Next steps: what comes after headship?

9th February 2018 at 00:00
The skills you acquire as a headteacher are useful and desirable, so when the time comes to move on, the direction you take is up to you

It was after much agonising and many sleepless nights that I contacted my chair of governors to tell him that we should start the process of appointing my successor as headteacher of our school.

I had been in the profession for nearly 40 years, but I knew that it was time to go. This was in the summer of 2016. At the tender age of 59, I officially “retired”.

When I say retired, I mean that I took my pension. But after 26 years as a headteacher, I wasn’t going to be content with a warm fire and a cup of cocoa. I knew I wanted to do something else. The question was: what?

Too often, headteachers and teachers think they can teach but that they don’t know how to do anything else. I’d done a bit of writing, I had supported many schools and I had experience of talking to students. But was that enough?

I have never been one for attending courses, but in the 18 months leading up to my departure, I went to a “setting up a business” seminar. This helped me to recognise that I had a skillset that was useful and desirable. By the time I actually left my post, my intention was to try to set up a business.

I wrote a business plan. Then I enlisted the services of an accountant, who guided me through the paperwork.

It was much easier and cheaper to set up a business than I thought. Even opening a bank account was relatively easy. In no time at all, I had become a director of my own company.

Securing work

Next came the task of securing work. I had my first interview in more than 20 years – for a post with my local authority, touring universities to encourage teachers to work in our county. Suddenly, I had my first 40 days’ work for the year. Other jobs seemed to fall in my lap. In fact, in that first term, I could easily have worked full-time hours.

Herein lies a real issue for life after headship: how much did I want to do? What stress level was I creating for myself? For the first time, I could determine my own work-life balance. There are many opportunities waiting for you after headship. I did a lot of writing, spent time in schools supporting new teachers and setting up new teams. I was also able to sit on committees I had previously turned down because of work commitments, and did voluntary work, too.

The key is not to do too much. I now take on what I want to. I have a life that, for the first time in years, I can actually control. I’ve no idea what the next year will bring but, for an old man like me, that is exciting in itself.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades

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