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.
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