What makes a great primary head? There is no formula: the secret is in finding a different way to do things, Helen Ward reports
this term eight women and six men have been pulled away from their desks piled high with self- assessment forms, pupil trackers and funding bids to be honoured as heads of the year in the teaching awards for England and Wales.
All heads need to have vision and high expectations, be able to manage people and secure resources. Being great is, however, often not about what you have in common with others, but what you do differently.
The award winners include Sue Morrison of John Fielding special school in Boston, Lincolnshire, whose pupils have been sailing on the Solent, and Carolyn Asante of Tremorfa nursery in South Glamorgan, where outdoor learning is a priority. Barbara Bell of Skelton primary in Redcar and Cleveland, and Tim Sherriff of Westfield community primary in Wigan, Lancashire, have both overseen amalgamations. And Paul Mulot, recently retired after 25 years as head of William Ransom primary in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where last year all Year 6s reached level 4 in the national tests.
Professor Bernard Barker, of Leicester university's centre of educational leadership and management, says: "People have been searching for formulas for excellent leadership forever. But the things that make cases different are much more important than what makes them the same.
"There are no miracles in school leadership. It is a struggle, a continuous struggle. The risk of expecting miracles is that we lose a lot of good stuff. There is a magic about successful heads that we can't bottle."
Anne Peachey first stepped into Christ the King primary in Bristol as a supply teacher 20 years ago. "I loved the ethos of an inner city school. It was totally out of my experience and I found it extremely challenging at first," she said, "but there was a headteacher here who I wanted to work for, so I stayed as a classroom teacher."
The 172-pupil school is described as an oasis in an area where life is hard. Inspectors noted in 2002: "In some parts of the area, high unemployment, vandalism and crime, much of which is drugs related, are features of everyday life." About 40 per cent of the pupils have free meals and half have special needs.
Ms Peachey, who has been head for 12 years, says her guiding principle is respect. "I have put quite expensive artefacts on display, they are never vandalised," she said.
"I don't think I would have been able to articulate my philosophy when I started, but it has always been about the individual child, making every child feel special in some way. I welcome every child into school by name."
In November 2006, inspectors found: "Pupils enjoy being at school and take great delight in their learning. They talk enthusiastically about school."
Sian Carr, of the National College for School Leadership and an awards judge, said: "One consistent theme of all Teaching Award winners this year was their sense of building a strong and vibrant learning community of which the local community could be very proud."