Advice from the front line

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Don't forget to ask the pupils what they want from a new headteacher, says Margaret Hunt

Earlier this year, our governing body had the unenviable task of appointing a new headteacher for our school.

I'm sure many governing bodies, when faced with this task, will recall having to adhere to tight timescales, attempting to fit their short-listing and interview dates around the packed diary of the education authority's adviser, trying to take on board the sometimes conflicting advice of all those with a legitimate interest in the appointment, and struggling to find high-quality sample job descriptions, advertisements and person specifications to help with the process.

In addition, and despite feeling under pressure to rush through the process so that we had a new headteacher in place for the beginning of the academic year, our governing body was very mindful of the enormous responsibility resting on our shoulders. We felt a particular duty to the pupils, parents and staff to ensure that we appointed someone who would build on the current strengths of the school while having the vision and capability to take the school forward.

We wanted to take account of the views of these key groups of people. We were able quickly to seek the views of parents and staff by writing to them all. But it was only during a discussion with our acting headteacher about the need to develop writing in the school that we hit on an idea of how to involve our pupils in the selection process.

We invited the children to draw up their own adverts for the post, with some of them also putting together person specifications and some writing letters to the governing bdy about the qualities they valued in a headteacher.

Unfortunately, the unrelenting time pressures meant that our "real" advert had to be passed to The TES before we were able to see the children's work but we did take account of their ideas in making the appointment and used their written work to assess candidates' notions about possible future writing developments in the school.

The governors were greatly impressed with the children's work. What struck me most was their ability to state so clearly some of the important attributes of a headteacher that could have been so easily overlooked by the governing body, the staff and the parents. I've listed below just a few of the qualities they identified.

Someone who will keep the school safe, listen to pupils, get to know everybody's name, join in fun events, not panic, have new ideas but not change everything, not scare children, not be stressy, not wear too much aftershave or perfume. They should also be bouncy - but not too bouncy, be able to sort out two sides of a problem, be calm, tidy, truthful, fair and funky, be able to handle accidents, enjoy being in charge and, most importantly, be cool!

With such valuable input from the children, and the added bonus of helping them to understand the role of the governing body, perhaps we need to consider other ways that we can involve pupils in our decision-making processes. I'd be interested to hear how other governing bodies have achieved this.

Margaret Hunt is manager of the governor support service in Swindon and chair of governors at Holbrook primary school in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. She writes here in a personal capacity

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