Sabbaticals could be the perk heads need

31st March 2006 at 01:00
It's nearly over. My sabbatical, that is, and I will be back at my desk on April 19. I can't wait. Don't get me wrong, I have really enjoyed my time out of school but the truth is I miss the place and the people in it.

Therefore, I am proud of the fact that I did manage to keep away and only kept minimal contact by email and phone. I surprised myself by my restraint.

My deputy took to headship like a duck to water, and she and my excellent leadership team ran the school perfectly well without me. Distributed leadership really does work but I can't help feeling a little put out by their self-sufficiency.

I suppose it's only natural - we all need to be needed. I wonder how we will adjust once I return to school, and think about what we might do differently.

During my term out I have visited eight schools, spoken at five conferences, participated in another six, attended four meetings and spent a day at the General Teaching Council. Added to that, I made one appearance on TV, wrote three articles for The TES and read a newspaper every single day. I also read nine novels, had two dinner parties and occasionally "played out" on a school night.

So, how did I manage to get my research done, I hear you ask? With great difficulty is the answer. I read countless academic books and papers and have written more than 15,000 words. Now all I have to do is string them together so that they say what I want them to say and make them sound like me.

My tutor warned me early on that writing an article for The TES is not the same as writing a dissertation. He says I can't just say what I think; I have to back it up by finding examples of others who think the same way.

This is very difficult for an opinionated headteacher who is always right.

But I am sure it is good discipline for me. I can't promise to change my ways and back up everything I say with references to other authors, but I hope I might be a little more measured in my responses in future. But don't hold your breath.

I thought I would share some of the lessons learned while I have been away from my desk. First, it is clear to me that I can never retire - I love my job too much and I need people around me.

Second, following a dinner party discussion, my guests agreed that my obsession with work and education is similar to being addicted to alcohol or drugs. Therefore, I want to own up: "My name is Kenny and I am a workaholic!"

And third, the reason I do not go to the gym regularly is not because I do not have the time, it's simply because I cannot be bothered.

I also realised a truth universally known - once a Catholic always a Catholic, at least as far as guilt goes. This has meant that I have not taken the opportunity of writing my study on a sun-kissed beach in the West Indies. Quite the opposite. I worked through weekends and holidays because I must finish my task.

Despite the hard work, the stress levels are not the same as being at school. I am told I look years younger, but the truth is, I thrive on stress. It may not be healthy, but it's me. I am at my most creative and innovative when under pressure.

I recommend a sabbatical for all heads (and all teachers) who have been in post for 10 years. My sabbatical has allowed me to reflect, to think, to read and to gain a different perspective on life and work.

I know I will go back re-energised and even more enthusiastic than ever before. My school will benefit as a result. My deputy and leadership team have been given the opportunity to lead the school in my absence. I always knew what they were capable of and the experience will help them on their journey towards headship.

I therefore urge school governors to consider adding a sabbatical entitlement into every head- teacher's contract. It might help to encourage more colleagues to take up the role.

Kenny Frederick is head of George Green's school in Tower Hamlets, east London. She used her sabbatical to work on her MBA dissertation

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