Deputies have the challenge of being between the head and everyone else, sometimes a precarious position

9th June 2006 at 01:00
They say it's lonely at the top. I can't say for sure; I only got as far as Saturday assistant in men's socks and special occasions card stacker at Clinton's. These days I'm a deputy head. Not quite the top, but it can be lonely nonetheless. It's strange when you're not one of the girls anymore; nights out take on a new meaning when the person you're cheering on at the karaoke is the person with whom you are having a return-to-work-after-absence meeting the following week.

I don't know how other deputies handle this. My solution is to not go out.

It's odd, too, when you realise that you are the "they" in overheard comments such as: "they've put me on play duty every day this week"; "you'd think they'd order extra white paint at Christmas"; and "they've moved me into seniors this term - that's every class in the school I've worked in now". I remember what it was like being the subject of "their" whims and having a moan myself.

Now, of course, I understand that it's not whims that drive change, but strategic planning and visionary thinking. Deputies also have the challenge of being between the head and everyone else, sometimes a precarious position.

I remember hearing about cricket matches between England and the Rest of the World and thinking how unfair they sounded. Not any more... although most of the time, being deputy is the best job in the world. You work in partnership with the head and you still have contact with the children.

Many heads these days find this is becoming a luxury, and the combination of teaching, managing, organising and leading can be a very satisfying one for someone who is Jack of all trades (and deputy master of none). So, now that I've got my national professional qualification for headteachers, do I want to take that next step? The thought of the responsibility, the accountability and the potential to affect people's lives negatively (to say nothing of the endless government directives) is quite frightening. I still have bad dreams about losing pupils on trips. How much worse would my dreams be if I had the potential to employ a nightmare teacher, have a child mistreated or a parent justifiably angry at the school?

I think being a headteacher is such a hard job you must really want to do it to make a success of it (unlike special occasion card stacking, where you can be a superb stacker while remaining ambivalent about the cards).

I've heard people say that being deputy can be the hardest job in the school; that at least as head you have control. I'm not so sure, but if ever I get higher than men's socks or deputy top, I'll let you know.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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