Talking Heads

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Susan Scarsbrook

YEARS OF HEADSHIP: 14 SCHOOL: Sudbourne Primary A mixed nurseryinfantjunior named last week by HM chief inspector as "an excellent primary school" providing good quality education and a positive ethos while efficiently managing resources Location: Brixton

Did you always want to be a headhow did you get to be one?

No, I never even though about it. I started my teaching in Lambeth and after 4 years my head suggested I apply for the deputy headship at what was then Sudbourne Junior. The inspector thought I was too young and if it had not been for the calibre of the head Wally Waight who decided to take a risk, he would probably have been right. In 1976 the infants and juniors amalgamated and I got the deputy headship of the new school and then in 1981 when Wally retired, I realised I had to start applying for headships. On the advice of inspectors I did apply for others but this one interviewed first.

How would you describe your style of headship?

I like being part of a team and I'm a good starter, full of enthusiasm, but not so good at finishing, which is where the team is so important. I've got much better at listening and I'll talk to anyone who will listen. I'm a mixture I can be autocratic but I would not demand anything that the rest would not back.

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

Knowing your school and being willing to let people know where you stand and what you believe in. Talking to children and being open.

What do you enjoy about your job?

On good days its the variety but sometimes it's the variety that knocks you. At the beginning I liked the delegated budget, it gave us freedom to make decisions and push the school on but it is not so pleasant now we are being cut.

What don't you enjoy about your job?

More and more committees and having to organise things like tenders for building works.

What's the most difficult thing you have to do?

Dealing with a teacher who is not performing adequately. Fortunately it has been a rare occurrence. And working with children when you are not supported by the parents.

Who or what most influenced you in your approach to management?

Wally Waight, the previous head. He let me walk the tightrope while he held the safety net. When I became head he continued to come into school to see me and I found that really useful. I used him as a sort of father confessor. Also a lot of teachers who have worked here - I've learnt from them in different ways. We have a range of approaches here but what they all have in common is quality. I've picked up skills from them.

What differed from your expectations?

Being bombarded by a few parents who wanted particular things to happen and thought because I was new it would be easy to persuade me. I was very daunted initially though they probably did not realise it. At first I also found it difficult to cope with the fact that there was no one after me I was in charge.

What would you do differently next time?

Be braver, which comes with confidence. I would talk more openly with parents and be less defensive and in the early days there were some teachers I should have moved forward, on, or out they have all gone now.

What keeps you sane?

Talking to my staff, my home and the local community. I have a 21-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. They help me to keep things in perspective.

Who are your heroes?

My father he was quite special.

If you were Secretary of State for education . . .

I would probably resign. I could not oversee school funding which has become such a political issue. How can it be right that schools in the most deprived areas are not funded to the appropriate level?

What would you like be remembered for?

Running a good school. I cannot think of anything I'd rather do.

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