Rosemary's challenge

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Rosemary McDonald, 50, has been head of St Aidan's High School, a 1,300-pupil Roman Catholic mixed comprehensive in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, for 11 years

Did you always want to be a head?

No. When I started teaching I had no role models, as female headteachers in mixed secondaries did not exist. Opportunities came along and I became a head when I was 38, which was considered very young for here. With local government reorganisation, I was offered a post of deputy director but I decided not to take it up because I think the challenge is in schools.

How would you describe your style?

I attempt to be consultative and involve a wide range of staff. I have a "hands-on" style and like to have detailed knowledge of what is going on. I hope I have a positive impact by being a female head and not being frightened to show concern or emotion. I want to promote a culture of being supportive to each other. I think it is impor-tant to allow people to make mistakes. I try not to hide behind the role and be frightened of interactions with people on a personal level.

What do you enjoy?

No two days are the same. I enjoy seeing developments that staff work on through to fruition. There are very few jobs that give you the opportunity to see the direct impact of your work. It is a unique situation, having a managing role and contact with young people.

What don't you enjoy?

Lack of time which stops you achieving all you want to. Not being able to keep young, eager, good teachers because of staffing constraints.

Who most influenced you?

A range of colleagues I've worked with over the years, some of whom I watched and thought if I were responsible I would do it that way - and the reverse.

What are the most difficult things you do?

Selecting for posts when there is more than one good candidate. Having to take decisions for the greater good of the school that will disappoint some of your colleagues without demotivating them.

If you were Secretary of State for Scotland...

Fight for resources. Promote the positive achievements in education rather than emphasising the negative and promote positive attitudes towards teaching and the teaching profession.

What is the most important aspect of a head's job?

To provide opportunities for staff to make an effective contribution to the running of the school and curriculum development. I believe in empowering other staff - for their own personal development but most importantly because it is the way to get things done effectively. Heads are not the sole font of wisdom. An effective school has a team approach.

What was different from what you expected?

Understanding that change cannot happen overnight. The constraints that heads work under and the various audiences that have to be addressed and whose interests need to be managed. You cannot go on a training course for that, the skill has to evolve and develop - to be honed on the job. Although I have been a head for 11 years, I'm still learning. When I stop is the day to pack it up.

What would you do differently next time round?

Pace myself a bit better. Learn not to be frustrated that you cannot do everything at once.

What keeps you sane?

Holidays and travel. Also keeping my personal and professional lives separate so I am not a headteacher with my friends and family. An ability to laugh at some of the situations - you can get too serious in this job.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Being part of the development of a school that is seen as striving very hard for all young people at all levels of ability. Creating a culture of achievement.

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