Talking Heads

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Kate Myers talks to Chris Cosgrave (right) Chris Cosgrave, 43, is head of St John the Divine Church of England primary, the first failing school in Lambeth, south London, to come off special measures

Did you always want to be a head?

No it was accidental. I was deputy in a Croydon school for five years, decided to apply for headships and was appointed to a Croydon school. I tend to jump and see what it's like when I get there. I stayed there for nine years and went through two inspections. I was starting to feel that I had done all I could at that school when my wife saw the advertisment for this job. There had been an acting head during the inspection and when the post was advertised the school had been deemed requiring special measures.

I came and visited and my mouth dropped open. I'm not sure why I took the job but I'm glad I did. There has been a steep learning curve for me.

How would you describe your style of headship?

It's different in this school from my last one. In my last headship I was more directive. That style was not appropriate here. When I took up the post last Easter, the staff with the help of the local education authority, particularly Chris Wright the link adviser, had already completed the action plan. They didn't need telling what to do - they needed someone to support the implementation of their action plan. I think "modelling" in relationship to the children and the curriculum is vitally important. I try to work closely with teachers to show what is possible and what our children are capable of.

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

Clarity of vision, knowing what a school could be like and being able in whatever way to communicate that.

Who most influenced you in your approach?

Keith Jones, my tutor on the PGCE course at Goldsmiths. He put the child-centred approach that I believed in, into a rigorous format. His ideas are still very clearly with me. Also Janet Miles, the attached inspector in Croydon. There was a rigorous monitoring approach in Croydon which provided a strong framework that headship needs to address whole-school issues. And the 20-day course for new heads that the LEA organised with the University of Sussex which highlighted important aspects of school development.

What's the difference between your first and second headship?

Confidence and clarity. The first time I was finding my way and just hoped that there would be safety nets. The second time I knew what to do and what to look for. I had a clearer notion of what a school could and should look like. This year has been my best year of headship.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Teaching is the thing I do best. I love seeing individual kids shine, realise what they have achieved and enjoy their success. I also get enjoyment and fulfilment from reflection on where we have come from.

What don't you enjoy?

Form filling.

What are the most difficult things you do?

Staff development when the need for change is not acknowledged.

What was different from what you expected?

The first time, how seriously people took you as soon as you became a head. You are no longer a colleague. The second time I expected it to be a bit of a nightmare and take a long time for messages to get across. But change started to happen so fast it was just a joy.

What keeps you sane?

Family, friends and a glass of wine.

Who are your heroes?

My daughters, one of whom when I was offered this job made me realise I wanted it - and Frank Worthington, England and Huddersfield footballer in the Seventies.

If you were Secretary of State for EducationI Leave things now and make sure people have the chance to respond imaginatively to the national curriculum and the resources to do so. The OFSTED model needs to develop into a far more flexible monitoring tool.

How would you like to be remembered?

By the children in this school when they are at university or in whatever role their learning has enabled them to choose for themselves and by teachers who felt they were given a context to spread their wings.

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