How does it feel to end a long period as headteacher? After 18 years in the role, secondary headteacher Anne Clarke describes her feelings as she approaches the end of her career and considers what she will, and will not, miss

How do I view my career? It has certainly been long and varied. I have worked in seven different schools, and for six different local authorities, over a period of 31 years. My work has also led me to different regions of the country.

I began my teaching in Harrow, then moved to other London boroughs, finally crossing the north-south divide to spend the last 11 years in Leeds. I have had two headships of large secondary schools, and an executive headship of a special school, and I have been fortunate enough to have loved this work. However, I am now entering my 18th year of headship, so perhaps it is time for a change. So, how am I facing the future? What shall I miss and what shall I be happy to say goodbye to?

I believe in starting with the positives. I shall miss the people! Anyone who has worked in schools for over 30 years, and has enjoyed the company of young people, is bound to miss the students. We are very lucky at Benton Park to work with fantastic youngsters and I shall miss their banter, their company and celebrating their achievements.

I was fortunate enough in October of last year to take a group of our students on a visit to Rome and the Bay of Naples. We still teach Latin, so Italy seemed an ideal destination. The behaviour of the youngsters was exemplary and they embraced the opportunities given with open arms. It has provided me with a nice, positive memory in my final year of headship.

I shall miss the camaraderie of my teaching colleagues, especially the leadership group with whom I work so closely, and my PA, who provides me with invaluable support and ‘an ear’ in this lonely job. I am also lucky to have a supporting governing body.

One aspect of this job I have really loved is solving the endless problems that staff bring to your door every day – decisions on staffing, exclusions, curriculum matters, parental complaints, and so on. There is always a challenge ahead, and great satisfaction to be felt, when a successful decision is reached.

Not only shall I miss the company of my teaching colleagues, but also being a part of the excellent teaching and learning they provide for our youngsters. I have always spent part of my week monitoring and evaluating teaching and learning and have considered myself fortunate to be welcomed into classrooms throughout the school.

All three Ofsted inspections that we have had during my time at Benton Park have praised the teaching and learning, and commented that I know the abilities of the staff very well. This has pleased me enormously, because what happens in the classroom is the most important part of any school, and I feel privileged to be part of it. I shall miss this hugely!

Strategic development
One of the aspects of school leadership that has altered over the years is that of change. The pace of change has rapidly increased during my years in headship and, strange as it may seem, this is one of the things that I shall miss. I love developments and doing things differently. I have always believed that ‘if you stand still you go backwards’.

I have enjoyed moving the school forward and seeing it transformed over the decade I have worked here. It is exciting developing the vision, growing the team, discussing the strategic plan, consulting with the stakeholders and making the school a more dynamic and successful place for the students to be.

There have been a number of building projects to improve the accommodation and the school environment. Examination results, at both ‘A’ level and GCSE, have been the best in the school’s history for two years running. It is highly rewarding to be a part of such strategic development, especially when it bears success.

And we have collected the badges. During my 11 years at Benton Park we have gained Specialist School Status, Charter Mark, Inclusion Chartermark, Sportsmark, Beacon Status, IIP, Artsmark Gold, International School Award, Healthy Schools and been a member of a Networked Learning Community. Being an agent for change is an exciting part of the job.

Not only shall I miss the company of my teaching colleagues, but also being a part of the excellent teaching and learning they provide for our youngsters. I have always spent part of my week monitoring and evaluating teaching and learning and have considered myself fortunate to be welcomed into classrooms throughout the school.

All three Ofsteds that we have had during my time at Benton Park have praised the teaching and learning, and commented that I know the abilities of the staff very well. This has pleased me enormously, because what happens in the classroom is the most important part of any school, and I feel privileged to be part of it. I shall miss this hugely!

A life ruled by bells
So what won’t I miss? Well, I am looking forward to not having my life ruled by bells! For 31 years I, like all members of the profession, have lived my life in mini time zones, all beginning and ending with the ringing of a bell. I am looking forward to immersing myself in something, and not being made sonorously aware that a fixed period of time has just elapsed.

I am not a limelight seeker yet. When you are a head, the community has ownership of you and it is difficult to be anonymous. You can’t totally relax, even when you are pushing your trolley around a supermarket, because you might just be spotted by a pupil or a parent. I was even greeted with ‘Hello Mrs Clarke!’ at Barbados airport, so going to the other side of the world does not necessarily provide a safety net.

I had a colleague who erected her tent on a campsite in France, only to discover one of her pupils pitched next to her! I am sure that every head has a similar tale to tell. Another colleague presented the opposite viewpoint, saying they did not want to give up their senior role in a school because they were known in the community and this was important to them. In headship you do become defined by the job you do. While I have appreciated the honour of representing Benton Park, I am now looking forward to having an identity in my own right.

Interruptions and routines
I talked to a head recently who spoke of her ‘open-door’ policy, and the fact that life in school was just full of interruptions. She said that before the start of school that morning, 24 members of staff had been to see her. I know that it can be difficult to get your coat off before someone is through the door. Jean-Paul Sartre said that ‘hell is other people’. I would not go that far, but sometimes you do feel that your life is not your own. You can feel that people watch your every movement, guarding you like Cerberus at the gates of Hades.

However, an important part of the headship role for me is ‘being visible’, which includes doing a school duty at break, lunchtime and after school. At lunchtime I stand on duty in the school entrance hall, encouraging the pupils to go outside and enjoy the ‘glorious’ English weather. After school it is a walk to the school gates to see the youngsters off premises and on their way home. I do not particularly mind this aspect of the work, but, on a bitterly cold evening, as I trot up to the school gates, battling with the elements, I think to myself: ‘I won’t miss this!’

The blame culture
Sadly, nowadays we live in a litigious society where there is the desire to look for someone to blame. I am always concerned, in my position, that something might go wrong. We run fabulous, rewarding school journeys to France, Germany and Spain, but I am always worried when the pupils are away, and relieved when they return safely. Health and safety is a huge issue these days, and you know that, although you make the safety of pupils of paramount importance, something can go wrong. I will not miss the worry that comes from this high level of responsibility.

It is difficult to imagine how you feel once you retire. I face it with mixed feelings, and only time will tell how it affects me, but I do feel it is time for a change, both for me and the school. In any institution you can stay too long and I am sure that the school will appreciate someone coming in with fresh ideas. I am reminded of the ‘Sigmoid curve’ – this shows a school thriving under new leadership, then peaking and starting to dip. The trick is to bring in fresh ideas and energy just before the dip starts to show. I am hoping to leave as the curve reaches a peak and to play a role in preventing a dip from setting in.

What shall I do? I have continued with my own professional development and have engaged with projects away from the school base. I have worked on the NCSL programmes, being a tutor on LftM, NPQH, and ‘New Visions’. I have also been fortunate enough to take part in the International Headteacher Placement programme, visiting Hong Kong, Rio and Akron, Ohio. I have also written for educational journals over the years, this being my 50th article! Perhaps there will be a role for me somewhere – something to distract me from the travel brochures lying on my coffee table!

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