How important is the Headteacher?

First week back, and we started with a bit of a surprise – our Head announced her intention to retire in Summer 2013.  She’s easily been the best Head I’ve worked with (and no, she doesn’t read this – I’m not sucking up!) – so my natural reaction is to be rather nervous about change.

Which lead me on to thinking how important (or otherwise) is the Head for the character of a school? Logic would perhaps say that one person shouldn’t make that huge a difference, even if it’s the one at the top – after all, on a day-to-day basis, you see your other colleagues a lot more, and when a school has a very low staff turnover, as we do, changes shouldn’t be that massive.  For the kids at the school, although they do meet the Head from time to time, it’s their teachers that probably make the most impact.

But when I look back at places I’ve worked at – actually, the man or woman at the top has often seemed to dictate the whole feel of the place.  Admittedly, my first job was an exception – the Principal there used to just hide in his office, and had little impact on anything (other than occasionally disrupting everyone by throwing a strop) – it was the Vice-Principal who made it the place it was.

However, the impact of the remainder was considerable. There was one who was charismatic, an inspired teacher and great company, but also somewhat paranoid and a slave-driver – ridiculously hard to work for, but had an incredible capacity to drive everyone (staff and pupils) to achieve way past their limits. I am very glad I worked with him – though I wouldn’t do it again – and whilst I had no life at the time, I learnt an incredible amount (and I am actually still in touch with him, although it was a bit of a love/hate relationship at the time).

Another one was a control-freak –  restrained and rigid, did everything by the book and ensured you did as well. Not exactly popular with staff – prone to sticking to the letter of the law about for whose funeral you were allowed time off, for example. Very efficient, and you couldn’t say she wasn’t fair – but it never felt like there was much humanity there. Unfortunately, in many ways the school felt the same – there were lots of lovely teachers and indeed lovely kids, but to me (and some others) it could all seem a bit impersonal and mechanistic.

And for our outgoing Head – very egalitarian and approachable, an excellent listener, ready to consider other views, opposed to undue competition and favouring the individual approach. And yes, the “feel” of the school, in being caring, flexible and open, not unduly rule-bound and encouraging everyone (staff and pupils) to develop what they’re good at and interested in, reflects that. Sure, neither the Head nor the school are perfect – we all have faults, and they are often the ones naturally associated with our virtues.  And longer-serving colleagues tell me our school was a great place to work under the previous Head too.  But I sincerely hope our Governors manage to appoint someone who will preserve the very special character of the school – they’ve got a lot to live up to, whoever they are.

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