Fresh pastures, age-old problems

21st September 2007 at 01:00

It is 8pm on the Wednesday of the second week of my first headship in a new county. Despite various documents being thrust my way about the importance of getting the right "worklife balance", I am still in school.

As I attempt to catch up on what seems like a million emails, letters and requests, I am just beginning to reflect on my first eight days in the post. No words can adequately describe the feeling of actually leading a school. It is exhilarating, exhausting, challenging, rewarding, exciting and frightening, all at the same time.

The responsibility hit me when I gave my first presentation to the staff. True to form, I couldn't operate PowerPoint 2007 and every time I began to speak passionately I managed to reverse into a filing cabinet that appeared to have been strategically placed to cause maximum embarrassment. It struck me afterwards that one of the great things about being the principal is that nobody tells you if your performance was dire!

The looks on the faces around me were generally positive, with a high ratio of nods to shakes but a few raised eyebrows when certain topics were broached. Nobody likes change, but I was encouraged that there seemed to be a real willingness to embrace it.

I believe passionately that there is no point in taking on a challenge of this magnitude not to mention the prospect of over 30 years in headship (I am 31) if I do not want to make changes that will have a positive impact on students' lives and life chances. I wanted to hit the ground running, but I am slowly learning not to get too frustrated with the fact that I cannot and should not effect change overnight.

I am lucky to have a good leadership team some gee me on, others rein me in with a "well..." or an "I'm not sure that...", and I think this honest and transparent approach is both necessary and refreshing. I genuinely want to create an environment where students, teachers, governors and parents feel valued and supported. But without the element of challenge (the critical friend approach), we "will always get what we've always got". It is hard to engender a supportive atmosphere against a backdrop of performance related pay, league tables and targets. I don't believe these things have done anything for the teaching profession.

Despite being in a different county, I find I am faced with the same issues: attendance, behaviour, uniform, the conflict between standards and the Every Child Matters agenda, too many initiatives and significant funding issues particularly acute for our depressingly underfunded local authority, an F40 group member.

I wonder why central government doesn't allocate funding for schools and young people's service equitably across the country. Failure to do so stifles creativity and makes it difficult to make a difference.

Ben Slade

Principal, Manor Community College, Cambridge


Would you like to be interviewed for The Conversation? Tell us about your school strategy and how it is achieving results. Email a brief outline (maximum 150 words), marked The Conversation, to

Contributions to The View From Here (450 words) The School Governor and In the Middle (300 words) should be clearly labelled and emailed to the same address.

If you are looking for professional or legal advice from our pool of experienced school leaders, we can also help. Email brief details, marked Advice, stating your school leadership role, to

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today