The accidental CEO

6th June 1997 at 01:00

I got into education administration by accident. I wanted to be either a teacher or a journalist - I think they have a lot in common. The best of both ask questions and can tell good stories.

After my history degree, I taught in grammar and secondary modern schools.In the mid-Sixties I became the deputy warden of a community college.

An education officer's job in sites and buildings in Monmouthshire was advertised and a head of another school suggested I went for it. I did not think it would be very exciting but was amazed to find that it was, particularly in the period of reorganisation. It was also a huge intellectual challenge. The director of education made me realise how interesting the job was and that, by asking the right questions, you could unlock schools in the same way that good heads unlock teachers and good teachers unlock kids.

I then tried to get a job with Sir Alec Clegg (then chief education officer of the West Riding) but he did not shortlist me so I moved on to Buckinghamshire. I was there for five years and did the brief for the Stantonbur y Campus. Then to the Association of County Councils which was a valuable but wrong turning. I was too far away from the teaching and learning in classrooms, but I was also immersed in connections at a national level. Since then I have rarely had to get on a train to go to London.

Next I spent two years as deputy education officer in the Inner London Education Authority; after that I moved on to be chief education officer in Oxfordshire. I spent 11 years there and felt really fulfilled, but during the discussions about the Education Reform Act, I could not believe that anyone would do what has happened. I was pro-LMS but very against the national curriculum. With hindsight I concede that a light version may be a good idea but not the prescriptive one we have been landed with.

I lost my way a bit at that time and moved to Keele University. Keele was another valuable but half-wrong turning and I think I got far more out of them than they did out of me. I am not really an academic and felt a bit like a PE teacher in a grammar school. I was also involved in a lot of admin which ironically left insufficient time for writing. However, the experience gave me huge respect for research evidence and for finding out what is happening nationally and internationally.

By this time I had long been excited by Rutter's 15,000 Hours research and we had evidence that showed the importance of early years in education.The Birmingham job came up and, armed with this evidence, I wanted to have a go in a huge urban LEA.

How many hours a week do you do?

Most of them.

What is the most important aspect of your job?

Making a climate in which teachers and support staff feel honoured, respected and valued, and so able to do their job.

What do you enjoy?

Everything. Seeing really good practice and being moved to write about it.

What don't you enjoy?

Spending a whole day in one room.

What's the most difficult thing you have to do?

Getting rid of people who are not good at what they do.

What was different from what you expected?

The political trust I have enjoyed from the members.

Who or what influenced your approach?

The people who inspire me most are those teachers and support staff in schools who walk the extra mile and do exceptional things. I have been really fortunate in the people I have worked for who have helped me and taught me an enormous amount, particularly, Peter Newsam (former education officer of the Inner London Education Authority).

What keeps you sane?

My one-year-old grandchild, Max.

Who are your heroes?

Cyril Washbrook who was the opening bat for Lancashire in my youth.


During the week I stay in Birmingham and return to my family at weekends.

7am: Get up and get to office for 7.30. Return previous night's in-tray and leave messages.

8am: Drive to school to see staff and head without interrupting their daily work. Stay for assembly.

10am: Address conference of deputy heads about the indispensable role of the deputy, based on learning and teaching and school effectiveness research.

12pm: Lunch with under-5s workers at a health clinic.

1pm: Monthly policy management meeting.

2pm: Meeting with officers to review budget.

4-6pm:Several meetings, including one with a former pupil who wanted advice.

7pm:Attend meeting of residents' association.

9.45pm: Meet colleague for a balti.

11pm: Home and do some paperwork.

Midnight Bed.

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