Why won't heads answer the phone?

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Recently, a headteacher colleague asked me to pass on her school phone number to my MBA tutor.JWe run an in-house masters programme for staff with Leicester University and she was interested in running a similar Jprogramme in her school. I passed on the number and email address so was surprised to find, some weeks later, that the tutor had not been able to get through: it seems her office and PA screened her calls (rather like a doctor's receptionist) and she rarely answered her emails.JHe gave up and an opportunity was lost.

Some weeks later I attended a Community Leadership Workshop at the National College for School Leadership. Most participants were from voluntary organisations funded to provide extended school services.JThe problem was that they were struggling to find heads or anyone in the school to whom they could explain what they could deliver. They felt undervalued by schools. They had a lot to offer especially to the most vulnerable students but were hindered because they could not get an initial meeting with heads to get permission for projects to go ahead.JEven when they did, they often found themselves isolated in the school with no access to senior staff.JSo if there were problems they had nobody in the school to help resolve them.JNeither was there anybody to celebrate the success of projects with other than the young people concerned.

I found it hard to defend the actions (or inactions) of my colleagues.JI left the conference feeling guilty on their behalf and frustrated by the waste of resources and energy.JAs heads, we spend a lot of time complaining about the lack of resources to meet the needs of our young people, yet here were examples from all over the country, of wasted resources.JJ I thought I would check with agencies that work with our school.JThey agreed that secondary heads are hard to get hold of.JIt seems I am one of the exceptions as I will generally talk to anybody and always answer my emails and letters.J My senior and middle leadership team have a similar attitude.JIn fact all staff at my school know how important it is to look out for opportunities and to make contact with organisations who can help us to be more effective.JThis is why we get so much support from voluntary organisations, from business and from our local authority.JWe talk to them, we go to meetings, and we listen to what is on offer. Our young people have certainly benefited.

I know for sure that if I made the call to the head mentioned above, I would have no problem getting through - because I am a head.JOrganisations such as Ofsted also have few problems even if they are only trying to get us to do a survey. The very names command respect (or fear).JA business colleague of mine who works for a subsidiary company of a national newspaper always uses the paper's name when trying to get through to schools and it generally works!J I would urge colleagues to be a little more open to organisations who can help provide extended services.JIf you or someone in the school is not willing even to talk they will take their services elsewhere.J No school is an island.JWe can't do the job alone.J There are people and organisations out there to help - all we have to do is to answer the phone!

Kenny Fredericks is head of George Greene's school in Tower Hamlets, London

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