Quick fix is first priority

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions

I've just started a new job as a deputy head. My new school has had an inspection that concluded it had serious weaknesses. The inspectors are due back soon. The staff have all worked really hard, but morale is low and they are all very tired. Any advice?

Congratulations on your appointment! It doesn't take long, does it, to move from the point of elation to that insecure place where you begin to ask yourself the questions: why did I apply for this job? and what am I going to do?

Everyone, after being appointed to a new job, initially feels like this.

The reality of what must be done and what is expected of you really brings a new appointee down to earth quickly. This especially can be the case when someone makes the move from the security of being a successful middle manager to joining a leadership team for the first time. Calling the shots is a very different game from firing somebody else's bullets. So if you are feeling like this now, then don't worry; that's exactly how you should be feeling.

One of the first pieces of advice that I would offer you is to nurture and treasure the relationship between you and your head. Reflect on the fact that you have been selected for this post and that your head would have been involved in the selection process. The two of you have a great responsibility for moving your school forward. Therefore the quality of the relationship that develops between the two of you is important both for you and for your school.

Your headteacher will have thought that you are the right person to help in leading the school out of serious weaknesses and seeing off the inspectors.

If this is to happen, your working relationship needs to be based on trust, openness, honesty and mutual respect. If it is, you will feel more able to make your own contribution and grow in self-confidence in your new role.

You need to feel like this if you are to be of any help to those others who have had a rough time recently and whose self-esteem has taken a knock.

As you are aware, your new school is in a delicate position at the moment.

Consequently you will inherit an immediate agenda that has been dictated to you: to get the school out of serious weaknesses fast.

Your head will have a fairly good idea of what the inspectors will be looking for when they return. The pleas of "changes in personnel" and "not enough time yet" will fall on deaf ears. You will need to become engaged, therefore, in quick fixes, and, for the time being, should place on hold those strategies that will ensure more sustainable, long-term improvements.

This may be frustrating at first, but answering the cry "get us out of here, we're not a school with serious weaknesses!" must be your number one priority.

It looks as though your early days at your new school are going to be taken up with supporting colleagues who have recently been through a great deal.

You will need to encourage and reassure those who are doing a good job, motivate the doubters into thinking that high standards are achievable and coach those that need immediate help to improve. This will require an animated and charismatic approach. Is this your style of leadership?

All new posts bring with them exciting and challenging possibilities, and yours is no different. Be yourself. Empower others. Draw on the strength and support of the leadership team and above all work in harmony with your head. In these ways you will be able to make a positive contribution to driving your school forwards and upwards and gain a real sense of satisfaction in your new leadership role. If you can do this there is a real possibility that the rest of the staff will feed off your energy and enthusiasm and morale will start to rise.

Pat McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. He has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27.

This is his third headship. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and has mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email susan.young@tes.co.uk

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