Heads beside the seaside

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Have you heard the expression, "If you want something done, ask a busy person?" It came to my mind when I spoke to Iain Cameron, head of the 430-pupil Seathorne primary in Skegness, on the Lincolnshire coast. He rang me, as promised, at 8.30am and was well into the discussion before he said, "In 20 minutes I'm off to teach two classes at once because we can't get any supply teachers."

Shortage of supply staff - one aspect of the recruitment and retention problem - is as good a measure as any of what life is like for a primary head in a seaside town with the sea on one horizon and countryside on the other.

"We need good teachers to raise standards, but recruitment is difficult," says Mr Cameron. "NQTs generally prefer bigger towns, and we don't get many families moving in where one is looking for a teaching job."

There are also all the difficulties of working with a low-income community where jobs and pupils come and go and families need to work through the summer and take holidays in term-time. It all adds up to a stream of "brushfire" management issues.

"You're so busy keeping the wheels on that you can't steer to where you want to go," he says.

The key to helping heads like Mr Cameron is to overcome their feeling of isolation, put them in touch with one another, and with mentors and supporters.

For Skegness primary schools, part of the answer lies in the town's coastal partnership programme, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, in partnership with the Confederation for British Industry, Lincolnshire's school improvement service and the University of Hull.

Headteachers are quick to praise the partnership's work, which focuses on networking. Heads visit each other, share management strategies and reach out to parent-groups and other age-phases and agencies.

Another Skegness head, Peter Beveridge at Wainfleet Magdelen primary, sums it up. "The coastal partnership gives you the chance to work with colleagues and share information with total openness.

"I've been a head for nearly 20 years, but I've never really had the opportunity to visit other schools and find such trust between colleagues."

www.ncsl.org.ukresearchUse the link to an online debate on leadership in coastal schools

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