How can I be number one?

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Patricia Denison answers your leadership questions

I have been the deputy head of a primary school for the last six years. The school has an excellent reputation a positive ethos, supportive staff and parents, many extra-curricular opportunities for the pupils and high achievement - all of which have been reinforced by recent inspections and local education authority reviews.

The headteacher has just announced his intention to retire this summer and I would dearly love the job.

I feel I have contributed in no small part to the school's success over the years and this has been backed up by staff and parent comments.

Assuming I am interviewed for the post, how can I show the interview panel that they should choose me rather than have someone new with "a fresh pair of eyes" in the post of headteacher?

What a lovely position to be in. You have played a significant part in the creation of an effective, successful school, and now have the enthusiasm and desire to assume the headship role. The governors should be convinced.

But you're right to give deep thought to the interview process - what is going to be the clincher? How will you remove any glimmer of doubt that this is your job?

You can safely assume that the governors are pleased with the success that the school has enjoyed. They have ample evidence for this and could, perhaps, be forgiven for holding the view that the school has arrived at its destination. From what you know of them, how actively are they involved in shaping strategic direction? Are they asking challenging questions? To what extent are they acting as agents for change?

I am wondering whether your governors feel that the school should remain as it is, or whether they are looking for innovation and creativity and happy to embrace change. In any case, it is vital that you are clear that the school will move forward under your stewardship; you will not be setting out to protect the status quo.

You need to be talking to the interview panel about sustainability. By that, I don't mean maintenance, but rather the capacity that the school has to create and manage continuous change, responding to the complex needs of learners. You might frame what you say around some of the features of sustainability. Make explicit that you are driven by a moral purpose, believe in high attainment and achievement, respect the individual and want to develop the very best environment. Refer to and describe some of the systems and structures that the school has in place; what is it about the school's culture which facilitates its optimism? How has the leadership created this? It doesn't just happen.

How will you develop collaboration, both within the school and outside? Has the school been involved in a network? How does it work in partnership with the LEA?

How will you continue to examine and evaluate what the school is doing? Which questions might lead a process of continuous enquiry? How have you responded to glitches in the school's success? How did you intervene when you spotted examples of poor performance?

And how are you developing leaders throughout the school? Who makes decisions? Where is the power and autonomy? How do you make sure that staff feel good and not too exhausted?

You need to address the remodelling agenda, which is far-reaching; it requires deep thinking about how learning is facilitated, when and where and by whom. Also the concept of "extended" schools providing out-of-hours care and community services will soon be a reality - how ready are you to make that happen?

Talk with confidence and intent. You need to engage and fascinate, and you can certainly tell the interview panel things they didn't know.

They will, I'm sure, feel secure that with you in the head's seat they will get continued success and "a fresh pair of eyes". Good luck!

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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