School swap is twice the fun

6th August 2004 at 01:00
Switching places with a fellow deputy head is not as scary as it sounds, say two survivors. Helen Ward reports

Adrian Bradbury has taught in schools across the world but admits that the prospect of taking on a post just three miles away really frightened him.

His mission was to spend a year on a job swap with Jeremy Kingston, another deputy head.

The pair have survived inspections, building projects, stroppy children and suspicious parents and think the swap was a fantastic experience. And each believes he had the best side of the deal.

Their schools, St Marychurch Church of England primary and Sherwell Valley primary, are almost neighbours in Torquay. But St Marychurch is a 350-pupil school serving a broad community, and Sherwell Valley has 520 children, mostly from affluent families.

Mr Kingston joined Sherwell Valley as a new teacher in 1989 and has been its deputy for five years. He dreamed up the job swap after being knocked back from headships because he had only worked in one school.

Mr Bradbury, who has taught in schools across Europe and the Middle East and has been deputy at St Marychurch since 1999, admits his reason was slightly different.

"I'd had a few glasses of wine at the Christmas party," he said. "My head asked if I fancied doing a swap with Jeremy. I thought it was a great idea.

The next morning I woke up and was scared out of my skin."

But having agreed, he realised the swap would help him practise skills he had been taught about on the National Professional Qualification for Headship course, but had no chance to use while teaching four days a week.

The legalities of what would happen if one of them got a new job, became seriously ill or died were sorted out between the deputies and their heads - and that was the easy part. Next Mr Kingston had to meet Year 6.

He said: "The children were very difficult. They looked at me as if to say, 'Who is this bloke coming in and telling me what to do?' They were far more streetwise than the children at Sherwell Valley. I would say, 'Right children, get your books out, write the date, the title, underline it', but the idea was totally alien to them.

"A couple of parents came in during the first week. One said: 'My son doesn't like you very much. He said you were this really old bloke who was very strict.' " Mr Kingston is 37.

Mr Kingston said: "I came from a school where every child automatically writes the date, title, underlines the title, misses a line and starts writing.

"I did question whether my expectations were unrealistic, but by Christmas the children had started to come round."

Meanwhile, at Sherwell Valley, Mr Bradbury was grappling with managing building improvements, not to mention learning the names of 25 teachers, 25 learning support assistants and 25 other staff.

He said: "I've been able to introduce a comprehensive system of performance management and support for the learning support assistants. Introducing such an initiative on such a large scale meant individual review meetings for all the assistants, exchange visits arranged inside school and to other schools, and half-termly meetings.

"It has not only been a great experience for me, but the feedback I've had from the learning support assistants here has been fantastic."

Both deputies found that returning to their own schools was an emotional experience.

Mr Bradbury said: "It will also be frustrating not to be able to carry forward some of the experiences I've had. But I am looking forward to going back to St Marychurch. I do enjoy the church side of school."

Mr Kingston said: "I was showered with presents when I left. I've got enough alcohol to open a brewery."

And he has another interview for a headship.


"It was so emotional when I left St Marychurch - it has a fantastic staff and it's been a real pleasure to work there. I really enjoyed it."

Jeremy Kingston

"It's been tough, but a great experience. It would be a good thing for other people to try. The trick is finding the right school to swap with."

Adrian Bradbury


Both deputy heads are employed by Torbay council, and knew each other. This made the swap easier.

But what were the potential problems and how were they sorted out?

These were the guidelines the schools agreed to follow:

* Salaries: each school continued to pay its own deputy according to their own pay scale.

* Illness during the year: the new school would find a temporary replacement.

* What happened if one of the deputies left during the year? His school would cover costs incurred by the new school in funding management points needed for an acting deputy.

* What happened if one of the heads left during the year? If this happened at the beginning of the year, the governing body could revert to the school's own deputy.

Further into the swap, it was thought it may be better to keep the exchange until the end of the year.

* And what if you change your mind and want to go home? Tough!

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