School's senior partner

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Elaine clarke, 43, has been headteacher for six years at Northview Primary School, Brent, north London, which has 210 pupils and a nursery.

Did you always want to be a head?

I always wanted to be a teacher, partly because my mother was one in Wales where I was brought up. I started teaching in Harlesden, and after six years moved to become language co-ordinator at a school in Cricklewood; eight years ago I moved here as deputy. When the head retired he encouraged me to go for his job. I was a bit shocked when I got it.

What is your style of headship?

I think it's important to lead by example. The way you speak to people is very important. I try to treat everyone with respect - teaching and support staff, children and parents - and hope that they do the same. I believe in consultation, though I think the head has to take the final decision. My staff say I'm willing to listen. I always encourage staff to develop themselves, professionally and personally. At the moment, two of us, out of a staff of nine, are doing higher degree courses.

How do your governors help?

The governors try to ensure that in spite of the budget restraints the school runs effectively. They appreciate the hard work and commitment of the staff. Because of their legal responsibilities I feel that it's very important to work in partnership with them and use any expertise they have to offer.

What do you value from your Local authority?

They were one of the first boroughs to emphasise equality and excellence, which sets the tone for what we can do in school. I see my link inspector at least twice a term. Last week two of the local inspectors were looking at standards and helping us set targets. It's very useful to have that external perspective from people who are knowledgeable about the school and to have someone to talk to.

What is most important in your job?

To ensure that the children receive the full range of the curriculum and to ensure the staff are able to deliver it. To influence what is being taught and how it is taught.

What do you enjoy about your job?

It is really nice when a child is sent to you because they have just started reading or grasped some new concept and you can see the smile on their face. In the summer I went to the retirement party of the head of my previous school.

I met some of my ex-pupils who are now adults, had been to university and done really well. They remembered me as a good teacher. Being a black head gives a positive role model for children, like I had with my mother.

What don't you enjoy?

The increasing paperwork and the administrative tasks. It is very difficult managing a small school with a tight budget.

What are the most difficult things you do?

The very rare occasions when I've had to talk to a teacher about something that I do not like happening in a classroom which is against the ethos of the school.

Who most influenced you in your approach?

My mother, who was the first black headteacher in Wales, in spite of being told by her own teachers that she could never be a teacher because of her colour.

What was different from what you expected?

The number of hats you have to wear, from social worker to financial whiz kid, not all of them directly to do with education. And how quickly your responsibilities change.

What would you do differently next time round?

Be more focused and more realistic. Not expect changes to happen immediately. I thought changing the school's whole approach to the teaching of mathematics would take at the most two terms; it took two years.

What keeps you sane?

My family. I have two children, one about to do her GCSEs and one just two years old. They help me detach myself from school and remember that there is a world outside it.

Who are your heroes?

Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, who have had a world-wide influence. They both made significant changes in a peaceful way and gained respect. They show that things can move on without people having to be aggressive.

If you were Secretary of State for Education . . .

I'd give children rather than league tables a high profile and ensure that all schools were adequately resourced. I think teachers now need some respite and space to get on with teaching.

How would you like to be remembered?

For giving children the opportunity to do their best and achieve in school and society.

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