Talkings Heads

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Peter Munro, AGE:48, YEARS OF HEADSHIP: 15. SCHOOL: Greenvale School for children with severe learning difficulties in Lewisham, south London How did you become a head?

Largely by accident. I started off in the borough treasury department, didn't like that and did my teacher training. I taught in a primary school for five terms - the concept of being a head was not even in my imagination. I went into the health service but became remotivated about education through being involved with mentally handicapped young people in the youth service. I took up a term's contract at a ESN(S) school in the early 70s, and became acting deputy after two terms. I moved on to a SLD school and became acting then permanent deputy there. In 1980, I came here.

How would you describe your style?

I like to know what's going on but don't have to be involved in everything. We delegate to teachers the most important aspect of education, that is children's learning, so I believe most other things can be delegated too. I tend to say "yes" to things unless I can think of a good reason not to.

What is the most important aspect of your job?

The curriculum. A good head creates the environment to allow other people to do their job to the best of their ability. He or she is also an important role model. For example, how I relate to students is how I expect staff to relate to students.

What do you enjoy?

Teaching, being with students and being in school. I enjoy the external bits too like working with outside agencies.

What don't you enjoy?

Some of the uncertainty and the rate of change. There is not enough time to do things in depth. I find staff selection very hard, probably because I'm aware how important it is.

What most influenced your approach?

Betty Godfrey who was head of Maze Hill SLD school. She was well ahead of her time. In particular, she taught me that even though you were a head, it was all right to admit that you didn't know everything. You don't have to be omnipotent. I went on a course led by Wilf Brennan, the ILEA inspector for ESN, every Tuesday for a year. He made me think on a more theoretical level.

What was different from what you expected?

The most shocking thing when I first came here was that people expected me to know things. There were then 112 children aged between two and 19 and I didn't know anyone. I had no mentor, no induction. I look back and wonder how I survived.

What would you do differently next time round?

Spend at least the first term getting to know people and the classrooms before I did anything.

What do you do to keep yourself sane?

Play music. Three Lewisham heads, known as "Hedz Will Roll" get together once a fortnight on Fridays after school to play - it's wonderful therapy. Also heads in the borough are a very supportive group and we just ring each other up when necessary. I've recently acted as a mentor for a new head and I found that experience very useful for myself. We all need it - not just new heads.

If you were Secretary of State for educationI I'd listen to people. I don't believe that education is just about getting a skilled work force, we need to develop social justice and encourage people to have more regard for each other. We need to get away from the philosophy of blame and support good innovations.

Future plans No idea. I like being in school although I am interested in music and IT and would love to have time to be innovative and develop this for our children. I'd really like to be an inventor.

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