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Those unforgettable days in education

MARSHA ELMS, head of Kendrick Girls' School, Reading "I wanted to be an actress. I never intended to go into teaching: but for working-class girls who went to university in the late 1960s, what other choices were there? So many of my friends from that era went into teaching, because it was the respectable thing to do.

My first job was at a big mixed comprehensive in Southall, west London. People are really surprised when I say my background was in a mixed comprehensive and now I'm head of a high-performing girls' grammar: they couldn't be more different in a way.

One interview I had about 20 years ago for a senior teaching post went disastrously wrong. I arrived late and I had obviously rushed out of the house: I looked down and saw I was wearing odd shoes. One was blue and one was black, one was higher than the other and one had a bow on it.

I thought, do I pretend that tis is not the case? or do I bring it to their attention? because they will be sitting there transfixed by my feet, thinking what a crazy woman. So I did bring it to their attention, and I'm afraid all credibility went out of the window. I didn't get the job.

A couple of years ago I was asked by the local authority to take over a school in special measures. My governors agreed to allow me to do it as long as I ran Kendrick at the same time.

It was just so fascinating and I think it benefited this school for me to come back and talk about how fortunate we are in so many ways. It reminded me of what the real world is all about.

By pure, wonderful coincidence it turned out that the school in special measures was the same school where the interview with the odd shoes had taken place all those years ago. I've eaten out on this story ever since."

Martin Whittaker

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