Best of times, worst of times

21st September 2001 at 01:00
John Catton Headteacher North Walsham High School Norfolk

I started off in teaching not because of my great love of young people and all those reasons you give at interview, but rather because I enjoyed my own schooldays.

I was told by one of my teachers that I would make a good teacher myself. I was interested in some kind of electrical or electronics training, but he said I should teach. So I started fishing around careers books and seeing careers advisers, and I decided it probably was for me.

My first teaching post was at Burleigh Community College in Loughborough. The interview was one of the shortest I had ever heard of; I had about three-and-a-half minutes with the headteacher and then five minutes with the head of department. I was left on my own for about 30 seconds, after which they both came back and explained that they wanted to offer me the job.

That was in 1973 when it was the boom time and schools were recruiting teachers like there was no tomorrow.

My first headship interview was also quite memorable. I was thrown out at lunchtime on the first day. Three of us were sent home, but we were offered a debrief. So I sat down waiting to be told where I had gone wrong by one of the authority's advisory staff.

She said: 'Well, what do you think about this Mr Catton?' My reaction, having just got my marching orders, was one of anger. I said: 'I haven't come to tell you what I think about it. I've come to ask for some professional advice and feedback.' She obviously sensed that I was not for pulling the punches. She said: 'Do you want me to tell you?' 'Yes,' I replied. 'That's what we're here for, or we might as well go home.' And she replied: 'All right. To be frank, no one thought that any part of you was at all ready for headship.' I was put in my place very smartly and very effectively that day.

Interview by Martin Whittaker

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