New bosses leave me out in the cold

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Pat Denison answers your questions

I have been a successful deputy head of a primary school for 14 years, during which time I have enjoyed the affection and trust of colleagues, achieved excellent results, contributed wholeheartedly to the school, including as a representative on the governing body and parent-teacher association.

Last September, the governors appointed a new head who is much younger than me and many of the staff. In January, she appointed an assistant head, then a bursar when our administrative officer retired, .

I only get half a day non-contact time a week, during which I carry out my management responsibilities. I notice that when the assistant head gets her non-contact time, she and the head are closeted together in the head's office. When I've questioned this, the head tries to assure me that it is part of the induction process; I know that they meet outside school and hatch up initiatives (getting rid of the literacy and numeracy hours, for example) which the rest of the staff are having to implement.

I feel excluded and it is obvious that the only thing I can do is leave. I am 52. Who would employ me?

You are describing a dark and unhappy scenario which arises as the outcome of appalling communication at every level. Your world has been turned upside down - a new head has come in with a change agenda which is neither clear nor shared.

Appointments of assistant head and bursar suggest a desire to create a fully functional leadership team, and yet it seems that the last thing this school has is any notion of teamwork. I imagine that the head has the intention of moving the school forward. Does she see you as a stumbling block, a reluctant player, more interested in protecting the status quo?

You make no reference to any conversation, whole-school discussion, or degree of governor involvement in the school's new direction. Has there really been none? But whether or not that is the case, there is certainly a problem. And, of course, just as you recognise this, so you must accept the responsibility of taking steps to sort it out.

You are already considering the first option - leaving. Don't make the mistake of assuming it is your only one. I wonder what your energy levels are like and your passion and commitment to the school after all this time as deputy, and what your role has been during the past 14 years? I should imagine that much of your focus would have been centred on the implementation of the many national initiatives which have rolled out during the 1990s. You don't mention any desire to move up the leadership ladder, so I'm assuming that you don't want headship. You might consider coming out of deputy headship, but you're right: schools would not take on an expensive teacher who is not going to be a major asset.

The second option is to carry on doing what you've always done. But you'll carry on getting what you've got, which is unacceptable. The third option is to re-establish yourself as a key player in your school. You need to understand the direction that the head and governors want the school to take. And you would need to agree to it.

This is not a simple exercise and demands open and healthy debate with maximum participation. It may result in a level of uncertainty, ambiguity and risk that you might find difficult. However, if you were to sign up to this, you might be imbued with a new enthusiasm and readiness to participate.

You need to start believing in the significance of your role and earn your keep as key leader. Something needs to be done about the non-existent team processes and systems which are hampering progress. Convince the head that you are ready to play a big part and insist that this new team invests time in exploring how it is going to operate. Accept responsibility and that you have choices.

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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