Talking Heads

31st May 1996 at 01:00
Age: 43. Years of headship: 11. School: St John's C of E first school, voluntary controlled with 212 pupils and a 30-place nursery in Bradford. Its OFSTED report last year described it as "an exceptional school with many outstanding features. The headteacher leads by communicating a vision of excellence for the school."

Did you always want to be a head?

I am an Aries - a born leader - but I come from a working-class family and academic careers were not something we pursued although the fact that I did well was one of the greatest joys of my father's life. I left school at 16 and worked in a bank for two years but did not really like it. I went to speak to one of my old teachers, a nun who advised me that teaching might be what I was looking for. I did A-levels at night school and then applied for teacher training. Once I became a teacher I knew I wanted to be a head. I like being in control and managing. I am a Christian and believe I was guided to be head of this school.

How would you describe your style?

Honest. I lead from the front but my deputy says I am a devious autocrat. When people apply to work in the school I am very clear about my style of leadership. When the director of education says jump I say "how high?" I respect authority and have the same expectations of everyone else. Staff know exactly what I expect and why. I do not ask them to do anything I would not do myself. I like to make sure that the staff are with me so I gather their opinions before I make a final decision. Some of our most successful initiatives have come from discussions at staff meetings. At first as a head you are unsure about your strengths - now I know what they are and I have learned to handle them better.

What is the most important aspect of the job?

Good relationships with everyone. I spend about two hours with every new parent and a long time with job applicants making it clear what the school is about.

What do you enjoy?

At the moment I like everything.

What don't you enjoy?

Although we got an excellent report, I did not enjoy the pressure that the OFSTED inspection put us under. I could not believe how much it affected me and the staff. Once it was over I thought it was wrong and felt abused by the process even though some good things came out of it. We stood still for a year. We did not develop, we just polished things that were already excellent. During that time we did not grow as a school. We are now growing again.

What's the most difficult thing you do?

Having to upset someone. I usually try to get that over as quickly as possible. Also when young teachers think I can resolve the problems of the universe.

Who or what influenced your approach?

I modelled my style on a head I worked for called Tony Cryer. He was very clear about what he expected and then let you get on with it. I learned how to do things from him and how not to from lots of other people.

What was different from what you expected?

Everything. There was no one to ask what to do or to turn to when I had a problem. Everyone expected me to be in control all the time. It is having to manage everyone else and no one to manage you but yourself.

What would you do differently?

Probably nothing. I would jump in with both feet and just have a go.

What keeps you sane?

My husband who is the nicest person in the world and does not expect me to have the answers to everything.

Who are your heroes?

My mum. She and my father brought us all up including my disabled brother in very difficult circumstances.

If you were Secretary of State for education I Put money into bringing buildings up to standard. A lot of headteachers' and governors' time is taken up with things that have little to do with education.

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