I doubt anything could have prepared me for what being a headteacher would really be like. Having previously been a successful businesswoman, I came to teaching late and took up my first headship after just seven years in the classroom.
Looking back, there are certainly some things that I wish I had known then that I know now.
1. Check the fine print
Before accepting a headship, ensure that you really understand the type of school that you have applied to, especially if it is part of a multi-academy trust, as each trust has its own way of working. Ask to see the schemes of delegation. These dictate which aspects of the school are within your control and which are not.
Ask how the headteachers, chief executive and trust board work together and what the overall value system is within the trust. Remember, as well as you being the right person for them, they need to be the right people for you. If you accept the post, be sure to focus your energy on areas where you have a voice. If you can’t accept not having a voice, don’t accept the post.
2. Seek help on legal matters
Once in post, managing the budget carefully is key but so is recognising when you should spend school funds. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to seek legal advice and support around any legal claims, formal complaints or subject access requests that are ongoing prior to your appointment. Recognise that you are a headteacher and not a solicitor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help where you need it.
3. Be proactive about recruitment
My school is a five-minute drive away from the outer London salary weighting in an authority experiencing substantial teacher shortages. Had I understood earlier the recruitment challenges this would pose, I would have been more proactive in finding teachers to replace leavers, instead of waiting for rounds of unanswered adverts.
However, the most important thing I have learnt is that there is really nothing as rewarding as headship. It can be a bumpy ride, so buckle up and enjoy it.
Sharon Walker is headteacher of Benyon Primary School in Thurrock, Essex