I have thought before now about writing a weekly account of life as a headteacher. I don’t imagine anybody else will be interested and have no wish to force that. My words are ‘Long Reads’ and who has time for those nowadays? Nevertheless, I would like to hear for myself how the rhythms of a school year syncopate from a head’s perspective. A voice of guilt telling me that “Once term time begins its relentless pace there will be no time for this nonsense”, has stopped me trying previously. But with Covid hopefully past its peak and with so many great colleagues working with me, I am determined to make the time this year. At least let’s see how long my resolution lasts.
Monday 12th September 2022
First thing Monday is first lesson of the year with my Year 8 English class. We are going to be drafting a response to our Summer Reading Challenge, but before we get to English work watch a video of ‘Austin’s Butterfly’. I ask Year 8 to think about why I have shown this video at the start of our year together, and what key lessons we can take away from it. They tell me:
- Giving one another feedback to make our work better
- Making the feedback very specific
This is great to hear. I promise the class that I will be reminding them of Austin’s Butterfly throughout the year because we are all going to be helping one another to be better learners.
The Bank Holiday for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II requires decisions to be communicated about closing the school but keeping our boarding houses open. I have worked in a boarding house at two schools myself and I know that the simple sum of one extra day doesn’t really add up to how long and tiring this weekend will be for our dedicated boarding team. We discuss asking for volunteers from the broader staff body to support the team and getting gifts for those who work extra hours.
The rest of the day is admin and line management meetings until I join the leadership team of our prep school, Cadogan House, for their after-school meeting. They would like to join the anti-bullying alliance, and the team use the meeting to audit the extent to which our pupils are currently supported to be actively involved in anti-bullying initiatives. It is the actively involved that is key here. Whenever you look closely and honestly at an area, you tend to realise that there is always more work to be done. It is a good, honest discussion.
Tuesday 13th September 2022
Year 8 English periods 1 and 2 again. I know a little more about each of them by the end of this second lesson. Knowing where the students are, as young people as well as learners, is a key aspect of teaching this age group. I am excited about being the sole teacher of a class for the first time in too many years.
For some years as a headteacher, I have shared an English class, which was fine. One year I taught one short poetry unit with every class in Year 8, which was great. I even taught one double period a week of Sociology with a couple of Year 12 classes once. But the responsibility of having your own English class for the whole year is a larger one. It’s solely on me to help and develop these pupils. Some of my class have already shared that they are not confident in English, or do not enjoy reading. No matter what term throws my way, I need to ensure that these students get the time and support that they deserve from me as their English teacher.
We have a wonderful DFO (Director of Finance and Operations) who has been with us since Easter. Sometimes she and I get to think about strategic matters such as a five-year business plan. But most days it is trying to resolve more mundane but important operational matters. Today these include the new process for bursary support; the pressing need to mark the floor correctly on our temporary hall for important Drill rehearsals, (a truly unique RMS tradition); purchasing lockers that don’t leak outdoors; how we might keep a great member of our team that a competitor school has tried to poach; resolving start-of-term accommodation issues for staff who live on site; and checking the degree to which the coach service is working as we wish after a 10% increase in pupils using the service.
After school, we have our latest Parent Information Evening. This is the fourth of five PIEs that we hold in the first fortnight of term, letting parents across the Prep, Senior School, and Sixth Form meet their daughter’s tutor/class teacher (which is the most important bit) and hear some key information. Some of these PIEs have been deemed “insanely impressive” by parents, but a couple of others I myself have been slightly less happy with and we’ll want to rethink ahead of next year. Every opportunity that we get to bring our parents into school and enjoy it is key. We want parents driving home feeling that we are delivering on the promise we set out when they and their daughter chose RMS.
Wednesday 14th September 2022
All of our new Year 7 pupils depart for three days on the Isle of Wight this morning. I wish them well and wave them off, hopeful that these Induction Days will help every new Year 7 pupil make more connections, yet also conscious that some Year 7 pupils in all schools will currently feel that every pupil but they have already made “best friends for life”.
HR departments have increased in size and importance in all schools since I started teaching, and rightly so. As ridiculous as it might sound to those working in other sectors, twenty years ago ‘HR’ in schools was often literally nothing more than the Head’s PA sending out offers of employment. I can remember having dinner with a group of teachers in my first independent school twenty years ago and hearing complaints about too much money being spent “on these HR and Marketing departments”. I have heard versions of this same conversation repeated in each of the three independent schools I have worked in since then. Independent schools are both schools and businesses, and most need to work very hard to attract pupils and support great staff.
My meeting with our Head of HR covers a range of matters including current contracts, new posts, ways we can work to continue to diversify the staff body, colleagues who are on probation, how we might best show appreciation of the boarding team that will work the bank holiday, moving to an electronic system for Leave requests/staff absence, and an applicant tracking system to allow ‘blind’ tracking of applicants that will help to reduce unconscious bias
Highlights among my conversations with pupils today are a break time discussion with a pupil I had asked to see and who tells me about her love of drama and dance outside school, but who hasn’t got involved in our productions yet, and a conversation with a group of Year 10 students at lunch where I’m told by one that two and a half hours of homework an evening constitutes child abuse! None of this is true, not the 150 minutes of homework each night or the child abuse, but the conversation is light-hearted in tone yet touches on the challenges of being fourteen years old in important ways for me to hear. Many a true word is said in jest.
There is a new sub-committee after school, which is promising. It covers Marketing, Admission, and Development so will doubtless displease those colleagues I heard complaining twenty years ago. All schools need to tell the right stories as well as possible to their community, and I hope that this sub-committee will help our team to do that.
Thursday 15th September 2022
The day begins with me finishing marking the final few pieces of work from my Year 8 group before I teach them. It brings back memories of how tough it is keeping up with marking as a full-time teacher, and I remember carrying books home of an evening and then carrying them all in again unmarked, or waking up in the middle of the night to finish a set before school.
The second English department that I was in learned how useful acronyms and abbreviations were in marking English: Sp, NAS, etc. The third English department I was in learned to be of most use to pupils by focusing on specific areas in our marking and by having pupils often write shorter pieces of higher quality. The periods of time when I was on top of marking as a full-time English teacher were when I applied all of the above and also finally realised that I needed to mark a class per day if each class were to have their work marked once each week, and so the very best use I could make of any non-teaching time in school was to mark. Marking is relentless as an English teacher, but I am nonetheless unconvinced by the argument put forward by some bloggers in recent years that marking pupils’ work is not necessary. It is for the pupils. A topic for a post in the future perhaps. For now, I enjoy having received and marked a piece of writing from each pupil in my class.
The highlight of the day is the opening night of our Art Exhibition of students’ work from Years 11 and 13. It was simply wonderful. Superb students and incredible teachers and technicians. There are stories behind every one of these pieces. I will share a few images to say so much more than my words could do.
Friday 16th September 2022
Today is a “Great Escape” day for all pupils in our Senior School and our Sixth Form. We first ran this last year, as soon as everywhere opened up and Covid regulations allowed us to break bubbles and get year groups on days out having fun together. This year I feel that it is less justifiable on educational grounds but the Senior and Sixth Form leadership teams wanted to give it one more go for team-building in the year groups so we have pupils on ‘Scavenger Hunts’ around London, visiting the Natural History Museum in Oxford, out abseiling, and even having fun together in a theme park.
Once all pupils are safely off on their trips, I have meetings with Support teams about site matters, a visit to a local school, and then a BBQ with parents of children in our Nursery. All pupils return safely and seemingly all very happy. They have had a day outside the classroom and can see a long weekend ahead of them. I am on the Friday night “Duty Phone” and untypically receive a couple of evening calls, but nothing major.
Saturday 17th / Sunday 18th September 2022
The weekend is a welcome chance to catch up and to pause. For obvious good reasons, we have postponed our school Open Day from Sunday 18 September to Sunday 2 October, and so I have one work duty taking my turn out front of the school on Sunday morning just in case any prospective parents turn up unwittingly for the postponed Open Day. Only one does. I apologise for the inconvenience and take their details. Secretly I am pleased that only one out of a few hundred families turning up suggests that the Marketing team has communicated well.