Case study: Friary school, Staffordshire

14th October 2005 at 01:00
Everyone knows deep down whether or not headship is for them. I enjoy moulding a team, and leading from the front. It's part of my personality.

When I was young, I played for sports teams and I always enjoyed it more if I was the captain. Now I love being a headteacher. Once you've experienced this level of responsibility, it's difficult to imagine professional life without it.

Teachers often talk about the pleasure they get from watching students fulfil their potential. As a head, you get just as excited about seeing your staff blossom and develop.

Each morning I arrive at 7.45 and I usually get away by 6.30 in the evening, unless there's a parents' evening or a governors' meeting. When I get home, I have a rest, then do another three or four hours' work.

That's a long day, no two ways about it. On the other hand, I have some flexibility about when I work. For example, Friday evenings I'm up until two or three in the morning, so that I can have Saturday to myself, and maybe Sunday too. I'm lucky: when I do have free time I find it easy to switch off and forget about school.

Putting in long hours means I'm usually able to stay on top of my work, which makes life more enjoyable. If things started to pile up, then the job would quickly become stressful.

I've been head here for 10 years, and I'd like to think that my drive and passion are as strong as when I started. With every year that passes, you acquire a little more wisdom. The most important thing I've learned is to compartmentalise. If one part of the day goes badly, it's no good wallowing in despair. You just have to put it behind you and focus on the next task.

I've also grown more confident in my own abilities - getting good Ofsted reports has helped. As a headteacher, you're not going to change the world.

All you can hope for is to do your job with integrity, and do the best you can for your staff and pupils.

One of the things I don't like is the Government interference. I hate it when initiatives that have clearly failed, such as league tables, are clung on to so that politicians don't lose face. Or when initiatives are rushed through too quickly, without proper lead-in time. And we're poorly funded here in Staffordshire, so the money side of things can be wearing.

But I'm lucky to be working in a school that I love. I was a teacher at the Friary, back in the mid 1980s. Ten years later I had the chance to return as head and I knew it was the right thing to do. I've always liked the feel of school, and the way it serves a genuine cross-section of the community: that's why I'm willing to work so hard and make sacrifices. One of the keys to good headship is finding a school where you feel comfortable.

I'm also fortunate to have an excellent management team. It certainly makes my job a lot easier. But delegation is a delicate issue. I have to remember that I'm being paid more than them, so it's only right that I should take a proportionately greater share of the workload. The biggest pitfall is to delegate, and then do the job yourself, or interfere. If I hand something over to a colleague, I try to let them just get on with it.

Finding time to develop your professional skills as a head isn't easy. One of the most useful things I've done was a scheme promoted by NCSL through Business in the Community, called Partners in Leadership, which teamed me up with a senior manager from the Midlands Co-op. Sharing ideas and getting a perspective from outside the world of education was invaluable.

My feeling is that heads aren't badly paid for the work they do. I know that managing directors in private companies can earn a lot more, but I thoroughly enjoy my job and don't envy anyone. Money certainly wasn't the motivating factor in my decision to become a headteacher.

Perhaps the toughest decision a head faces is knowing the right time to move on, or when to call it a day. I'm 54 at the moment, and rather like an ageing footballer, I'm taking it one year at a time. But when I feel I'm no longer as effective as I should be, then I hope I will have the good sense to step aside and let the school move on.

John Brough is headteacher of Friary secondary school, Lichfield, Staffordshire

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