But will they miss me when I'm gone?

6th January 2006 at 00:00
At my recent performance management review my governors suggested that I take a short sabbatical in order to complete my MBA dissertation. Finishing this has been one of my targets for many years, but I have never been able to find the time. Governors have suggested time out for a number of years but the time never seemed right. There was always something urgent such as an inspection around the corner.

However, when it was suggested this time, I agreed to take the plunge. If I don't do it now, I will never do it. I have been a head for 10 years now, and this seems a very sensible way of allowing me time to do something for myself and to do some looking. My governors are forward-thinking and very perceptive. This is their way of ensuring I have a work-life balance - for 12 weeks at least.

This will be my second chance to take advantage of time out. I was fortunate early in my career to be given a year's secondment. I had been teaching for nine years in the same school and was plodding on but getting nowhere. I had no ambition and little confidence to apply for promotion in that or any other school. I was stuck in a rut and never saw myself as leadership material. But my headteacher saw I had potential, and put me forward for secondment. I applied to London university's institute of education and completed my diploma alongside an amazing group of teachers who had come together from a range of schools across London.

It was their influence that had the most profound effect on me. We debated daily, and it was these individuals who challenged my thinking, took me out of my comfort zone and made me rethink my values and principles. This experience changed my outlook and my professional life. I came away a very different person.

In my year out, I realised I could not go back to my old school. I had outgrown it. I applied for a job as a head of year in a school in the same borough and nobody was more surprised than I was to be offered the job. It proved an excellent move and led me on the path to headship.

Teaching is a tough job. It takes all your energy and commitment and allows little time for career planning. This is probably why headships are so hard to fill. Secondments are expensive but if the outcome is as positive as it was for me, we might be able to secure the future leadership of our schools. What if my school carries on as normal in my absence? What if they move forward even more quickly without my leadership? What if they don't even notice I'm gone? I have an excellent deputy and senior leadership team who are more than capable of running the school, but I can't help but feel apprehensive. Letting go is not easy for someone who is used to being in control. This is one reason I agreed to time out. I know the experience will make me an even better head, and my school will benefit in the long run.

A good leader is one who distributes leadership and develops a climate and ethos that will continue even when they are not there to drive it. I have always believed no one person should hold all the knowledge and no organisation should depend on one person at any level. Now is the time to test the success of this practice.

However, the problem remains. How do I let go? How do I stop myself from interfering? What is more, I wonder whether I will be able to get down to studying and higher-level thinking. Or will I sit and watch daytime television all day? On the first day of term, instead of making my way to school at 6.54am I will be sitting down planning my research.

I have left all my contact details - just in case I am needed.

Kenny Frederick is head of George Green's school in Tower Hamlets, east London

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