A happy school has people at its heart

27th June 2008 at 01:00
It was a familiar Sunday afternoon routine
It was a familiar Sunday afternoon routine. Leafing through details of deputy headship posts, I was trying to find the one right for me. The problem was that almost all seemed identical. Words such as "standards", "monitoring" and "evaluation" appeared with depressing regularity.

Then I saw it! Turning to a new set of details I read that "a happy school is a successful school". It was the first time I had seen those two ideas brought together: achievement and standards mattered, but so did the human values that make people happy. Six months later, I was the school's new deputy.

Eleven years on, happy schools seem to be the latest "big" idea. Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, wants schools to offer classes in emotional well-being, and in response the Specialist Schools and Acadamies Trust is offering courses in leading happy schools. Pupils in Birmingham are to be given "lessons in happiness". No doubt, in a few years Ofsted inspectors will be told to grade schools on how happy they are. Perhaps some will be placed in special measures for being "utterly miserable", while those which are merely "grumpy" will be served with a notice to improve.

We may be missing the main point. What convinced me that happiness mattered was working alongside a headteacher who put into practice the values behind the words. He believed the school should embody principles such as fairness, justice, concern for the individual, even - dare one say it - love. And he applied these principles to the pupils as well as the adults of the school community. Thus, he taught me the most important lesson of my career: that what matters most in education is not organisations or initiatives, but people.

In my experience, the best way to recruit future leaders is by showing them a genuinely happy school in action. When I started as a deputy, I did not want to become a head because the job seemed to involve isolation and poor relationships with colleagues. Working in a happy school convinced me it was possible to develop a model of leadership that placed people at its centre. As I approach my 10th year as a head, this vision of what a school can achieve still inspires me above all else.

Let's not complicate matters. A happy school is not a place where everyone walks around with a Cheshire Cat grin or where the headteacher is called Mr Chuckles. Instead it is a place where people matter - an idea which, happily, is both simple and profound at the same time.

Peter Kent, Headteacher of Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby, Warwickshire.

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