A dedicated team member

27th September 1996 at 01:00
Bruce Douglas, 48, has been principal for 11 years at Branston Community College, Lincolnshire, an 11-18 mixed grant-maintained comprehen-sive with a unit for 60 pupils with moderate learning difficulties. He was legal secretary of the Secondary Heads Association for five years and is now vice-president. Did you always want to be a head?

I always wanted to be a teacher, although at first I wasn't sure what kind. After a year in higher education starting a PhD, I quickly realised that I wanted to be a school teacher. I loved the intellectual excitement of higher education but the learners don't need you in the same way as young people do. I handed back my scholarship money and went to teach English in a secondary modern. I stayed there for three years and then moved to a grammar school.

I was happy in both, but the two experiences convinced me that I wanted to work in comprehensive schools. I became the head of faculty in a triple-site comprehensive which used a lot of non-specialists to teach English. I consequently became enthusiastic about staff development.

I became a vice-principal at a community college in Leicester and there became enthralled about community education. Once you become affected by these sort of experiences you can't let them go. After I had been a head for five years, the governing body allowed me to take up a fellowship at Selwyn College, Cambridge, where I followed the 1993 Education Act through Parliament.

Describe your style of headship?

I hate the phrase "my school" - I believe in teams. No modern head can be a solo act. I often do not know which ideas have come from me and which from the rest of the senior management team. This does take time though and we have a weekly team meeting starting at 4pm that goes on to 9pm. I think this gives the rest of the team the opportunity of having the total view, which is more satisfying for them as well as me.

I analyse, analyse, analyse. I want to see how things connect. I think of it in terms of the combination of intellect and emotion. You have to get the right combination of idealism and managerial system. I'm still uncertain about everything and although I know where we've come from and where we are going, you cannot be absolutely certain and I do not want to lose the quality of doubt.

I am very passionate although not in an exhibitionist way. You have to stay bold and unafraid. Experience has the tendency to teach you caution because you have the skills to spot problems - that's where the passion comes in to give you boldness.

What do you gain from your governors?

Support - I know they want me and the school to succeed - and the discipline of having to explain clearly and without jargon where we are and where we're going.

Do you miss the local education authority?

I am philosophically opposed to opting out, but all the secondary schools around us had already gone and the previous LEA was trying to introduce city technology colleges and grammar schools. We went GM to stay comprehensive.

I don't like the emphasis on the individual institution and the uncritical reliance on market forces. I miss the sense that all schools are on the same mission and hope that the next government, whichever party, will enable everyone, willingly and voluntarily to get together again.

What is your most important job?

Providing analysis and not being afraid to follow it.

What do you enjoy most?

Being able to see the "wholeness" of what is going on. I also enjoy deciding which of the current six initiatives are really important and which will die.

A few years ago I realised that I had been at Branston longer than anywhere else, and there was no where else I wanted to go.

What don't you enjoy?

Having to hear the wrong story being told about education. Spending huge amounts of time dispelling untruths and fighting against the consequences of the disparagement of the British education system.

I often wonder why the brightest and best young people would ever want to come into teaching given what they hear about it - although it is in reality one of the most wonderful jobs.

What is most difficult?

Making staff redundant.

Who most influenced you?

My father who was a head. Although we have very different styles he taught me to see both sides of a question. I've also learnt from everyone I've ever met - including the people I'm working with at the moment.

What would you do differently next time?

See more of my family and do everything better.

What keeps you sane?

I'm still interested and I hope I've still got a sense of humour.

Who are your heroes?

My father and people who have thought through things and been brave about sticking to their opinions. Anyone who's really humane.

If you were Secretary of State for Education I would complete the curriculum reform Dearing has only half done. Get across to the public that raw league tables are actively misleading and get rid of bureaucratic appraisal regulations. Appraisal should be continuous and normal.

The best quality control would give teachers a sense of professionalism instead of disparagement and rejection - a feeling of having to do your best because the community values you and is relying on you.

Only then will there be any glory in fulfilling the obligation.

How would you like to be remembered?

I'd like people to think "he tried to understand".

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