Vote for vocation, vision, values

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Patrick McDermott Answers your leadership questions

One of our deputy heads has just been appointed to their first headship and we must begin the process of replacing them. We are a voluntary-aided school with a religious character. What advice would you give us?

It is always a worrying time when a key person leaves the school community.

People become unsettled and anxious about many things. Will the new person fit in? Will they be a team person? How long will they stay? Can we still keep driving forward on our agenda?

These anxieties apply to all schools, not just voluntary-aided ones.

However an extra anxiety for VA schools is the preservation and development of their quality and distinctive nature. This depends, in no small way, on the faith, practice and commitment of the teachers in these schools, working with their governing bodies. Therefore appointments to VA schools have an added anxiety. What distinctive characteristics should your new deputy possess?

Let's get the legal bit clear and out of the way first. Governors of voluntary-aided schools are the teachers' employers. They should give clear guidelines about the religious character of education and life in their school. Therefore your governors have a critical role to play in the new appointment. So ask yourself, how aware are the governors of these responsibilities?

It might be useful for you all to study again the articles of governance and the trust deed for your school, as these will contain details of what is distinctive about your school. A shared understanding of this will assist you in drawing up the specification for your new deputy head.

The number one priority is to find a deputy headteacher who combines the personal conviction and practice of the religious character of your school with the required professional qualifications and experience. What does this look like in reality?

The person you are looking for should embody the religious character of your school. He or she must be committed - both professionally and especially personally - to its vision, values, and purpose. This commitment does not just get switched on when they enter the school and switched off on the way home; it is not merely voluntary, but also vocational. But even this is not enough.

This person must also be able to articulate the vision, values and purpose of your school and do so with an infectious enthusiasm - so much so that they are able to fill others with inspiration, hope and energy and thus make the religious character of your school a lived and experienced reality for all.

This person needs to be able to "walk the talk" as well. It is no use appointing someone who merely talks a good game. They have to be able to give witness in their behaviours to the values they profess to share with your school. Authenticity in action is the requirement here.

The religious character of your school is also the result of the wishes of the parents and the local religious community. This has a further implication for the new appointee. They are not the only person responsible for the distinctive education provided at your school. They are one partner in this, working with parents and the local faith community.

There is an added strength here for your school but there is accountability too. You need someone who is comfortable working with committed and not so committed parents and who is sensitive to the needs and interests of the local faith community.

At present, schools with a religious character like yours are being challenged to justify their existence and to state how they can be distinctive and inclusive in today's society. Your new appointee should not only be aware of this debate but should be able to articulate clearly where they stand on this matter.

You are about to make a critical appointment. Hold out for what you stand for as a VA school with a religious character. Compromise on qualities is not an option for you.

Good luck!

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years.Do you have a leadership question? Email

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