Excess baggage

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Carol Peace takes stock after 10 years as a head

Ten years ago I packed a suitcase - literally and metaphorically. It contained items which I though would prove useful when I took up my first headship. The suitcase provided the props for my leaving speech and there was laughter in the staffroom as I produced my mortar board followed by a crash helmet, fire helmet and broom.

So how accurately did I judge the essentials of headship in the 1990s? The mortar board was spot on. I was going to be an academic head, my students were going to achieve excellent exam results and the school would do well. Little did I know that league tables were lurking, but as our results improve annually it was good to know that all the encouragement and teamwork, analysis and planning paid dividends.

The crash helmet was packed on the advice of a former colleague to grow a thick skin - quickly. The broom was to help me deal with change, which was not entirely welcome as internal development government initiatives grew in number.

I did not wear my red fire helmet on the night the school caught fire. I just felt sick as I saw all the damage and destruction in the PE and music areas. (No one was hurt, the building was made good and staff worked together to sort things out as quickly as possible.) But nothing had prepared me for the awesome sense of responsibility I felt.

To deal with local management, I packed a cash register, with plastic coins (borrowed from my six-year-old daughter's toybox) and a book of raffle tickets. And indeed money - or rather lack of it - has played a major part in thinking and development at my school. I have introduced more efficiency measures than I care to remember, and the staff deserve medals the size of dustbin lids for doing more and more with less and less.

We were also one of the first schools in the county to go through a painful redudancy process; an experience I would not choose to repeat. The management team was reduced from seven to four. Suffering from "upward staff incremental drift" and downward student demographic trends, our school budget hit minus rock bottom. But the school's reputation has improved dramatically, and at least student numbers are rising. When, and if, the plans go through for the new local housing development, we should be home and dry.

In the meantime, the Friends of Sherburn high school continue to sell raffle tickets, organise discos and line dances (pity I omitted to pack my cowboy hat) in order to provide so-called luxury items which are increasingly essential school equipment.

I did remember to pack an abacus (borrowed from my other daughter's toybox) just in case we were short of computers. With one computer per faculty we were veryshort then. But even now, with several ICT suitesand a multimedia area,there is the need for more hardware and software.

Good job I put my Philosan tonic in - I have needed more than fortifying over the years. Headache tablets for the worries, sleeping pills when the insomnia became unbearable and lavender oil to calm my troubled mind have all been part of the defence arsenal. The bottle of sherry was emptied long ago.

The final item was a boiler suit. As I was previously deputy head in charge of premises, I knew all about the worm-feed screwing mechanisms in the coal-fired boiler house, on which basis I am sure I was headhunted for Sherburn, which is on the edge of the Selby coalfields.

"Give yourself 10 years," was the advice I received from a retiring headteacher. I've done that and it has been exciting, satisfying, exhausting and rewarding. Now I am wondering what I need to pack for the next decade. Any suggestions?

Carol Peace is head of Sherburn high school, an 11-18 mixed comprehensive in Leeds


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