It’s not often that I agree with Vic Goddard, but being a Headteacher really is the best job in the world.
At the start of this academic year I decided I needed a break. I had worked in schools for nearly twenty-five years and yet I never would have described myself as a career teacher. Of course, on reflection, it now seems as if I was on a fairly linear trajectory: teacher, teacher with small responsibility, second in department, advanced skills teacher, head of department, assistant headteacher, deputy headteacher, vice principal and into headship. The longest break I’d had since qualifying was four months of maternity leave.
No, I’d never wanted to be a headteacher, probably for the same reasons that many of you now are thinking: I don’t want to be a headteacher. Responsibility. Accountability. Stress. Budget issues. Staffing issues. Decisions that change futures.
But at the same time I knew that as a headteacher I would have more influence over the experiences of young people, I could make things better for children as well as the staff that work with them. And, after all, each successive role had never seemed significantly harder than the one before it. Also I listened to people that said please become a headteacher.
So I did.
Being a headteacher is as wonderful, inspirational and as magical as being Professor Dumbledore. It is also as stressful, ridiculous and bureaucratic as being Brian Stimpson from Clockwise. Along the way you swing from feeling like Maya Angelou to the Demon Headmaster. It is exhausting but also exhilarating. I never felt isolated – luckily having senior colleagues in school that were supportive plus good friends outside of school, especially the rest of the Headteachers’ Roundtable.
Regardless, I reached a point where I just needed to stop. I needed to come up for air and have a look around. Clearly at nearly fifty my planned career as a punk icon was looking unlikely. So I have invested heavily in #HTRT and #WomenEd; I am a trustee for a special school multi academy trust and I chair the education task group for Bristol Women’s Commission.
I’ve been writing quite a bit – but enough to know I simply don’t have the willpower to do it every day for long periods of time. I mean, there are 171 episodes of The Vampire Diaries for a start.
So I have missed working in schools, not just volunteering around the periphery but getting stuck in – and this was a choice fuelled by missing children, missing teachers and the other brilliant adults that work with children every day. I missed being in a school and I really missed getting stuff done. I knew that I wanted to return, and I will be returning soon.
But does it matter who leads our schools?
I think so. We need you. We need the very best school leaders in these challenging times – for the children and also for the staff. We need leaders of integrity, who will stand up for their communities; value-driven, inclusive, driven to raise standards but not at any cost. If we’re going to make our schools places for all to thrive, we need leaders that want to make that happen.
SLT-bashing can feel common place and that may put you off, especially at a time when it seems as if DfE, Ofsted and the unions have unwittingly colluded to lay the blame for every educational ill at the feet of headteachers. It’s tiresome, especially when the vast majority of heads I know are the complete opposite of this. It shouldn’t be this way – but it is one of those things you grow to accept and shrug off, like rocks thrown at ambulances. No, it’s not OK but it shouldn’t deter you from your wider purpose. We hardly do this for the glory.
I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside the Headteachers’ Roundtable on issues that really matter to me. Every former and serving member of the table is utterly brilliant and it is more than common for some of us to suffer imposter syndrome. We are an essential support team for one another, in a way that local heads’ associations should be if there was less competition. We challenge one another, hold one another to account and work to make things better for all children everywhere. Importantly, it reminds me that I am not alone, we are not alone, and it really is the best job in the world.
Keziah Featherstone is a member of the core group of HTRT, a founder member of #WomenEd and is the head designate of Q3 Academy Tipton.