Young leader in the fast lane

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Liz Robinson is poised to be one of Britain's youngest headteachers, but many other women have not been so fortunate ...

When Liz Robinson graduated with a first in philosophy and declared she was going to be a primary teacher, her tutor at the London School of Economics said she would be "wasting her brain".

The comment spurred her on and in January she will become one of the youngest headteachers in the country, aged just 29.

This week, her old tutor praised his former student, who is the first headteacher to be appointed as a result of the Government's fast-track programme which began in 2000. "I think she will make a terrific head,"

said Professor John Worrall.

Miss Robinson put herself forward for the scheme, which trains young, talented teachers to move into leadership within five years.

Around 35 applied in the programme's first year. There were 23 teachers in the first intake and seven of them are now in leadership positions, including one as a local authority education adviser.

Leadership has always come naturally to Miss Robinson - she was frequently voted form captain in school and has never shied away from responsibility.

"It is pretty daunting and I am sure there are a few people who wouldn't mind seeing me fall flat on my face, but I think I will rise to the challenge," she said. Miss Robinson went into teaching as a pathway to a career as a music therapist. But as soon as she landed her first job at Paddington Green primary she was hooked.

After two years she moved to Charles Dickens primary, south London, where she joined the fast- track programme, became an assistant head the following year and deputy head this year. In January, she will take over as head of Surrey Square primary in south-east London, where she will lead a staff of around 35.

She has already told them of one change she is imposing: a ban on smoking in the staffroom.

"I am very conscious of alienating people by going in there and changing things, so before I do too much I will look and learn a lot. The one exception, though, is the staffroom where there is smoking, and that will stop. No discussion.

"I know I am young, and on the one hand I want to say to the teachers there that I want to learn from their experience but I equally don't want to put myself in the position where that can be abused. Of course there will be anxieties about any changes as the current head has been there nearly 20 years.

"I know the buck stops with me, and it will be up to me to make difficult decisions, but I do like to work with a consensus and for everyone to agree.

"Part of my role will be to protect staff from initiative after initiative.

You can't do them all well."

Miss Robinson admits managing budgets may not be her strong point but she says the fast-track programme has given her a head for business. She envisages schools becoming a focal point for the community - for both adults and youngsters.

She will continue to teach in the classroom at least half a day a week because she does not want to ask her staff to do anything she is not prepared to do.

"I am not one of those natural- born outstanding teachers, but if I had to rate myself I suppose it would be a 'very good'.

"I will have to get used to rating teachers because I'll have to do it for my staff - that is one thing I am not sure I am not looking forward to, but in all, I am very excited about starting next term," she said.

Liz Owens, Miss Robinson's headteacher at Charles Dickens, said: "A little bit of gravitas and experience helps when parents are a bit difficult. But as time goes by she will prove herself and they will accept her for the exceptional person she is."

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