W/b 27 February 2023

Monday 27 February 2023

I am hounded the moment I enter the classroom. My Year 8 were victorious in a ‘Beat the Teacher’ Sherlock Holmes challenge last week, and they are now wholly expectant of promised chocolate. Children don’t forget such things, however this morning I have. I will pay my debt but I first need to ensure that I’m complying with allergies, laws, and new school rules around food. Year 8’s disappointment quickly subsides as today they are filming a group task at various outside locations around RMS. Most pupils enjoy filming and editing, and the class respond really well to this challenge – they are all great pupils.

Before lunch, I find a colleague with a challenging family context, just to hear how it is going and to check in with them. Words are pretty limited for any of the really important moments in life, and I can only imagine what the colleague is going through, but it’s important that I hear from them, try to better understand what they’re experiencing, and offer the School’s support and my own to remind them that we’re here to help as needed.

In the Dining Hall, I sit with a couple of Year 11 pupils to check the levels of GCSE stress they are each experiencing – different, but mostly managed sensibly. I learn as much about how their friendship developed when they were both boarders, and it’s a lovely story to hear. Students in all schools mostly provide great support to one another, and there is a great deal of care and kindness throughout our community.

Tuesday 28 February 2023

First up today is a pre-school meeting with Desmond, a colleague who oversees overseas Trips (among many other things), to hear some of his challenges. It is revealing to hear more about the difficulties he has been experiencing post-Covid. One large school travel firm has let us down three times in recent months, most notably when a Vietnam trip had to be cancelled with only a couple of months’ notice because the operator had not booked the flights as contractually promised. Currently, there is a travel firm who says they can accommodate the previously agreed booking if we accept one small adjustment of the students sharing beds! How they can begin to think this might be acceptable is beyond me. Desmond’s understanding in part is that during the Lockdowns good staff left these organisations, and the same quantity or quality of experienced staff are not back yet, with all the subsequent consequences. In addition, there is a determination from the travel specialists to recover income previously lost due to Covid, and so all travel costs are greatly increasing, from a short coach trip down the road to long haul destinations. This makes every trip more expensive for parents.

Tuesday and Wednesday are two days of Pupil Leadership interviews in which I play a part alongside the Sixth Form leadership team in selecting our two Head Pupils and their Deputies who will lead our Pupil Leadership team over the coming twelve months. These are always especially rewarding days because the young adults here are exceptional and I will get to hear more about them, from them, of their views on our school, and about how we could improve our school (more on this below).

Over lunch, I meet with two governors and my predecessor as Head to select the recipient of a 100% Bursary award. Decisions are reached, but the truth is that it’s ethically complex to make decisions around transformative bursaries for a number of reasons:

  • There are more great pupils than there are bursary awards.
  • How do you choose one great 10 to 11-year-old pupil over another?
  • How do you ensure that the family’s financial context is as stated?  Our bursaries are for families who could not otherwise afford an independent school education.
  • What about the pupils who we have shown our wonderful school to, who have thrown themselves into the process, but who don’t win the award? Is it right to show them “What you could have won” as it were?

The final meeting of the day considers staffing with Sophia, our Academic Deputy. These are always complex decisions to reach too, and this is a follow-up meeting to a longer one with the Heads of School present – it takes time to get this right. As at most schools, our staffing costs are 70% of total costs at RMS. So there is only 30% of our income to cover everything else: rent, utilities, food, resources, investment in our facilities, etc. Every year at every school there are a number of departments that feel we could benefit pupils by employing an extra colleague, and some of these cases have legitimacy. But of course, we cannot simply add to the wage bill in this regard. One added complication at RMS (which we accept and work with, but that is nevertheless always a significant context) is that we pay more rent than most schools (over a million pounds a year for our beautiful grounds) and so everything else must be managed very carefully indeed. Our teacher-pupil ratio is lower than most independent schools (this is part of what our parents pay for), and we also wish to ensure that next year we are able to give all RMS staff a suitable pay increase that they deserve and that I feel is due to them.

Sophia and I talk through each of the departments, considering where investment could have the greatest impact on our students, where it could be delayed, and where there is no negotiation because a new staff member is simply required to cover the teaching. It’s a really tricky set of cost/benefit conversations, and we know that some departments will be disappointed. I am often reminded of Rafa Benitez’s short blanket metaphor, which is applicable to school spending as much as it is to football tactics: “If you cover your head, you have your feet cold, but if you cover your feet, you have your head cold.’ We can’t cover everywhere simultaneously – that’s not an option in any school I have known, and any sense that all independent schools are loaded isn’t based on the reality of life for the overwhelming majority of independent schools.

The Sixth Form, UCAS, and Careers Team give a superb evening talk to our parents on “Current State of the University and Careers Landscape”. It is a fluid landscape, fast-changing, and as always I am left with no small degree of admiration and appreciation for colleagues’ expertise in this area.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

It’s another day of Pupil Leadership Team interviews with Year 12 students. These interviews are joyous and really useful, as always. We hear what the students love about RMS, including lots of feedback on what we get right and the many opportunities here. “I feel comfortable and can be myself at school” was one of many really lovely lines we heard from incredible students.

We also ask Year 12, “If you could improve one thing about RMS what would it be?” And it is these answers that interest me most so what follows below are mostly answers to this question. Not all of these points are possible, or some may have a very particular context, but I share them with relevant colleagues noting that “at the very least we need to read, listen, and think about it all. They make very many really good points, and they know more than us from a pupil-centred point of view, which is what we’re about. Please think about this carefully, discuss it with your teams as appropriate, and decide which bits we can action and/or get onto SDP.” Here is just a sample of the suggestions from our wonderful Year 12 of ways we can further improve RMS…

Careers – “We still need more pathways for different careers and to broaden parents’ minds beyond university as the best next step”.

Charities – “Expand the Charities’ Committee to involve students across all year groups in the school”.

Current Affairs – “Little things go a long way – the form tutor playing the news prompts debate and understanding”.

DEI – While it was said by many to be an area in which we are greatly improving, there was a pupil who requested “more subject-specific diversity within the curriculum” and they are right.

Links with boys’ schools – “More interaction with boys’ schools, across all years”

Prize Days – “It always ends in upset: some win lots, others win none. I know that you bear this in mind, but make the winners win fewer prizes. Have more high-profile rewards over more than this one day”.

Ruspini (our Nursery) – “You should make more links between the Ruspini children and pupils in Years 7-9 because that would help the Years 7-9 see and contribute beyond their world, and connect to the larger school more.” They gave an e.g. of “Talented Y7-9 pupils having a short session with Ruspini to show off their skills as a ballerina, footballer, or gymnast” and then to answer Qs or do a little work with the nursery children.

Tutoring – “Have Years 10-11 in vertical forms like in Sixth Form.  This would reduce the intensity of these years and help with GCSEs”.

Vaping – “More and stronger education about its dangers”

Year 9 – “It’s a transitional time in many respects.  Pupils’ maturity is in very different places.  So, the school needs to integrate more across year groups, particularly to help Year 9.”

Well-Being – “Have more outdoor activities other than sports for students at lunchtime”.

One clear point that came across from the interviews was how much these students looked up to our Pupil Leadership teams when they were younger. Younger adolescents are heavily influenced by older adolescents (we know this from research), and the more schools can utilise this, the better for all students.

The day ends with Year 8 Parents’ Evening, and I am back to being an English teacher for a great set of pupils for most of the evening. A parent of a boarder catches me late on to thank us for “Phone free Wednesdays” in Harris House. All of our parents have appreciated the merits of Ms. Scullion’s fab initiative. The pupils are getting there too – it’s great for their well-being and the number of board games played and increased noise in the Common Room on Wednesdays is a testament to its success.

Thursday 2 March 2023

Ahead of the retirement of an incredible colleague, Mrs Brown, the next two days are focused on the first round of interviews for two new deputy heads for our prep school. Today it’s for the Pastoral and Operations Deputy role, a post for which we had received a lot of applicants, however I’m not going to go into detail here because sadly, and for a variety of different reasons, we didn’t feel that we had the right candidate for our school from the candidates in today and so chose to readvertise. The fit has to be right from all points of view.

The day ends with a wonderful evening’s music at our Chamber Concert. The pupils are extremely talented. Our Music Department across our Prep, Senior and Sixth Form is truly exceptional at present, with three very special individuals in Mrs. Bentham, Mr. Werner, and Ms. McNally-Mayne. Of course I enjoy the evening greatly, but I cannot help but think of Yeats’ line, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. Inevitably, some day in the future this glorious triumvirate will break up as somebody moves on. All good things must pass. However, until that day comes I can end evenings by greatly enjoying Chamber Concerts and marvelling at what they have built here for our musicians at RMS.

Friday 3 March 2023

The first round of Academic Deputy interviews for our Prep School progress very well today, and we invite three great candidates back for the second round next week. I am excited by them all.

I phone a series of parents whose daughters will receive 100% bursaries at RMS from September. The independent sector should offer more transformative 100% bursaries and is doing so every year. Given our history, RMS should offer more transformative bursaries, and we have increased the number of pupils in receipt of these for each of the last four years, with numbers increasing by seven more pupils each year from September 2023. This is a very good thing. I know from past experience that these conversations, with families who simply could not begin to afford an independent education, will stay with me over the coming years as I see their daughters enrich our school and benefit from their time here as they grow and develop into individuals ready to shape their future and the future of society. It is more ethically complex than one might imagine to award transformative bursaries, and it does inevitably lead to some disappointment (as do Pupil Leadership selections and job interviews for Prep School deputies), but we absolutely must keep doing it and increasingly so each year.

Coincidentally, the week ends with a call with Richard from The Royal National Children’s Springboard Foundation, a social mobility charity focused on harnessing the power of educational opportunities at independent schools to benefit young people who need them the most. The advantages of an independent education should not be the exclusive preserve of those born into privilege. And the increasing number of schools working with Springboard agree with this sentiment. Richard wants to see if we can make it work for another Springboard student to join us at RMS, and after hearing about her context I agree that we’ll work together to try to make this happen.

W/b 20 February 2023

Monday 20 February 2023

Everything that my dad taught me was through analogies to football. I’m not exaggerating. That was his default method for raising three sons, occasionally complemented by a little co-curricular study of chess, cards, crosswords, and the gee-gees. It turns out, looking back, that there’s not a lot you can’t cover through study of and comparison with an aspect of the beautiful game. Ethics, morality, geography, history, mathematics, and global economics, obvs. Management and leadership, psychology, communication, subcultures, cultural homogenisation, geometry, and spatial awareness, natch. A short course on puns and profanity, politics and sociology, mental health, feminism, rhetoric, wit, and wisdom. Football can teach you the key points of all those topics in full. While the analogies became increasingly complex, my dad did a half-decent job of it because to this day I can remember his lessons for each of the above. And I can’t say the same about Mr Berne’s equally excellent GCSE Maths class.

Just like football, everything in a school is contingent; very little is true in itself.  Great tactical brains such as Jonathan Wilson can’t give you a simple explanation for Graham Potter’s struggles at Chelsea, and no (head)teacher can offer you a simple explanation for a school’s successes, stresses, culture, or figurative temperature at any point in time.  The schools that I have known have each possessed a quite different dynamic that was in part due to an inexplicable interplay of factors such as size of site, size of pupil roll, the school’s history, its finances, calendar management, Common Room demographics, staff culture, SLT culture, teacher engagement with research, relationships with the parent body, the geographical distance that a department is located from the centre of school, pupils’ experiences if they raise concerns, etc etc and so on.  These things, and many more, may each appear to be unrelated and even some insignificant but they are not: everything in a school is contingent and dependent on one another.

Anyway, it appears that I digress. Forgive me.

The second half of Hilary Term starts straightforward enough. (This, in itself, is enough to put a headteacher on edge, knowing that the challenges all remain craftily hidden so far). Monday for me included an appraisal with an exceptional professional, Vicky. She doesn’t truly realise how great she is and is yet to fully appreciate the difference that she could make as an advocate for Early Years’ education in our sector and region. My job in part is to help her to trust herself enough to see that there are many opportunities to make a real difference.

Lunch was lovely insofar as I joined a pair of Upper Sixth students and heard about half-term travels in India and trips to Oxford as motivation for a possible deferred university application. Envy isn’t the right word; it’s just always really nice to hear from young adults at a time when their independence is growing and, simultaneously, the possibilities for everything that their life could be are increasing. “I think about my future a lot”, one Sixth Former said to me recently. It’s an extremely precious, fertile, and quite delicate moment in a young person’s life, and one that we as adult teachers are extremely fortunate to be around.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

It’s almost certainly the single most rewarding thing in the world to know that your class of pupils are making great progress. My Year 8s have now moved on to considering whole-text questions for Hound of the Baskervilles such as the representation of female characters in the novel. They’re largely getting it too, and their “missing chapters” of the novel are a superb pastiche of Conan Doyle, (said their proud teacher).

I make myself late for a meeting with the landlords because I sit in Common Room during break to chat with and thank two colleagues who gave up five days of their half-term break to take our students to Valencia. Being only one week long, it’s probably not the best half-term for a trip so I am especially appreciative of their work. I mention my meeting with the landlords to these colleagues and I am asked how long before our Great Hall can reopen. It’s a fair question.

The meeting with our landlords, the MCF, is just a regular catch-up about the work being completed and the work not yet completed on our school buildings. On the positive side of things, millions of pounds are being spent on the site, and this is greatly appreciated. One consequence of this work is that our Great Hall is closed while repairs are being made to the roof. It’s taking too long, and I must stay patient while good reasons for this delay are given to me.

If I ever appear patient to anybody, I am probably doing a half-decent job of acting. Time has told me that I am not a patient man by nature; this is a fault of mine. I am “working towards” rather than “exceeding” any targets in the subject of Patience. In this instance of our Great Hall roof, I am the person who most often has to front up all the legitimate questions from pupils, staff, parents about the length of time regarding work undertaken on the Great Hall, and so I do quite well to perform the role of ‘Patience’ in our meeting.

Wednesday 22 February 2023

It is a week of lunches with prospective parents of students with offers for a place in Year 7. In many respects, these conversations are simply lovely – I begin to get to know children and families who we will work with over the next seven years. Next week I will be interviewing truly exceptional Year 12 pupils for our Pupil Leadership Team who I can remember as ten-year-olds visiting RMS for the first time with their parents six years ago. These meetings stay with me. They are important conversations too, because of greater import than my professional responsibility to recruit great pupils for RMS there is the moral responsibility to help ensure each student finds the right fit of school for her. Finding the right of school for your child is much more important the school’s reputation, how much you think it will impress your friends, or its ranking in a spurious league table.

We have a new Director of Admissions and Marketing joining us next week, Emma, and I have a further conversation with her this afternoon. We are planning two days of “speed dating” with international agents in March, at the British Boarding Schools’ Network – a highly regarded source of contacts, knowledge, and support in the sector. Pupils join us aged 2-18 at RMS, with multiple entry points, in both the day and boarding markets, and with flexi-, weekly, and full boarding on offer, so it is a complex job and a hugely important team that Emma will be leading for us.

Thursday 23 February 2023

December to February in schools is a time for preparing the budgets for the next academic year, and we are having a series of meetings wishing to get this right. In theory, the three pots of income for independent schools are those from investments, from lettings, and from parents’ fees. In reality, for all but the wealthiest 1% of schools, it is the latter pot that brings in almost all income. The largest costs for a school are staff salaries, every time, rightly and understandably. In a time of rising food and fuel costs, and a cost of living crisis, it’s a year that we need to get the balance between fees and salaries just right. In truth, both of these need to increase at RMS.

Midway through the day I upset somebody with what I had hoped was carefully expressed honesty. This is never what any of us wish for, however very occasionally you do have to call things out. I’m not sure it says good things about me, but sometimes I enjoy meetings that have a necessary and functional tension to them. It’s not something you wish to do often, but on rare occasions it is required in a situation.

There is a late afternoon Pastoral sub-committee with our governors. I do not doubt our Board are aware of the challenges facing children and young adults, and of the great work undertaken by dedicated adults who care for them in our boarding and school community. Pastoral work (which is the responsibility of everybody) is the most important work in schools. This sub-committee meeting is followed by an early evening Estates sub-committee meeting – how lucky am I today? Our governors are good though; I do not doubt they are aware of the challenges facing a large 100-year-old school site when we pay more than peer schools in rent every year.

I am very lucky with what the day’s end brings: our inaugural Cadogan House Rock Concert contains primary pupils rocking out to their covers of The White Stripes. What’s not to love about this? A fab end to my day.

Friday 24 February 2023

An early morning meeting with a great colleague and then one with an incredible pupil gets the day off to a great start. Lara in Year 12 is progressing in The Jeffrey Ahn, Jr. Fellowship, a US based competition that seeks to empower young artists to realise extraordinary independent projects. Lara is one of very many special RMS students, and visual arts are an area of great strength at RMS. I love hearing about Lara’s next work, which, like her last piece, intelligently addresses themes of memory and loss.

The day brings meetings with our DEI leads, and with a 100% bursary student, which cumulatively remind me that we are moving in the right direction as a school. Then there is a call with CAMHS about the well-being of a student, more budget discussions, and a series of meetings with Heads of School. Our four fantastic Heads of School at RMS are dedicated and talented colleagues – they work selflessly for what is best for their pupils and our school. To be idiomatic and mix metaphors, while they are not at the coalface anymore, they are certainly in the firing line insofar as they are each subject to criticism because of the responsibility of their position. It’s a job that requires broad shoulders, and I have a great team here.

Regardless of how demanding or tough any day in our school is, over the last year I am conscious and appreciative of two things:

  • We are no longer running a school in a Covid context and with all the restrictions and complications that involved.  Oh, what a bloomin’ joy it is to no longer have to do that!
  • I am so very fortunate to have a great team of Senior Leaders around me.  Great colleagues, working extremely hard, who are in it for the right reasons, and who are each growing in experience every day, week, month, year.  Our pupils, parents, staff, and I are all lucky to have them with us.

W/b 6 February 2023

Monday 6th February

I could begin my weekly posts misquoting Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short Blog, so I wrote a long one instead”. Apologies. My pieces are never finished, only abandoned. Apologies. Pieces and posts like the end of term in schools, with too much unfinished and more that has not been drafted and crafted with the time it deserves.

Three things I know about headship that this diary has already confirmed:

  • the intensity of term time – it is a relentless brute
  • while there is never enough time, sometimes the art of a head’s life is in learning when to slow down and take more time over an issue 
  • if you were tasked with building education from scratch, you would neither start nor end the school year here, with terms as we have inherited them now.

I tell myself that I will make this week’s post a little shorter (Ha!), as time for this half-term is fast running out.

This week we are appointing a new second in department for English. It is a hugely important role for a major department. We are fortunate to have an extremely hardworking and dedicated HoD. But she needs a 2i/c who takes on almost as much leadership of the department as she does, who is also an exceptional teacher, and who in addition can provide a fresh perspective on how we do things. Yes, you’re right, that is a very tough ask. But it’s also a great role for somebody to take up.

My role in this interview process is watching the candidates in the classroom with the students. Always. Teaching is the most important part of any interview for a teacher. It’s the bit I’m most interested in seeing. Any fool can perform a good interview. Teach a great lesson and establish a relationship with students who you’ve never met before while two adults sit in to watch you – now you’re impressing me.

When I watch any interview lesson, I want to be excited, inspired, left feeling that “I really must do better in my own teaching”, because I’m witnessing something truly amazing here and our pupils are going to love learning from this incredible human. Today, in truth, I’m a little underwhelmed by some of the lessons I observe. Which is disappointing because we had a strong field on paper.

I do appreciate that interview lessons are never easy. They are artificial: you don’t know the students; you’re nervous; it’s a standalone lesson. And all of that I will happily take into account when I’m watching an interview lesson. But I need you to engage and stretch the pupils more than some of the lectures I sat in on today; too much teacher talk is not the way to impress me.

Underwhelmed and disappointed as I sometimes was, you only need to appoint one great person for any post.  And by Tuesday evening and the end of a two-day process, we think we may have found that person.  Fingers crossed for Team English. 

Aside from watching four lessons, the highlight of my day was ninety minutes of expert advice from Suzanne Rowse at BBSN on changes in the boarding market. This was a lecture I happily attended.

Tuesday 7th February

I remind myself that I will make this week’s post a little shorter (Ha!), as time for this half-term is fast running out. 

By this stage of half-term, I pretty much always see some colleagues get over involved emotionally. Good colleagues, great colleagues, senior colleagues. When teachers and leaders invest so much into their jobs, some find it hard not to take things personally. They have given the last six weeks their all, they are exhausted, and we can lose balance and perspective over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things when we’re simply shattered. The box of tissues in my office doesn’t lie, and it was empty before the end of this week.

One Head I worked with once told me, “The final fortnight of each half-term is a time to hold the ground you have taken, and not to open battles on any new fronts.”  Poor choice of a military metaphor aside, he had a point. If you were tasked with building education from scratch, you would neither start nor end the school year here, with the intensity of terms as we have inherited them now.

Wednesday 8th February

On Tuesday evening, the Board at RMS heard an interview presentation from a colleague who was appointed our new Chair. Early Wednesday morning begins with a final fortnightly call with the outgoing Chair, a retired Head who stepped up to serve the school in an hour of need. I have always valued the support, advice, and challenge I have received from our governors, and have received particularly valued support from each of the Chairs of Governors I have worked with. Once a fortnight, I inform them of all of the serious and important stuff that I can’t share with many others. It’s more coaching than therapy that you receive on these calls, but there can also be something cathartic in unburdening the issues of a school community to a Chair.

In the remainder of the day, I have lovely meetings with incredibly dedicated students who have worked hard to receive offers from Cambridge, with wonderful former parents who wish to donate money to students requiring pastoral support, and with a great group of new Gap students at RMS. That plus the usual business with Heads of School and our Director of Sport.

I finish my marking in the evening, which always feels good, but I am by now fully aware that I will not get to finish all that I would like completed by Friday. This is fine in some respects as in part that is what the coming half-term is for – catching up on a bit of work and catching up on a bit of family time and rest. I will happily take that from next week.

Thursday 9th February

A great colleague chatting about her career comes to Open Door first thing – this type of conversation is a privilege of my job. Then I watch a lesson, teach a class, attend an accommodation committee meeting, and have an afternoon of line management meetings before getting along to Year 13 Parents’ Evening. One parent of a student who has had a tough time takes me into the Head of Sixth Form’s office to tell me in front of her just how incredible she is. He is right, and I do already know how lucky I am to have her in the team, but it is nonetheless really lovely to see Clare hear me hear this.

Friday 10th February

It is House Day in Cadogan House. This is a day that our Prep School pupils absolutely love. They dress up in House colours as characters from films such as Minions or Totoro, and they bring in art, perform poems, dances, and songs, and have as much fun as a school day allows. My afternoon watching their sketches, acts and songs is a delight, an RMS Royal Variety Show performed by 4-11 year olds.

The day ends with a late after-school meeting with a parent for the second Friday in succession. Behind the scenes, my PA has made both of these meetings a success. The support that a headteacher receives from a PA is in many ways more important than that received from the Chair of Governors. No headteacher’s job could be successful without the daily, unfailing, confidential support and counsel of a great PA. I walk home to my real family thankful for the support of all of the key players in my work ‘family’, but in particular once again knowing how lucky I am to be able to rely on the absolute discretion and great judgement of my PA. She deserves a week off from me.

W/b 30 January 2023

Monday 30th January

The hours of a working week in term time, in themselves, don’t begin to cover all that a teacher or headteacher needs to do and does.  I’m not complaining about this.  Personally, I enjoy the intensity and focus required during the weeks of term time.  For me, this year, Sundays are important days that allow me to prepare myself for and to tee up the week ahead.  I don’t expect this of others, of course.  Doing or thinking about work might be the last thing a colleague needs on a Sunday, and that’s fine.  I trust the adults that I work with each to manage their hours, their downtime, their marking, checking of emails, etc as best suits them at that stage or moment in their life. 

How you manage term time changes from person to person, and over the course of a working life.  I know teachers who arrive very early each morning, teachers that work (possibly too) late in evenings after children are in bed, and my younger brother does most of his planning and prep for the next week on a Saturday before the football begins.  Each to their own. There will be weeks in each term when a teacher/Head has gone beyond their healthy boundaries for that week and needs a weekend to switch off, in which case they should.  It’s hugely important to check-in with yourself and see if you need time to rest, time outdoors, space to play, or just catch up with chores and hopefully sleep.   

Very occasionally (and I do mean that), before I was a Headteacher, I have worked alongside colleagues who tried to manage on the barest minimum of absolutely necessary work of an evening, at weekends, and outside of term time, i.e. tried not to be working outside the working day at all, wherever possible.  From what I’ve seen, that’s when a teacher ends up in trouble, metaphorically speaking.  Perhaps they have already fallen out of love with the job, temporarily at least.  Those colleagues I worked with in that context weren’t enjoying the best experiences with their students and weren’t enjoying their teaching.  I don’t know how you could do the job that way.  The regular hours of a working week in term time don’t begin to cover all that a dedicated teacher/headteacher does and needs to do, but how you manage those extra hours is entirely up to you. 

Some of the cliches about teaching are true.  It is an incredibly rewarding profession, working with children and young adults, and can be a true vocation.  But it is very demanding.

Sundays are important to me this year because alongside using some of the hours on Sundays to get plans and actions for the coming week lined up, I also use Sundays to prepare for my Year 8 lessons.  I need to know that the marking, planning, prepping of resources for the students is done because, as the last couple of weeks have shown, there are times when things unexpectedly drop into a Head’s week that are simultaneously both serious and important enough to mean that all the intentions and scenario planning that has taken place have to be placed to one side, delegated, rearranged or postponed, because other things now need to happen.  In those weeks, adaptability and experience trumps planning.  Every time.  But my Year 8s still deserve to be taught decent lessons, and so Sundays are important for them too.

Monday morning periods 1 and 2 this week was a decent lesson.  My class are responding better to the challenges of Sherlock Holmes and to Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1902 prose than they did to Romeo and Juliet, and Shakespeare’s blank verse from 1507.

The curriculum of a school always needs reviewing in one way or another.  At the moment, the DfE are defunding BTECs, which has prompted our thinking.  We always need to consider whether our curriculum has the right range, variety and stretch for our students, whether there are new subjects that should be considered, and which subjects we couldn’t guarantee will still be there in 3-5 years.  I meet with half a dozen colleagues today to share research and thoughts.  Mostly, these kind of discussions don’t lead to change, and certainly not straight away; it is more a case of considering what is coming up over the horizon, but you always need to be prepared, to have the proactively open mind of “What is best for our pupils in the coming years?”

After school, I join colleagues in Cadogan House for a ‘Book Look’, a review of learning over a period of time which, in many ways, is better than the impression of learning that you get from watching a single lesson.  I can see pupils’ understanding in mathematics improving, errors being corrected (mostly), and the quality of the pupils’ writing all improving over time.  I’m not putting weight on any one piece of work but seeing the development of learning over half a school year.  It’s lovely to listen in on colleagues’ conversations, to hear them comparing, contrasting, and reflecting on their own practice.  Most teachers are wonderfully dedicated professionals.

Tuesday 31st January

In the middle of the day, a pupil calmly brings me a note that requires immediate investigation.  The pupil does this calmly, and I thank them for bringing something to my attention.  I check their well-being and promise to look into it.  I share only the facts and ask an experienced colleague to gather more evidence and then report back.  It is another one of those moments when you are conscious that the week could be changing gear.

As Head there are occasions when pupils, colleagues, or parents come into your office showing great distress, expressing strong emotions, clearly deeply upset and, sometimes, wanting immediate action to be taken against another person. I need to listen carefully, be understanding, to care and to show that I care. But I can’t ever jump to any conclusions when I hear one side of a story, no matter how strong a person expresses their views. Even inside my mind, I need to keep a tight lid on my emotional response so as not to prejudice my thinking. This isn’t necessarily easy when, for example, a hard-working colleague or parent is in tears, but for every story, there are always multiple viewpoints. A person’s motivations don’t always emerge at first, are possibly actively being hidden. There can be conflicting emotions and unconscious factors at play. Occasionally, there is a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree revolution in my understanding of a situation from what was first presented to me; often, there is movement.

Later that day, my colleague tells me that it is an indication of a good culture in our school that pupils feel they can share concerns that they have, or make disclosures, to tutors, teachers, Heads of Year, or directly to me.  This has some truth to it.  It is extremely difficult for a pupil to come forwards and question the actions or views of a trusted adult, for example a parent or a teacher.  We’ll see what comes of the concerns raised by these pupils (because by now they are plural). 

The rest of the day is a series of meetings, two with parents, five with colleagues. As term progresses and the Diary gets increasingly busy, I am highly conscious of too much time being spent in my office, and of the need to get out and around school more.  My PA and I always keep this in mind, but sometimes, often in the final fortnight of a term, events and the diary gang up and conspire against us.

Wednesday 1st February

There is an early morning meeting with our Head of Sixth Form and Academic Deputy to discuss a pupil who is going through a very tough time. It is a sensitive matter, but one that my colleagues have investigated and researched thoroughly.  They are currently supporting a couple of delicate matters with students who have significant contexts.  I listen carefully, and then ask questions that try to add value to their thinking, but my admiration for both is immense.  Witnessing a senior team grow in experience, empathy, and expand their range of possible solutions to complex issues has been one rewarding aspect of this year.  We are not at our peak as a team in any respect, most of the SLT here have been in their current position for fewer than three years (though some in an SLT position for longer), but they are very good people working extremely hard for our school.  Seeing them grow in challenging situations is satisfying and rewarding.

There are a couple of members of the Senior School SLT who are comparatively new to school leadership, and who have the potential to take on larger, whole-school roles. I have spent the year thinking about ways we can keep developing them, and I meet with one of these colleagues today to begin to explore with her how we can grow her role for September 2023.

The Whole School SLT meeting involves colleagues feeding back on how we can evolve with Google, email and our school calendar.  I hear about what can’t be done or what will be problematic and difficult.  I am pleased to hear honest, open discussion.  As a Head of English, an Academic Deputy, and now headteacher, I have often said “I am happy for you to come into my office say ‘I tried X in order to achieve Y, but it hasn’t worked.  In fact, it’s all gone horribly wrong’.  I want that honesty, very much so.  If everybody felt comfortable enough to hold up their hands when something has gone wrong or isn’t working, that would be wonderful.  Of course, that isn’t always the case, and my job is to help create the culture where more people feel that is possible.

A lot of my time in February is focused on the next academic year.  The day ends with four colleagues meeting to discuss staffing needs as we now have option choices in for next year’s Year 12 (A Level) and 10 (GCSE).  It’s always a changing picture at this stage of the year, but the meeting is a productive one, again because good work had been done in advance.

Thursday 2nd February

Much of the morning is spent at a local school where I am a governor, having oversight of their work supporting an ECT (Early Career Teacher).  As is so very often the case, it is a joy hearing teachers reflecting on how they are supporting colleagues, or ways in which they are being supported.  Similarly, observing teachers and then hearing back from them about the lesson is just a pleasure.  This particular ECT is in her second year, in a different school to her first year where she felt far less well supported, and from all I can see she is flourishing. 

The final part of the morning is a confidential chat with the headteacher of this school.  The idea that being a Head is a lonely job is not one I subscribe to, but there are times when you  have to carry a lot of peoples’ concerns around with you and it is notable that whenever you get two Heads together, with a Chatham House Rule understanding, conversation flows as problems are shared and halved and as we get a chance to unburden ourselves a little from things that have been necessarily bottled up in our workplace.

Something similar possibly happens at the end of the day at RMS for parents of Year 11 pupils and their teachers at our Parents’ Evening.  I lose count of the number of parents who tell me how incredibly useful the evening has been for them, how wonderful our teachers are, and how much parents appreciate hearing from teachers and their daughters, and being part of that conversation, as we all work together to support the students in achieving their best possible GCSE results.  There is something beneficial for humans in us seeing ‘our’ problems and issues not as ours alone, but as part of a larger social context – it is reassuring and helpful to us all.

Friday 3rd February

An early morning walk of the campus with our legendary groundsman Billy Lees is always a pleasure.  Billy is in his fourth decade at the school, can name each of the thousands of trees he has planted on our site, and always has a new project on the go. We talk about life, the universe, and his team, agreeing on many points and ending by restating our view that neither of us “can be doing with liars”.  Anything else we can deal with, anybody who holds up their hands for any error, but when a teammate is lying to you then you don’t know where you are with them, and that’s when you’ve got real problems.

I meet with the second colleague from Senior School SLT whose role I would like to see growing next year. Helen is an Assistant Head with a Senior School focus who I would like to take on whole-school responsibilities next year. Culturally, she is just what I wish for in her view of pupils, learning, teachers, and staff development and well-being. She is a great colleague who we are lucky to have with us. We share some thoughts, and then decide to take half-term to process before we progress our conversation.

Late afternoon I meet with our Head of Prep, Melanie, who has had a challenging week too. Melanie is in her second year as headteacher at RMS, learning the role wonderfully but inevitably still facing some challenges for the first time. “There must be something in the water” she says.  I reassure her that the very experienced Head of another school yesterday was saying much the same, and it’s more that it’s the penultimate week of a busy half-term than anything else.

The week ends positively with a Friday evening meeting with parents that we had feared was going to be difficult, but that was very productive.  My PA, Sharon, is no small part in its success.  She is a key member of the team here, a brilliant colleague who will doubtless pop up in this Blog again, and who is an often unseen presence behind most everything that works well in relation to the Headteacher at RMS.  

W/b 23 January 2023

Monday 23rd January

We are all very busy at RMS at present, which is a great place to be.  By February 2020, I had been a part of the community for three years, had gained quite a good understanding of where we were at as a school, and was listening hard to views about where we should be heading.  And then Covid hit. 

The next couple of years required a large operational focus.  We were managing a school community safely through a pandemic.  The extraordinary demands and pressure that working in a pandemic placed on teachers and school staff, and the incredible way my colleagues rose to these challenges, meant that we were not going to introduce change beyond that which was necessary.

But we’re no longer there, which, we can all agree, is a great place to be. 

Beyond lesson planning, my weekend work time was therefore partly time spent developing or clarifying my own thoughts on changes we’re working on.  There are a few at present, all looking forwards to next year and/or those beyond (CPD, wellbeing, rationalising the IT ecosystem, improving comms to parents, considering the best structure for our day).  Pacing change right is really important, and of course not all of the above are for September, but still it’s the pace and management of what we will be asking colleagues to do before and after September that is occupying my mind.  How you introduce and manage change is possibly more important than what the change involves.  Somebody one said to me that “A mediocre idea implemented well is better than a great idea done poorly”.  And while I don’t like the idea of introducing any mediocre idea, they were of course right that it ain’t what you do…

Monday morning brings me back to the reality of teaching Year 8 (still always a genuine joy), then feeding back to an ECT, an appraisal meeting with a Head of School, and catching up with a new colleague who is joining us to lead our Admissions team from March. 

One exciting Monday meeting was about RMS hosting the inaugural We Collaborate teachers’ conference on Saturday 10 June.  I’ll resist going into sales pitch mode and listing all the wonderful people speaking at the conference, (though you can get tickets here), but there is lots to be excited about, including a chance to work with great staff from local schools alongside national names in education.  RMS is a special school; unique, different and truly wonderful for our students.  One fringe benefit of events such as the We Collaborate conference is that the work of colleagues at RMS and other local schools will have more light shone upon their greatness.

A good, busy day that ends embarrassingly with me collecting my youngest daughter fifteen minutes’ late from drama rehearsals as I have confused the Monday and Tuesday collection times.  Inwardly, I am both mortified and laughing at myself.  I apologise profusely to Mrs Espinoza!   

Tuesday 24th January

One takeaway from today was a meeting that wasn’t a good one.  I’m still reflecting on it now. 

I’ll omit the content and details but share that afterwards my mind started with criticisms of others and wanting to immediately call them out, before very soon realising that I would do no such thing, and then, over time, coming back to my own failings in that context, and then my wish to better understand where others were coming from, before finally arriving at what I could do to move things forward and considering when and how would be the right time for that.

One way of viewing the job of being a teacher is that every day involves hundreds of social interactions as you repeatedly consider “What does this pupil need to know next, and how do I best help them with that?” or other questions of a similar nature about pastoral matters and personal development.  Given so many interactions with so many human beings, on occasion you are bound to get some wrong.  And when I was a full-time ‘proper’ teacher, I tried to stay conscious of the fact that every adult I know can remember a time when a teacher said something negative or critical to them, possibly unintentionally or even with good intentions, and how those words had stayed with that person over the decades into adulthood.  And I didn’t ever want to be that teacher for my pupils.  As a teacher you can’t praise enough, and you have to be even more careful with how you approach and word your developmental points, the ways that you strive to help a pupil to improve.

As a headteacher, (not wishing to offend through the implicit teacher/pupil analogy here), and returning to my meeting that didn’t go well, it really is very similar: lots of social interactions daily, not all will go perfectly, and you have to be extra careful about how you go about trying to help a person improve.  In this case, regardless of the interactions of others, I had not managed the meeting as well as I should have done.  By the end of the week, the one thing I know is that I need to find ways better understand at least one of the other participants in that meeting. 

Empathy.  I like to think that I’ve always got the courage to show empathy.  I like to think it’s one of my stronger points.  Sometimes it comes quickly to an interaction, and sometimes empathy requires an investment of time insofar as it takes time to identify with another person’s viewpoint.  In this particular instance, I need to find the best way to do that.

The meeting was midway through a usual busy day of perfectly fine meetings with our DFO, the Head of HR, my spelling group, the Head of Senior School, and being interviewed by Year 12 ahead of Safer Internet Day.  The highlight of the day came after school when I got to watch the Year 7 netballers come from 7-5 down at the end of the third quarter to win 12-8, and then our Year 10 hockey team respond to a late equaliser that made it 3-3 by going straight up the other end and scoring the winner.  As a sports fan, there’s nothing better than a last-minute winner.  As a headteacher, I love all team sports and especially close matches like these for the battle, the competitiveness and determination, and for the collective pride that comes from representing your school in a memorable victory.

Wednesday 25th January

A regular fortnightly catch up with my Chair of Governors is followed by a Whole School SLT meeting.  We are giving thought to our comms to parents, which we know we can improve.  We want there to be a clear distinction between Notices and News.  For the Notices aspect, the team here are keen on looking more at School Post, which is an online parent communication system used by many independent schools.  It sounds great (they always do), will certainly make it easier for parents to keep track of communications, links with our current parent portal, and seems to save time for our admin teams.  We see how it looks elsewhere and talk through the disadvantages too.  We consider thoughts regarding staff training as from the research done so far by colleagues it definitely seems a step up from where we are at present.  I am encouraged!  While School Post would tie in with work on improving our calendar to get the Notices side of parent comms better, we also heard from the team in Marketing about better ways to share success stories with parents.  It was a decent meeting – there was good work in advance of the meeting, good questions and debate.  I love my colleagues here: great, talented, hardworking people who are on the right seats on the bus.

The day is going well until I hear that the local paper has misunderstood something and is considering publishing a misrepresentation of things.  My day shifts gear as we speak with a friend who is a journalist at the BBC, a comms professional, and a lawyer.  It’s a busy afternoon, but the team here receive good advice and work well to clarify things. 

The day ends with me driving home to Liverpool for my grandmother’s funeral tomorrow.  She was ninety-four, a great matriarch with eight children, and forty-three grandchildren/great grandchildren.  I think of my nan as my role model in not making a fuss, no drama, just getting on with what needs to be done. She wasn’t showy or performative, as so many are now.  She was from another era, her values forged in a period in history when times were truly hard. And so she understood what did and did not matter.  A modest woman who needed no lessons in assertiveness, a union rep, you knew my nan was always going to speak her mind to one and all.  She stood up to bullies, fought injustice, and would always give you her truth, politely but insistently.  As I got older, I appreciated the extent to which she had instilled values of hard work, honesty, and integrity in three generations.  And by the time I would bring my children to visit her, I loved that every time we visited, she would begin with a cup of tea, and end by insisting on giving my daughters a few bob and telling me, “I’m fine lad, I can’t complain, there’s thousands worse off than me.”  Honest, hardworking, selfless, and a model for consistently facing life’s challenges head-on in a measured way.  My brother is a man of fewer words than me.  “No bullshit”, was his take on my nan. 

Friday 27th January

The funeral was a good one, standing room only at her church, St Gabriel’s.  I wake at 5am to drive back, and think back to yesterday while doing so.  One strand of conversations were with my brother who teaches at a school in Knowsley, one of the most deprived areas of the country.  It’s another world.  A completely different job.  The things that he experiences are like nothing known in schools such as RMS. Whenever I or a colleague think we have something tough going on here, we need to be taken to a school in Huyton or Kirkby for a week. Maybe I’ll ask him to write an account of his working week sometime, to juxtapose with this.

That all said, I do return to something tough for RMS as we are writing to parents following the downgrading of the food hygiene rating.  There is a story behind this, which I won’t share here, and the context of an external company taking over all food preparation and provision at the school since August 2022.  However, the email from me to parents needs to give nothing more than the plain facts of the report, to own the hugely disappointing news, and to not try to defend ourselves or to appear defensive in any respect.  Publish it and own it without fuss or drama, and then get on with what needs to be done to make sure our usual rating of five is restored at the earliest opportunity.

W/b 16 January 2023

Monday 16th January

How reasonable is it to work long days in term time?  Teachers and boarding staff certainly work long days in any given week during term.  Equally, I have been told by those outside the profession that, “Teachers get good holidays”.  This is not untrue, but it doesn’t appreciate what is expected of the profession or the demands of term time. 

UK working hours are calculated over a ‘reference’ period, normally of 17 weeks, which means “you can work more than 48 hours one week, as long as the average over 17 weeks is less than 48 hours a week” (UK Gov website).  With half-term and end-of-term holidays, our working hours tend to balance out, I think.  A hardworking colleague, my line manager at the time, once compared the long hours that we (mostly happily) worked during term at a busy boarding school that taught Saturdays with the hours of friends in other jobs.  I don’t remember the numbers now, but we felt it was comparable over a year and that you take the rough with the smooth.

Such thoughts are in my mind at the start of this week because (i) I enjoyed a good, productive weekend that gave me some family time but that also included quite a lot of work. (Headteachers and teachers are not alone in working part of their weekend, of course). And (ii) because this week is “Care Bear Week” at RMS, a week when you can put yourself forward to be given the name of a colleague who you will anonymously support during the week. Given it’s the third week in January, a week before Pay Day, with the daylight hours short and the weather bitterly cold, Care Bear Week is a lovely idea. You might take a colleague’s Duty for them, and/or buy them a little gift or bake them a treat, and/or leave some inspirational quotes or kind words on a card for them. And in return, somebody anonymously does that for you too. These small acts of kindness make a difference.

I’ve never really been convinced by arguments about the exceptionalism of teachers. There is teacher busy, and certainly teacher tired, but the same is also true for hospital staff, social workers, tradespeople, office staff, single parents, etc. There are a few things that are particular to schools, e.g. one is that we all get exhausted at the same time. That’s not normal. Before I was a teacher, I worked in jobs where colleagues went on holiday at different times, so you never had all the office exhausted at once. Whereas there comes a point in each term at every school when on top of their regular teaching, tutoring, taking of clubs or teams and duties, everybody has also been working extra hard marking mock exams, writing reports, and attending Parents’ Evenings, and every dedicated colleague is shattered. It’s usually about two-to-three weeks before the end of each term, and it’s why teachers need frequent breaks from the intensity of term time.

So, Care Bare Week is one of the ways that we can show a little support for each other, and first thing Monday I dropped off something in the pigeonhole of a great colleague.  Later on Monday afternoon, a few slices of homemade Millionaire’s Shortbread turn up in my office.  To get all William Carlos Williams: they were delicious, so sweet and so thoughtful.  

Other than kindness and cake, today’s tasks involved: returning marked essays (which always feels great); updating colleagues about the next steps in our Google evolution; more conversations about the Five-Year-Plan; thinking about the coming months for our Development Office; a meeting with our Director of Finance and Operations that brings a couple of surprises; and hearing the Cadogan House staff plan the “ideal structure of the day” in our Prep School. Not bad for the nonsense PR stunt that we’re told is ‘Blue Monday’.

Tuesday 17th January

We have pupils in for scholarship assessments this week.  Academic, Drama, Music, Art, and Sport.  It’s a busy, complex week, but my ‘role’ involves nothing more than chatting with the pupils and hearing how it’s going for them each time I walk through the New Mark Hall where they’re based.  Marc in Admissions and Rachel, our Head of Senior School, plus her team, have it all in hand. 

While in some ways I miss the fun of meeting brilliant new pupils during this week, that’s not my job anymore. Over the last couple of years, we have evolved a new structure at RMS which is better for our pupils. We have a Head of each School (Nursery, Prep, Senior, and Sixth Form) and these four fab colleagues get to know each of their pupils and families very well, while also managing the operational day-to-day running of their school.

My role as overall Head of RMS now includes more time for exciting important meetings like this afternoon’s one with our landlords, RMIGET, about how the repair work is progressing on roofs, on our Great Hall, and in the underground tunnels that support the heating. Occasionally, I struggle to remember why it was that I asked to change my own role in this way! Then I remind myself it was because “we have evolved a new structure at RMS which is better for our pupils”. Mentioning our landlords is me introducing a new character into this weekly blog. You’ll hear more of them, I expect. Everybody’s working hard together with good intentions, but on a 100-year-old, 300-acre site, nothing’s straightforward with the landlords.

The day ends with two meetings. The first is about the structure of boarding and contains lots of ideas from a couple of good colleagues, but no convincing case for urgent change is made. The second is “just a catch-up” with Rachel, Head of Senior School, but lasts the best part of ninety minutes simply because some weeks there is a lot to catch up on.

Wednesday 18th January

Before Whole School SLT today, I am prompted by a colleague to write to our parents about the “occasional misuse” of WhatsApp groups. Most parents get it right, of course they do, but occasionally a parent in any school nowadays uses WhatsApp to do the twenty-first-century equivalent of “taking a petition to Mrs McCluskey”, getting a tad dramatic and going a bit Grange Hill by trying to drum up support for their pet peeve. I take my colleague’s point, but I’m not quite sure how to address this with all parents when it’s one or two in a thousand who occasionally get it wrong.

Whole School SLT provides an update from the Heads of School on how they are progressing with (i) aligning the day for our Nursery and Prep School for September 2023, and (ii) considering the structure of the school day for 2024. The first seems comparatively straightforward, although we do want to hear more from parents and colleagues. The second is a larger endeavour, if we go there. Along with everything else that she does, Rachel is leading a Working Party to canvas opinion and check desirability and feasibility.

Later on, I get to watch the first of two lessons this week. It’s a joy, and I’m in awe of the expertise, manner, and skill of a colleague. However, the Year 13 pupils are not quite firing today, and I say at the end that their teacher is working harder than some of them in this important week before Year 13 Mocks. The pupils say that they have been more focused on revising the first of their two papers than today’s topic. This could well be a fair point. We’ll see how they get on next week!

Our pupils at RMS really are wonderful and very conscientious overall. While I’m on standby for taking detention after school today, it turns out that nobody is in detention this week and so I can head down to our Sports Hall to watch a few Year 6 netball matches, and some Year 8 hockey.

Thursday 19th January

I join the Senior School and Sixth Form SLT meeting to hear them talk about wonderful pedagogy ideas, and the possibility of us becoming a Prue Leith cookery school – very exciting.  This joy is counter-balanced by a follow-up LADO meeting.  Every year, over Christmas, something that could be serious tends to land in your Inbox.  This is fine, all part of the job.  While of course it’s crucial to get some downtime, it’s simultaneously true that you’re never fully “Out of Office” as a Head.  The “thinking about School” is pretty much always in your head, every single day, often just scenario planning about something that could happen, or could be better, or ‘Might go wrong and how we can ensure it doesn’t?’  Occasionally, at home, my children will ask me “Why are you shaking your head, dad?” when I haven’t realised what I’m doing, lost in school thoughts and possible scenarios, or thinking about an actual problem because even good human beings with the very best intentions sometimes make mistakes and get it wrong.

This year, just before Christmas, there was a call from, and then later a Zoom with, a LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer). A LADO is the person responsible for co-ordinating the response to concerns that an adult who works with children may have caused them or could cause them harm. While these are most often Mays and Coulds rather than Dids, or do not actually involve any RMS pupils or employees (as in this instance), it’s nonetheless always serious stuff that saddens your soul.

Thursday Evening brings the first Senior School Parents’ Evening of 2023.  Our Year 9 students, and their parents, all together with colleagues in the Platinum Jubilee Hall.  I have always enjoyed a good parents’ evening.  As a teacher, I love the opportunity for honest feedback, deserved praise, and appropriate prompts to pupils in front of their parents.  As a Head, I love being there to catch up with our parents, to hear from the students about their evening, and also to get a rare chance to sit down and catch up with my colleagues during times when they are in-between appointments with students.

Friday 20th January

This morning starts with a request for a call from another Head, which I make straightaway, as we all try to do.  I appreciate the honest conversations most Heads can have with one another, whether about a pupil or colleague, or just an issue with which one of us is grappling. It’s all confidential of course, and that’s part of why we can be so honest on these calls.

I catch up with a couple of colleagues about a pair of pupils that will help inform a couple of emails to parents over the weekend. Then I get the pleasure of watching an Early Career Teacher (ECT) who is doing really well. The HoD and I watch it together so we can feedback helpful thoughts early next week. I am conscious of a recent interview with John Hattie that said his videos of teachers in England showed “89% of classroom time is spent with teacher talking. Teachers asked around 150 questions a day, most of which required less than three-word answers. That’s the norm. Most teachers don’t know that, and they deny it. But the evidence is undeniable”. It’s an interesting statement. My ECT colleague is not making this mistake. She has clearly been working hard to develop her pedagogy, but in her classroom it is the pupils that she has working hard, while she is already comfortable with silence while the pupils think and work. In many respects, this is all really encouraging.

There are more meetings with colleagues, and with parents from our Prep School and our Nursery to hear their experiences, and a Friday Assembly after which my recipient of Care Bare Week approaches me to ask if she should be thanking me. I claim not to know anything of what she’s talking about but I am fooling nobody. She is a great teacher, and the whole initiative has been wonderful with colleagues across all sections of the school getting involved. My last actions in my office for this week are enjoying birthday cake with a small group of our boarders. This is a tradition we follow for every boarder every year, and it always a pleasure to hear from the students for whom the school is their home. As yesterday was also my birthday, I then head home at 6pm to enjoy a Friday evening with my family. It’s been a good long week in term time.

W/b 9 January 2023

Monday 9th January

I wouldn’t wish to be a headteacher who doesn’t teach (to start with a double negative).  Couldn’t do it.  I’m not judgemental about those who don’t, but it’s not for me.  I enjoy the interaction with the pupils far too much, which is perhaps a selfish reason. I also think it sends a nice message to pupils and colleagues.  The rest of SLT (who all teach more than my one class) sometimes tease me that I carry my English books around like a prop, to performatively announce “I am a real teacher!” like Pinocchio insisting he’s a real boy.

Every week begins with my Year 8 English class first thing on a Monday morning. I only teach one group, five double periods a fortnight, but I’m their sole teacher and there’s a serious responsibility that comes with that. Sundays are a time for marking and planning each week so that no matter what the week throws my way as Head, I’m prepared to teach English to Year 8, double negatives and all. 

This morning is their last lesson on Romeo and Juliet before a final assessment tomorrow.  Writing an essay on Shakespeare is really bloody hard when you’re twelve.  And it’s been three weeks off over Christmas since we last studied it so I’m not expecting them to be at GCSE standard just yet.  I am concerned they’ll find tomorrow’s unseen extract question tough.  We do a Diamond Nine exercise on the play that hopefully helps them recall Shakespeare’s presentation of violence without giving away the question.

I have a meeting with Anne late morning.  Anne is an incredible colleague that we are lucky to have with us at RMS.  She is organising a conference for 300 teachers at RMS later this year called “We Collaborate” (this is the kind of thing she regularly does), and today is putting pressure on me to build a Professional Development Centre at RMS.  Anne says it would show that we take the professional development of RMS staff seriously.  Anne is of course right to hassle me in this way, that’s partly why she’s here, and we are going to do this.  Mostly though, Anne energises everybody that she meets; she is extremely emotionally intelligent and just plain wonderful like that.

On my lunchtime walk around school I come across a pupil who needs medical support.  Two of her friends and I take care of her in the short term, but I also call our medical team and they arrive within five minutes – all is well.  We are incredibly fortunate to have a medical team on site. 

I then find myself chatting with Year 9 pupils at the end of lunch, and almost accidentally following them into their Year Assembly.  I am now off-piste and not following the day’s route that my PA has planned for me, but Mrs Beedell is Head of Year 9, and Mrs Beedell is one of the most positive people you can meet.  Her assembly today is on, “10 Reasons to be Cheerful in January” and she is comfortable in her role of leading the pupils in this way.  Her ten messages of positivity in January include, “You can catch up on Sleep”, “The good TV series start again”, and “It’s a great time for good walks”.  Year 9 jump on board with the positive messaging and give me a recommendation of “Ginny and Georgia” as an example of a great new series on Netflix that I should watch.

Tuesday 10th January

Year 8 do find the Shakespeare assessment tough.  This is allowed.  It is a GCSE question, and afterward I let them know that as they were writing, Year 11 students were sitting their GCSE English Literature mock examination.  We have three more years to get this right.

Once the teaching finishes, today is a more “grown-up” one involving calls with our lawyer, a complaint, and a potential disciplinary issue or maybe, hopefully, just a misunderstanding.  There’s always more that you can’t talk about than you are able to share as a Head.  That’s just part of the territory.  I then switch my focus to the filming of an introduction to our Five-Year Plan at RMS.  We will be sharing this with our community on Friday, and this video introduction is a little more formal, and more corporate than the roles I am most often asked to perform.  A retired Head said to me last year, only half in jest, that “headship nowadays is all PR and HR”, and while I disagree with this reductive view of a rich and highly varied role, I knew exactly where she was coming from. 

Wednesday 11th January

It’s not a usual morning that begins with successive meetings with three governors.  I don’t think it’s happened before, but today they come swinging around the corner like they’re Benny Goodman.  One meeting is a regular catch-up with the Chair, another to let me know about something we may have got wrong, and the third about the Five-Year Plan.  Momentum is building towards its release on Friday.

Term time in every school is relentless, an unforgiving brute.  One week into term, and the late nights already have me consuming two large pots of coffee in the morning and then pudding with my lunch.  On a good day, lunch is a time for conversations with pupils, and today I get a little time with Year 4.  They are tempted to play by large muddy puddles.  I tell them that the second month of the year used to be called Mud Month before the Romans arrived in Britain, and that’s enough to set them off imagining a world before roads and lights and “with mud so deep it was like walking through quicksand just to visit your neighbour”.

My afternoon is spent liaising with colleagues who are showing great support for a boarder, a few regular line management meetings, and then drafting a paper for a meeting next week.

Thursday 12th January

Whole School SLT has sixteen people crowded around my table.  It’s a larger group than is normally present, but we are considering IT at the school, and I want many voices involved.  Our servers are getting old and could be replaced but the advice is to put everything in the cloud, using Google Drive.  It’s more secure and more efficient, and all makes sense in so many respects, especially as teachers use Google for all lessons nowadays.  We’re going to take between now and September to get it right, with lots of training for those support colleagues less familiar with Google, but even so, we all know this will be a big thing for some colleagues who are used to storing files on the school servers and have never been near Google Drive.  Emails and our calendar will change too, which could be a game-changer in a positive way for our parents, but some minds will be blown.  I understand this will be the case – it will be a big change for us all.

I catch up with a pupil who was in the recent film of “Matilda” just to hear how she’s getting on in Year 9.  There’s a meeting with the Head of our Prep School, as they are considering lengthening the school day for September, and another with the DFO about builders, swimming pools, and bursary applications.  All exciting DFO/Head stuff!  The Head of our Senior School has been extremely busy all week, meeting 192 lovely Year 6 pupils who are applying for a place at RMS next September, and we catch up late on so I can hear how things have been going for them/her, and where she’s at with her thinking.

Friday 13th January

An appraisal with a colleague who wants to be a headteacher excites me greatly today.  You miss out on teaching the pupils when you move into senior management, but seeing colleagues develop is still a big thrill.  I also get enthused by a phone call with our new Director of Marketing and Admissions who joins us in March – she is full of ideas, energy, and positivity.  And our Five-Year Plan is shared with the community after a great deal of work.  Over 500 voices contributed to a new Mission statement, Vision, and strategic plan.  Pupils, colleagues, parents, alumnae, and governors were all involved.  We are excited about it.  If you are interested, you can see what you think of it here.

W/b 2 January 2023

Tuesday 3rd January

School reopens ahead of Inset tomorrow and pupils back Thursday.  My first thought on entering the building is, “Is the heating working?” as we’ve had problems in recent months.  I walk down corridors touching all the radiators and smiling, relieved that all is well ahead of tomorrow.

My plans for the day are placed on hold when I reach my desk.  There is one of those tricky, unexpected problems waiting for me as if it has just jumped out of an interview in-tray exercise.  It requires immediate action.  Welcome to 2023!

With Inset not until tomorrow, it is mostly Support colleagues in today.  It’s good that the School gets a day to set itself up so that we know the essentials are in place before everybody returns.  I say “the School” and “set itself up”, but of course the too-often invisible work of great Support colleagues is the truly important work without which schools could not function.  Much of my morning involves walking the school and literally or metaphorically shaking hands as I wish colleagues “All the best!” and ask about Christmas and time spent with families and friends.

The Head of our Sixth Form pops in about a couple of staffing matters.  I then have a long call with HR, again about staffing matters.  We truly do have wonderful colleagues here at RMS, but in a school of 1000 pupils and 300 staff there are most always human matters of one sort or another: births, sickness, babies, death – all the stages of family life every week of the year. It is this work that gives HR teams and headteachers a strong awareness of the most important things in life.

With one thing or another, by the time I go home for dinner I haven’t yet got around to writing my introductory words for Inset tomorrow.  No problem as my role is little more than the warm welcome really.

Wednesday 4th January

Today was a lovely Inset Day.  An 8:25am start is always a shock to the system for colleagues after a nice Christmas break, but as Insets go it was a good one.  One big reason why it worked in Senior School and Sixth Form is the tone set by Mrs Roberts, who organises these days so very well.  Structurally it worked too, with initial messages to all staff kept short, an external speaker who was a solid 7/10 and ran an active session, and then an afternoon of Dept time, which is always appreciated.  

I attend the three-hour Senior/Sixth pedagogy session on effective Stretch-and-Challenge strategies in the morning.  Sitting with colleagues (ideally those who you don’t usually sit with) and enjoying hearing different voices is one of the nicest things about the day, and I am on a lovely table filled with great colleagues, half science, half humanities.  One great line I hear and that stays with me is, “Perhaps we need to rebrand what it is that an exercise book is for” as we discuss the merits of learning from making mistakes, and how best to militate against the fearful culture of perfectionism.

I then dash to our Prep School for a two-hour session from the charity ADD-vance on “Understanding Autism in Girls”.  This is a session full of good knowledge about a topic of great importance, but by its conclusion I am reflecting on how tiring it is sitting still and learning for five hours – goodness knows how the pupils manage it every day of the week!

Thursday 5th January

The pupils are back, and so our school really comes to life.  I love the first day of a new term, every single time and without exception. My only disappointment is that I’m not teaching today.  The big hit of the day comes from our Catering team who welcome the pupils back with a “Build-your-own-Ramen” option at lunch that goes down very well.

Behind the scenes, one of my meetings is with colleagues considering IT Planning.  We are a school that once used a little bit of Microsoft and some Apple but then became heavily invested in Google Classroom during the pandemic.  We need to think about rationalising our technology ecosystem.

While it looks like a short week on paper, tonight is an 8pm finish for HoDs as it is Year 9 GCSE Options Evening.  A late one on a cold January evening, but very much worth it for the pupils.  They need information, reassurance, and chance to hear from a good range of different subjects.  All this is provided for them, and while operationally there is always “Just this or that” to tweak, as a Head you quite often stand back and watch with pride as these events apparently “run themselves” so very well for pupils and parents.

Friday 6th January

There are a series of conversations this morning about how best to share our Five-Year Plan with parents next week.  Abi in Marketing wishes to move it away from a PDF “with lists of words” to something more interactive including moving images on a hidden website.  She convinces us of the merits of this option, and I am very pleased with the early work on this that she shows me later that day.

There are more meetings about human beings for me: a colleague receiving serious medical treatment; feedback to somebody who we didn’t offer a job to; and a handover chat with a great colleague who is moving on to an exciting new job.  Much as we will miss her, it is a good move for her and I wish her every success.

First week back ends with another late finish as it is the Year 14 Celebration Evening.  This is a lovely night run by the Head of our Sixth Form and her Deputy, celebrating one more time a wonderful year group that attained fab A Level grades in the summer before heading off on the beginning of their great adventure. 

The students love the chance to all meet up again with friends that they haven’t seen for a few months.  Their parents get to reflect on how proud they are of their incredible daughters, and I am told a few times from parents now with quieter households how much I need to appreciate every moment of my own daughters’ lives, yes, even those challenging teenage years.  There is good food and wonderful conversation at a great celebration.  Everybody goes home happy.  It has been quite a long ‘short’ first week back, but a very good one which is always what matters most. I deserve a Saturday trip up to Anfield to watch the 3rd Round of the FA Cup with my eldest daughter and my father together on The Kop.