Busby babe is youngest yet

21st April 2006 at 01:00
Is Michael Roach, the 29-year-old headteacher of Busby primary, the youngest head in Scotland?

East Renfrewshire Council, which appointed him to the post in January, believes Mr Roach may indeed be the freshman of the heidie fraternity - and that other authorities need to nurture their talent as older heads retire.

Three months into the post, Mr Roach says he is working with everyone in Busby, on the south side of Glasgow, "to make sure that people understand it's OK that I am the age I am and that I have the ability".

He has already set up a working party on the nursery-primary transition and learning through play in early years, and another on literacy.

Born and brought up in Elgin, he studied English and theatre at Glasgow University, did his teacher training at Strathclyde University's Jordanhill campus, and began his teaching career at Killermont primary in Bearsden in 1998 before moving to Mearns primary in East Renfrewshire three years later.

He then rose inexorably, from an assistant head in his school in 2002 to depute head under the "McCrone" job-sizing reforms in 2003. "When I look back at it now," he says of his first teaching job, "I was given a lot of responsibility, organising and running school shows and the school choir, and some areas of the curriculum.

"Having that experience early on was great, but I was looking for it - and I wanted to do that bit extra."

Once at Mearns, Mhairi Shaw, the then headteacher and currently acting head of service in the council's education department, encouraged him. "She saw something in me and felt I had leadership potential," he says.

Just two-and-a-half years later, he had become headteacher of Busby primary, which has a roll of 167, a further 120 in its nursery, nine teachers, two principal teachers and a depute.

John Wilson, director of education at East Renfrewshire, says: "It's important that we have succession planning for headships which allows young people like Michael Roach, who have learnt and honed managerial skills with us, to head up a school relatively early in their careers.

"That is particularly important when we have large numbers of headteachers nearing retirement age. Michael was the outstanding candidate for this post and he brings with him energy, enthusiasm, good judgment and the sound managerial experience gained in a large and challenging primary school such as Mearns."

Mr Roach admits to being ambitious. But, he adds, he did not time himself.

"Quite honestly, I didn't ever think it would happen as quickly as it has,"

he says. It is no surprise to learn, however, that he is now studying for the Scottish Qualification for Headship.

Mr Roach admits there is a perception in the primary sector that men will move up the promotion ladder faster than women. As a man, and one with a great deal of musical ability, he would "rocket through the profession", he was told when he entered teaching.

He believes more needs to be done by schools and authorities to identify potential headteachers "and really nurture them".

But he accepts that being unmarried and having no family commitments means he can stay as late as he wants at school and work as much as he wants.

So what stops people applying to become heads? The small differential between the pay for some depute head posts in larger schools and headteacher posts in smaller schools may be a factor, Mr Roach acknowledges.

Another may be the emphasis now placed on leadership whereas, in the past, it was more on management. "As a headteacher, you have to be both manager and leader, and perhaps we don't have the same history of leadership in our schools," he suggests.

His ambition now is to nurture leadership potential among the teachers on his staff.

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