From NQT to Headship and everything else in between – My Journey

Written for Men Teach Primary by Robin @Robin_W_F

‘’You’re very young to be a head,’’ – the words I hear pretty much every day! If somebody told me when I started my teaching career, in 2011, that I would be a Headteacher within ten years, I would not have believed them – in fact, I would have laughed. I count myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had in my career particularly in such a short space of time: circumstances have largely been responsible for that and I guess this is the perfect opportunity to share my story (well a condensed version!)

We all remember that moment just before we stood in front of our very first class.  I remember it well: I was quite fortunate that I had a July start so it gave me the opportunity to prepare my classroom ahead of the summer break, learn the routines and get to know the school and staff better (planning, however, I didn’t have a clue!)  It was bittersweet at first; my final placement had been extraordinarily difficult: it really had made me question whether I actually wanted to do this anymore but it was also too late as I had accepted a job at my NQT (ECT now!) school back in the March.  Thankfully, the start of my career helped to turn that around quickly – it’s true what they say that some schools will not be for you at all.  You just ‘know’.

I had always wanted to teach ever since I was very young. By the time I reached secondary school, I thought I wanted to teach history: it was the subject I studied at university and, even now, is a real passion of mine. I had always associated primary schools as ‘cutting out and sticking in’. At one point I was going to go into broadcast journalism; I did a brief stint at the BBC for a summer placement but something was holding me back from pursuing that further. After being accepted to study PGCE History, I completed work experience in a primary school, believing that this experience would give me an insight into primary education and develop my understanding of ‘where children were coming from.’ I loved it: I truly loved it. I was astonished at how vibrant primary schools were; I was really inspired by the children and staff and it made me question immediately what I was doing. I contacted the university and asked about changing to PGCE Primary; they re-interviewed me for the course and the rest, as they say, is history (pardon the pun!)

My NQT school was great – I liked it but I didn’t love it.  But I didn’t realise that at the time: I was grateful to have employment, to be somewhere I enjoyed working but I didn’t realise, until much later, their values weren’t really the same as mine.  An opportunity came up just before the Easter at a school I had completed work experience at – I had always wanted to work there but no positions were available.  The Headteacher phoned me one evening (I always remember as I was going out for dinner and running late!)  She asked me how I was getting on and that an opportunity had arisen. ‘’For goodness sake, apply!’’ she said to me down the phone.  I debated and debated; I really enjoyed where I was but I wasn’t sure about moving so quickly.  Eventually, I decided to follow my heart and applied.  I was appointed and prepared to make the move after my NQT year – scary!

Things changed quickly in that school: even now, thinking about it, it was a really peculiar time. The Headteacher retired within eighteen months of me being starting; I was appointed Phase Leader at the start of my third year in teaching due to a huge turnover of staff (suddenly, you find yourself one of the most experienced!) and then the Deputy and Assistant Head suddenly left. The new Head who came in was brilliant; she had empathy, a sense of justice and was aspirational. She really saw my potential and, in the September of my fourth year of teaching, appointed me as Acting Assistant Headteacher – the position was eventually made substantive. It was a purely circumstantial position but I acknowledge I must have had the skills to do the role to have been offered it. I am so grateful for that time as I really developed my leadership skills and knowledge of schools – something I would not have been able to do elsewhere. We had a good Ofsted outcome and the school developed into a strong position.

In 2016, I moved from Essex to Kent becoming an Assistant Head in another, much smaller, school.  It was wonderful: I really enjoyed my time there.  It was a ‘coasting’ school and the newly-appointed Head and I (who I am very good friends with now) worked tirelessly to turn things around.  I always treasure that journey and time.  Being an Assistant Headteacher and Class Teacher (Year 6) is always a challenge but one I relished: when someone says to you ‘sink or swim’ – do neither.  Just float: you’ll be able to steer yourself in the right direction.

In the summer of one academic year, a local Headteacher asked my Head if she could second me out as Deputy Head due to leadership capacity in their school: it was a great opportunity and I was appointed quickly as the substantive Deputy Headteacher. What I didn’t realise was that this would be the school I would eventually be the Headteacher of. By then, I knew I wanted to become a Head, eventually, but not for many years I thought. A plan was already in place for me to become Acting Headteacher if an appointment wasn’t made – I was agreeable with this. It wasn’t until the advert came out,however, and a little bit of encouragement from colleagues, that I realised this was the right time and, most importantly, the right school. I love my school very much: it’s home – it’s where I belong. It’s a very special place with dedicated people and amazing children and families. Do I get it right all of the time? Not all the time – no! But I work hard, am diligent and I listen. Most importantly, I want the very best for my children and I want to be the best I can be too. So, yes, it has been an interesting journey but one I am incredibly proud of: you meet a lot of amazing adults and children in education and for that I am truly grateful.

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