W/b 27 March 2023

Monday 27 March 2023

After the intensity of the penultimate week of term, the final week mostly settles down.  A few dramas, but not as many as a final week of term sometimes brings to a school.  At this stage of the year, all schools are recruiting teachers, and I observe lessons by Biology and Chemistry teachers today.  We need one extra Science teacher because the subject is growing, and one because a great teacher is moving on to a promotion and we are very pleased for her. 

When teachers apply to RMS for a job, I leave the interviewing to the Head of Dept and Academic Deputy but I do want to see them in the classroom.  The excitement when you know you are witnessing a ‘proper teacher’ is thrilling, and the gulf between that experience and that of seeing somebody who isn’t a natural teacher trying to teach – it’s worlds apart.  The latter can honestly be almost painful or upsetting; it sounds ridiculous, but I find it hard to watch.  If a teacher isn’t good enough for our pupils, I won’t appoint – you’re just creating further problems down the line.  Today we appoint a fantastic Chemistry teacher, but we decide to advertise again in seeking a great new Biology teacher.

In contrast with all of that, the DSL, another colleague and I meet to consider discontinuing the employment of a colleague.  This is never a decision you reach easily, and we have pondered this over the weekend to ensure that nothing was rushed in the white heat of last week when concerns reached a head.  Inevitably, I won’t share details.  It’s interesting because the ‘truth’ that you know as headteacher when somebody moves on is often quite different to the narrative that you are aware is out there among colleagues or other members of the community but of course you must keep quiet because it would be wrong to share private details.  We talk it through thoroughly and over the course of an hour seem to all move to the conclusion that the position must come to an end.  However, I ask us to sleep on this possible outcome in case any of us have second thoughts.  Ultimately, ending somebody’s employment is a decision only I can reach, but I am hugely appreciative of my two colleagues for talking this through, and for taking the time with me to consider the issues from a range of angles; sounding boards and touchstones are part of how I like to weigh up the important decisions.

The length of time (measured in days) shows this one is not a straightforward decision to reach.  I wish this colleague well in their future, but there have been errors and concerns across more than one term, with opportunities for learning not always taken; there are risks to them continuing at RMS.  If you work in a school, in any role, you are going to have to be more professional than you ever previously understood was meant by the term.  By Tuesday morning I am satisfied it is the right decision, that given their actions over time, it was not right for them to remain at RMS.

Tuesday 28 March 2023

I teach Year 8, I cover Year 11.  I love it.  I watch a Sixth Form lesson taught by a colleague.  All of this is the wonderful side of the job.

Separate to direct interaction with pupils and students, I meet with Emma, the DFO, and there’s a long list of items for us to talk through, from benefit in kind, accommodation decision-making criteria, a JD for an Operations Manager, childcare support for staff, the fees letter to parents that will go out, an external let that we need to ensure we are safeguarding appropriately, boarding rotas, communication with the Charity Commission, etc.  Emma is really good.  She gets things done.  There are many brilliant female colleagues at RMS who ‘get things done’ and I/we would be lost without them.

Later I meet with Rachel, the Head of Senior School, for our regular meeting.  Rachel is another who fits the above description.  Rachel has a particularly tough job.  Firstly, because it is a very broad job, overseeing years 7-11, over 500 pupils, and their parents and staff – a mix of high-stakes, high-visibility work, while also overseeing so very much that happens behind the scenes.  Our meeting today covers a parent, a couple of staffing contexts, and a series of pupils.  But beyond the breadth and import of the role, Rachel’s job is also tough because she must fulfil it within the confines of my role as overall Head of RMS, and the frustrations or challenges of my quite particular character and personality – I don’t know how my wife or closest colleagues put up with me at times!  I sometimes worry that to Rachel it may on occasion feel as if I am hard on her, pushing her to address the strategy, wishing the operational side to be perfect (which of course it can’t always be), and conscious as I inevitably am of things that are less than a Platonic ideal.  Equally, I know that I wouldn’t have appointed Rachel to the role if I didn’t believe her able to meet its demands and able to keep growing in the role as she continues to gain experience and to learn.  But I am very conscious that the Head of Senior School truly is an insatiably demanding role, and I am also conscious that I always want more and that I can be more demanding of those I most respect.  As I say, there are so very many brilliant female colleagues at RMS, and I/we would be lost without them.

Wednesday 29 March 2023

Following the difficult decision that we talked through on Monday and finalised Tuesday, today I must give a colleague the news that we are ending their employment.  These are conversations I have had before, across three schools now, and so in that respect it is a role I know I can play.  The toughest part is reaching the right decision; once reached, I know I can lead that meeting, and the aspect of the meeting I try to put more time into is my consciousness of the impact on the other person.  When somebody’s employment is ending, you always try to share this information as humanely as possible.  I was once made redundant myself, before I became a teacher, and I remember the strength of emotions I felt that day and in those that followed.  It’s not actually the end of the world or your career, and that perspective is important, but it will never be one of the better days of your life.  I would like to think I have some empathy in these situations, and that we give bad news as well as is possible.

I then must inform the immediate colleagues, who will also be upset, and who will be experiencing a heady mix of emotions.  I meet them with a colleague.  We manage the meeting well, I feel.  No sooner are those colleagues out the door than I must quickly change into tracky bottoms and a t-shirt and then make upbeat small talk with pupils as I quickly head down to our sports hall for a staff versus Year 11 pupils charity netball match.  As ever for me as Head, it’s the sharp contrasts in the roles you must play that keep the job stimulating, and it’s the interactions with the students that reinvigorate you if ever you have had a tough experience during the day.  The netball match is lots of fun.  Of course, we are thrashed by the mighty Year 11 team, one of the strongest teams we have had at RMS in recent years, and even my pantomime villain attempts to stretch the laws of the game don’t do us any good.  But the game is well attended by pupils, who enjoy seeing their teachers in a different context, and probably enjoy seeing teachers losing to the mighty Year 11.  Perhaps most importantly, in my mind at least, no pupil gets hurt by an over-competitive 49-year-old headteacher who is more than a few stone heavier than any of the opposition.

In the evening, we have a Prefect Treasure Hunt organised by Mrs Freeman, the Head of our Sixth Form.  It is one of the ways that Clare has of rewarding our Pupil Leadership Team of 2022-23 for their hard work in helping to run the school.  This Treasure Hunt is new, an innovation of Clare’s, and it involves cryptic clues, knowledge of the school, dashes around our grounds, and videos from teachers pretending to have been kidnapped. It is wonderful.  Once again, I acquire a reputation for being over-competitive and attempting to stretch the laws of this game, and once again I convince myself it is merely a pantomime villain role that I am playing up to and I am not actually so ridiculously competitive in a fun contest with a group of wonderful teenagers. 

If I add Clare to the list of brilliant female colleagues at RMS who I would be lost without then it might seem as if I am forcing things, but it’s the simple truth.  On occasion in the past, when there has been a lack of generosity of spirit around a tired phase of a term, Clare has sometimes received bad press for her direct manner that might appear to lack a little in softer skills and nuance.  In my view, these readings of Clare are wrong, perhaps on occasion wilfully so.  Clare gives everything for her students and for her colleagues, thinking of them constantly, supporting them all tirelessly behind the scenes in an ‘unseen’ way for which she could never receive due credit.  As this term reaches its close, and as every term reaches its endpoint, Clare is undoubtedly one of the colleagues in a challenging role of leading a school, whose dedication and brilliance ensures that RMS remains a very special place.   

Thursday 30 March 2023

There is an early morning meeting with a great Cadogan House family before a pair of observations for a Maths teacher role as the great Mr Broome is retiring from teaching at the end of this year. We are not convinced by one applicant, but we do wish to appoint another. However, sadly she decides to remain at the school where he has been completing her PGCE and so politely declines our offer. Our hunt for great teachers will continue into next term, but we will get there.

I meet with a pupil who is better than she believes herself to be, to tell her how impressed we are with her recently, in-between a pair of meetings with our Director of Admissions, Emma, who is fast making a great impression on each of the teams around her.  There are line management meetings, some feedback from a survey we have given our pupils to hear their thoughts on their individual music lessons, and then the day (and almost the term) ends with an early evening Staff Association Quiz.  For once, I am not over-competitive or pushing the bounds of what is acceptable, as time has told me that I am a pretty hopeless quizzer. 

I enjoy the company of my colleagues, some food, fun, and silliness.  While this blog-thing is about the daily life of a headteacher, I know all too well the relentless demands of a busy term on every dedicated teacher and support colleague in schools across the country.  It is nice to enjoy a social event together at the end of term, with support staff and teachers sat in teams together.  It is also very good of my colleagues in our staff association to consistently organise, host, and put on such events for us all – the more of this sort of thing, the better.  Term time is a relentless brute; we all have earned the rest.

Friday 31 March 2023

A non-uniform, House Day to end the term for students in Senior School and Sixth Form.  There is an international theme, and my colleague will ensure the students enjoy good, competitive House fun through the day.  The race to fit everything in before colleagues enjoy their Easter break means I have meetings throughout much of the day.

These range from early morning accommodation meetings; ensuring the neurodiversity parent group can meet in school;, an update from the Assistant Head (Academic) on our ECT teachers’ progress; a meeting about the timetable for PE across our Nursery, Prep, Senior and Sixth Firm, and how we can best make that work; the second meeting of the week with a member of our boarding community; a sensitive phone call with a parent; and a more formal meeting with a colleague regarding competency and their progress in this area.  I leave a message for a headteacher at a local school, to get back to their request of me, phone the Maths applicant who enthuses about RMS but nonetheless turns us down, and then head out to the cinema early evening to begin some downtime with my family at the start of our Easter break. 

In reality, I do a little work each day on Monday to Wednesday of the following week, then put the ‘Out of Office’ on for a week to switch off and visit my parents, before coming back to work the end of the second week of Easter in order to tee things up for Trinity Term and write an Inset session for our first day back as a staff body.

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