The Interview - 'My role is evolving constantly'

19th June 2009 at 01:00
Mark Davies is chief executive of the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol - a Pounds 40m site that includes a primary, secondary and special school, and dedicated vocational college. It opened in January

How did you get into teaching?

I lose patience with things quickly. I need things to happen all the time and I thought teaching would be like that, and it is. Nothing stays still in education. I always enjoyed being with youngsters and I wanted a job that was more of a vocation than anything else. I liked school but I was a bit of a failure, at least an academic failure. It took me 14 goes to get my O-level maths and I was 22 when I finally did it. But I was good at sport, and I wanted to do something I was good at.

What was your next career move?

Right from the moment I was first interviewed as a PE teacher I wanted to be a head. The only person who can directly influence the direction the school is taking is the person in the headteacher's chair.

I went through the route of head of PE and senior leadership in Derby and ended up a deputy head at Dene Magna in Gloucestershire and then became the head there. Then in 2005 I decided to set up my own leadership and coaching business.

Why did you leave teaching?

It was the most difficult decision I had ever made. The school had five outstanding Ofsteds in a row, two under my leadership. I always had this idea that it was important to take risks, and that was a big one. Coaching and leadership was fundamental to the success of Dene Magna, it was based on the idea of turning it into a sort of teaching hospital, and I felt those skills were sellable and beneficial to other schools.

Why did you go back into school?

I had been working with Gloucestershire local authority to help some schools out of special measures and I got the urge to get back into headship in a different way. I would go into a school and do a few days but sometimes you didn't see the benefits. I was a bit in limbo, wondering if they would take it forward and how well it would work. I was enjoying the consultancy work but the bit I really enjoyed was going back into schools and working alongside another head.

How does being a chief executive differ from being a head?

The role of chief executive is evolving all the time. We have a primary school, a secondary school, a special school, a pupil referral unit and a vocational centre. If I have three headteachers and two centre managers under me, then what is my role, what is my added value? If I'm doing things that I used to do as a head, what is the point of having a head? You have got to think carefully about the role of the chief executive in the senior leadership team, to make sure you don't undermine people and that you are adding value. We have a campus-wide improvement plan that everybody has signed up to, and as long as that is tight it generates movement in the right direction.

How does running an all-through campus differ from running a secondary school?

What really staggered me were the differences between primary and secondary colleagues. There was a lot of naivety about what each other did, and a bit of uncertainty and distrust about coming together. Now the distrust has evaporated and there is a collective way of working.

There is a secondary head and a primary head but the assistant heads have an all-through role.

Anybody can locate on the same site; the key is what you can take from each of the phases. As a secondary PE teacher, sitting observing a foundation year's lesson is just extraordinary for me.

Literacy is poor here but we can invest in early years so we can see the difference. We can't just hope it is going to happen; we have got to tackle it in our primary school. And while a third of our children will come all-through, two-thirds won't, so we still have to have good transition.

What advice would you give a new head?

Don't get bogged down in operational matters. There are sometimes better people for that. Concentrate on what schools are all about. The more you support classroom practice and pedagogy, the better you will be. That is where school improvement starts and ends.

The second ingredient is supporting the professional development of your staff. The more you nurture that the better you will be as a head and the more fulfilled your staff will be. And don't let the school day and the timetable rule the way you lead the school. Look at how you can manipulate the school day and the structures to improve the learning.

What would you do if you were Schools Secretary for the day?

I would focus on key stage 2 and look at the different ways of nurturing and challenging children other than Sats. The creativity and innovation we need in our young people is being stagnated by the tests and there are other ways to challenge children that would lead to much more pressure on secondary schools to maintain and improve progress.


2008-: Chief executive of the Bridge Learning Campus, Bristol (Chief executive designate from January 2008, substantive from September 2008)

2007-08: Executive principal, Kingsmead School, Cheltenham

2006-07:Education consultant in leadership and management

1999-05: Acting head, then head of Dene Magna School, Gloucestershire

1997-99: Deputy head, Dene Magna School, Gloucestershire

1993-97: Senior teacher, Murray Park School, Derby

1990-97: Head of PE and sports faculty, Murray Park School, Derby

1988-90: Head of PE, Mickleover Community College, Derby.

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