Head turns school PR man

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Emily Clark on the school that has appointed its own 'ambassador' to shoulder the burden of fundraising

Almost every week for the past 14 years Derek Heasman's little black book has provided a VIP visitor for his north London school.

Prince Charles, Esther Rantzen, Gary Lineker, Trevor Brooking and Sir Terence Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, are among hundreds of celebrities who have talked to pupils at Dollis junior. Now, after 25 years as Dollis's head, Mr Heasman has resigned to become its cheerleader, ambassador and fundraiser.

He has a new title, director of strategy, and will be responsible for building work as well as PR, with a total annual budget of pound;1.5 million. His salary is still being negotiated but is likely to be between pound;18,000 and pound;20,000 a year.

The appointment of a strategy director will free David Burns, the new head and a former Office for Standards in Education inspector, to concentrate on teaching and learning. For most of next week he will be observing Year 6 classes.

Mr Heasman, who is well beyond retirement age, believes such dual leadership roles are the way forward. "Heads should not be overwhelmed with worries like balancing budgets, leaking roofs and pupil numbers," he said.

"The day will come when money will come direct from central government.

Then schools will need strategic directors and local authorities will become redundant."

Mr Heasman, who has three sons and 10 grandchildren, cycles the five miles from home to school and works two 12-hour days.

He generates about pound;20,000 a year by "talking to people" and dreaming up fund-raising projects. Two years ago he was awarded an OBE for services to education. "I have been building up a database over the years through jolly hard work but it is of terrific benefit to the children to meet these successful people," said Mr Heasman.

Nineteen years ago he introduced a school newsletter, which is delivered to 800 addresses including St James's Palace, the Prince of Wales's London home. A local plant nursery adorns the school with flowers in exchange for advertising space and a nearby garage provides free MOTs for two minibuses, which were donated 20 years ago.

Another north London business contributes pound;1,000 towards the cost of an annual fete which has netted pound;12,000 a year since 1989.

Mr Heasman is also chair of fundraising and development for the Prince's Trust in Hertfordshire. "I still love my work and find it thoroughly stimulating," he said.

Mr Burns expects to reap the benefits of working alongside him. "My experience as an inspector will help me in work with children and the local community and Derek's invaluable work at the school frees up more time for me to do these things. The Government is looking at how to reduce workloads. This is it. We are a pathfinder school. Where there is innovation, we are there."


Derek Heasman's PR advice:

* Cultivate contacts: Approach celebrities in the street and ask them to visit, write to company directors and people in the public eye and encourage them to introduce you to others

* Communicate with children: Endeavour to know the names of all pupils and parents. Remember details like when a new sibling is due or a parent is unwell and ask after them

* Involve parents in school affairs: Do not request donations but invite parents and the community to attend cultural evenings, sports days and fetes where they can make contributions. Send them a weekly newsletter.

Tell staff how to welcome visitors

* Keep up appearances: Good behaviour and smart uniform are essential.

Parents like a second-hand uniform sale

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