You must be mad to apply

Nobody wants to become a primary head but there comes a time when it's the obvious move says Gerald Haigh. When the Speaker of the House of Commons is appointed, he or she is borne to the chair symbolically struggling. Primary heads go through something similar, except that in their case the struggling is more genuine.

Very few primary teachers, it seems, except perhaps in the first flush of newly qualified youth, actually declare a desire to become heads. "What they do tend to say," according to Pam Wells, head of Stanway Fiveways Primary in Colchester, "is that they cannot imagine how anyone would want to do it. "

Fortunately, however, as Pam Wells confirmed, "People do say that they are going for deputy headships." And the move to deputy head is the crucial one for a primary teacher. The right deputy headship brings a genuine share in management and makes headship itself look less forbidding.

"When I was a deputy, I was fortunate in having a head who saw it as a partnership," said Pam Wells. "Some, though, won't delegate." The wrong deputy headship is frustrating and stifling. One of the biggest professional mistakes is to become so promotion-hungry that you first begin to exaggerate the dissatisfactions of your present job, and then go on to persuade yourself that the first opportunity to arise is just the one you are looking for. The same failing keeps dodgy second hand car dealers in business, and the same remedy applies - you have to negotiate from strength and in the knowledge that if you walk away, another opportunity will come along.

Good preparation for deputy headship, therefore, means becoming qualified and confident enough to feel comfortable about turning down unsuitable posts. Achieving this professional strength means, in the words of David Walker, primary inspector in Warwickshire, "having an awareness of your own development - what you've done and what you need to do - a bit like putting together a portfolio of experiences". Filling gaps in that notional portfolio, he pointed out, may dictate the moves you make between schools as you move up the ladder - "Looking for experience in a bigger school, for example, or in a different catchment area or another local authority."

David Walker feels, too, that it can be useful for a teacher to become known for a particular managerial or curriculum specialism - "Having a profile of some kind within the authority", is how he put it. "For instance, I always looked to be doing something with records of achievement. It was always innovative, especially in the primary sector at that time. You might say it kept my head above the parapet."

Before he became an inspector, David Walker went up the whole ladder through various teaching posts to deputy headship. Then came headships of successively larger schools. One involved a move to another authority many miles away. How did he find out about the background to a post in a distant area?

"I rang the authority and had a chat with one of the advisers. I didn't ask about the particular job, but I did discuss the way that they supported their schools in general. You do need to do a bit of homework like that."

A prospective deputy looking at a distant school also needs to find out, on the basis of a brief visit, about the level of partnership being offered by the head. David Walker says that: "Even without talking to adults, the walk around the school can give you the feel. You might say that having the skill to make that sort of assessment is one of the qualities that fits you for promotion. "

You can hone this skill on visits to schools you already know by observing how a head's philosophy is made apparent in classrooms and on the playground.

The teacher moving into and through deputy headship must beware of packing that personal career portfolio with practical skills without also developing vision and values and the ability to display them. Teachers lower down the school may be inclined to leave such things to the head. But as an aspiring primary deputy or head you need to be clear about the things you stand for, and be ready to articulate them to others.

Thus when Pam Wells was deputy in a school with a strong head, she decided to do an Advanced Diploma - "I felt I needed to do the course to help sort out my own vision."

A good starting point for the up and coming primary teacher, suggested David Walker, "Is to examine and be aware of the values you already bring to the work in your own classroom."

HOW TO CLIMB THE GREASY POLE. Prospective primary heads should: * Make career moves to increase competencies and experience * Develop a useful curricular or managerial specialism * Be ready to explain their vision for children, schools and learning.

* Write down a list of the values that determine how they run their classroom.

* Consider an ad-vanced qualification - it will help with the "vision thing".

* Ensure deputy headship gives them good management experience and an optimistic view of headship.

PRIMARY HEADTEACHERS: JOB FACT FILE Pay. Annual review by governors against agreed performance criteria.

Conditions. Set out in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document.

Job description. 21 professional duties for heads are included in STPCD. Responsible to the governors for the internal organisation, management and control of the school.

Jobs in 1995 Primary deputies 1,780 (9.8 per cent) Primary heads 1,430 (6.8 per cent) Vacancies:Local Government Management Board.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you