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You can do it

It's not easy being a head, writes Susan MacDonald

The buck stops here - although in many cases it shouldn't. It's a trite description of a headteacher's work, but true enough to show why there are so many advertisements for such vacancies.

So forget the business-speak (must be dedicated, must enjoy responsibility) to describe the sort of person who is willing to take on the job. Instead, substitute: must be able to deal with anger. Must be supportive and able to offer solutions. Must be prepared to be dumped on from above and got at from below. Oh, and a sense of humour is vital.

That's not to say that all heads are superhuman. A head who has turned more than one school around describes going for an interview for his first headship, in north London, some years ago. He loved the place, but was less comfortable with being led to the staffroom and left there without introduction to await the interview.

He says: "I picked my way past all the teachers and sat on the only vacant chair. Everyone there eyed me up for some time, then one of them asked, 'Are you strict?' That told me everything I needed to know about the school - and my feelings were confirmed at the interview, when the incumbent head shredded every member of staff one by one. I took the job and spent seven years there."

Now he acts as a mentor to new heads and those in difficulties. "I'm working with a first-time head in his early 30s. For the first half hour I say nothing and listen to him. Angry words pour out. Then we discuss ideas that might diffuse some of his problems."

His advice to first-timers, or those coming into new jobs is, you can't do what you didn't know you had to do. So don't feel guilty when others tell you what you should have done.

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