They don't want to know me anymore

10th December 2004 at 00:00
It is lonely at the top. I have found it increasingly so as one of the deputy heads in a large comprehensive. The good friendships I had as a middle manager in my last school have not been possible in the past two years in senior management of a new one.

Three particular things make senior management different. First, you have more non-contact time than other staff, who largely do "back-to-back" teaching. This means your day has a different routine and daily cycle.

For example, at lunchtime and immediately after school I go into action, dealing with many pupils, sometimes in stressful situations. But these are often times when my teaching-bound colleagues are grabbing a well-earned communal rest and a chat.

Second, there is the intimacy that comes of close team working. Middle managers and ordinary teachers work alongside their colleagues in departments.

These teaching teams share the same type of highs and lows in the classroom. They can bitch about how useless and distant senior management is and have some honest discourse on the short-comings of school policy.

For the senior management it is rather different. Its members are expected to hold their tongue on decisions for the sake of cabinet loyalty, even when they think they are misguided. It is probably human nature that senior team members occasionally compete for the patronage and good favour of the head. This can inhibit the development of real friendship.

But the most serious problem of all is this: if you thought I could cast my friendship net wider than my immediate small group of senior colleagues, think again. If you manage to sit down at break time with the rest of the staff, people just do not talk to you like they used to.

The price of being in the controlling hierarchy is to expect conversations to stop when you come into earshot. When sitting down, it is all too easy to be drawn into a "work-only" conversation. You can find yourself being lobbied about this or that school issue or, worse still, you find yourself initiating a networking session.

It is no surprise to find that such conversations do not break through the work roles and cannot get personal enough to help you relax with staff and make friends.

My only further thought, as I sit here in my office, slightly starved for conversation that isn't instrumental, is that if it feels "cut off" to be a deputy, just imagine how much worse a head feels.

Susan Potts works as a senior manager in an inner-city school. Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble.

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