Four who took up the challenge

14th November 1997 at 00:00

Appointed two years ago, Jean Kelly was one of the first heads to benefit from Headlamp funding. She recalls: "On that first cohort we had to iron out all the gremlins ourselves." In common with others, she found it difficult to spend all of the Headship money within the two year limit. "I still have just over Pounds 800 left, and they have given me an extension."

Part of the reason, she explains, was not wanting to be out of school frequently. A big problem was the cancellation of advertised courses. At that time the then Avon County was facing re-organisation and Jean looked to Bristol University for her Headlamp training.

"But things collapsed all the time. All the university courses - 10 modules - were lost through lack of support." (Now, the Bristol authority offers what Jean Kelly describes as an excellent programme of courses, which is one reason why she wishes she had more time in which to spend her Headlamp money) In the end she found her own training, from Natwest Bank, which was offering free sessions to local authority managers as part of its community service.

"A massive amount for nothing. But I also bought a mentor in from them". That her mentor was not in education was not a problem. "It was pure management issues, on the personnnel side of things and on creative thinking for solving problems. I paid a lot for it, and it was valuable because I got frank advice."

It has been a hectic two years. "One of the biggest surprises is that although I like my job I've never really had time to sit down and enjoy it. I have lived through crisis after crisis. Only now I am beginning to see things more clearly."

It would have been easy, she says, to spend too little time on the longer view. "We've had to make the time to do it, and the Ofsted experience helped: it made us sit down and focus on the future,creating a vision and values. "


One of the most striking things about Graham Legg's experience is the detailed way that he prepared himself between his interview in September last year and his arrival at Woodlands in January. Many heads have to make to do with a couple of preparatory visits to their new school, and there are obvious issues of protocol and courtesy to be observed when the existing head is perhaps coming to the end of a long career. At Woodlands, though, there was an acting head, which made things a little easier. And Graham Legg's own head in his previous school gave very generous support.

"I was able to negotiate the equivalent of seven full days here." During that time he interviewed every member of the teaching and support staff - well over 100 people. "I asked them about their career objectives, their key concerns and what they would like from the new head."

He showed me a huge folder which contained the confidential handwritten notes of all these interviews. "I have used this to shape my vision for this school" The folder also contained photographs of the staff. "I sat down with my daughter over Christmas and memorised them. I was able to greet people by name on the first day."


The relationship between Martin James and his local inspector, Pauline Kenyon, strongly exemplifies just how close and supportive an authority inspector and a primary headteacher can be. "When a new head's appointed," said Pauline Kenyon, "we come down immediately, bearing gifts."

"In the first weeks, the new head gets priority within the patch." The agenda here is that the authority knows the school and has a good idea what it thinks the new head should do. "We talk about the needs of the school. Martin had picked up already the need for more parental involvement, and moving to a more open style."

It is obvious that Pauline Kenyon is very familiar with all that is happening at Manor Way, and that Martin James welcomes this. "You've been very successful in improving communication," she said to him. "It's a matter ofpersonal style."

An inspector with intimate knowedge of the school can be very effective, Pauline Kenyon explained, in nudging an inexperienced head into grasping nettles - dealing with a failing teacher was one example she suggested, but she was careful to emphasise that this did not apply at Manor Way.

"The head always says how much better he or she feels having started the procedure and takencontrol," said Pauline Kenyon.


Given so much emphasis on local authority support for school effectiveness, where do newly appointed heads at grant-maintained schools turn for support? Certainly they have to be resourceful and confident. Maureen Johnson fits that bill.

"I regarded my Headlamp funding as a pot of money to use as appropriate. I spent some on SHA (Secondary Heads Asociation) courses and I have a Bedfordshire head as a mentor. I've looked after myself: for day-to-day business that I had to get up to speed on, I've visited other heads who I know - looking at things they've been doing for years, like classroom observation. "

She has worked with her senior management team using, among others, Anne Evans of HTI Leadership and Management based at Warwick University. "She left us with the tools to draw up our strategic plan."

She has had to press on rather more quickly than she would have chosen. "I prefer a consultative style, which is a slow style by nature I With the likelihood of Ofsted a year away, and all that we are hearing about zero tolerance, I had to adopt a pace rather quicker than I thought."

What has surprised her most is "there is no middle of the road way. Each day is either incredibly positive or the opposite."

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