What I've learned

25th July 2003 at 01:00
Headteacher Joe Dunn reveals how life can be tough at the top

Before I led my own school, I'd done more than a year as acting head, which helped me prepare myself physically and mentally for the change. The main issue for me was missing teaching. I loved the deputy head's role because I could teach, I was involved in a year team and I could plan.

The job is extremely lonely because the buck stops with you. That's a weighty responsibility. And the role is unpredictable from hour to hour. Is that parent striding across the yard coming over to give you a bollocking or to thank you?

A deputy head is often seen as the honest broker. You try to keep the head going, but also try to keep the staff happy and sorted. Headship is different in that you have to make difficult decisions. At the tail end of my deputy headship, we had to start a rigorous setting regime and partial streaming to get through our second inspection. The previous head left a few months after our first one and I had to formulate the action plan and implement it. I knew we were going to have to narrow the curriculum, and we did. But some of those decisions were against my natural instincts.

To any deputy who's harbouring thoughts of headship, be sure you know what you're letting yourself in for. I was fortunate - I had a good introduction. If there is no opportunity in your school to spend time as an acting head, go to the head or the local adviser and ask for a term's secondment as acting head. You will then find out if you want to do the job.

Too many people come into headship too early. If you're a head and you suddenly realise, "My God, I don't like this"', and you've got 15 years to go, you've got a problem.

Joe Dunn is head of Southey Green junior school, Sheffield. Interview by Martin Whittaker

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