which is positioned on the passage through to the main school. They might stop to discuss students or assessments, or to clarify issues from the previous day. Staff well-being is a key focus for me; they are my most precious resource because they make the most difference to students.
At 7.30am, the leadership team arrives for our daily meeting. We ensure that the school is led with laser-sharp precision. What strikes me most is how well we know our students: the team is aware of the progress of each individual.
Students begin to arrive at 7.45am and they walk past the wall of windows in my office. I feel privileged when they wave at me on their way to the dining hall for breakfast. The school has a family feel but we also emphasise strong discipline - I sweat the small stuff. It's a fine line but one that has brought rapid improvement.
My favourite part of the day is at 8.25am, when our 260 students line up in tutor groups in the hall. I greet each of them on their way out - this personal touch is non-negotiable.
Another highlight is that I still teach. My Year 9 group is such a pleasure: 13 boys who were not enjoying English or making enough progress have transformed into enthusiastic learners on a mission to improve. Leading by example is paramount, so I model what outstanding experiences look like in the classroom. My senior team and I are scrutinised like any other member of staff.
I walk around the school so that all staff and students know I'm not stuck in my office doing paperwork. Talking to classes about their learning and seeing inspirational teaching gives me a buzz; it can be a little overwhelming to be so proud of the place where you work and the people you work with.
As the day goes on, I hear the phrase "You're so Oakbank" at least 20 times. It is our catchphrase for doing something positive: holding doors open, saying please and thank you, helping other people. This culture is embedded in the school at all levels.
At lunchtime, regardless of the weather, I am on duty on the tennis courts where the students play football. I'm not a football fan but I enjoy the energy and camaraderie.
The rest of my day is filled with meetings or visitors; I love to show people around the school. Students leave at 4pm, then we hold a staff meeting and a professional development session.
I'm usually the last to leave in the evening. No day is ever the same so there is never an opportunity to be bored. I feel such a sense of pride about being able to make a difference to young people's lives.
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