New Year. New Future.

Posted on January 2, 2023


I haven’t written a blogpost for some time now and so it makes sense, as one of my New Year’s resolutions, to try again with something that brought me so much joy and connection (the two are connected) when I used to blog regularly.

That is just one of my many resolutions this January. I don’t normally subscribe to making promises to myself and others, promises that I know (in my heart of hearts) that I will struggle to keep. But needs must this year because last term I made the significantly life-altering decision to step down from headship, a job that I have loved at a school that I still love, with colleagues and kids that I will continue to love as best I can in the future.

I leave at the end of the academic year and so those resolutions all relate to working out what comes next for me. I turn 51 tomorrow and so this is going to be an important time to find the resolve to turn my ideas into plans that will sustain me beyond this abrupt career change.

So, why have I chosen to leave if there are no firm plans in place for the next phase of my career?

To some extent I can leave that for others to outline. This week, a Guardian article captured some of the sense of what has driven this decision for me. You can find it here. It was followed up by this blogpost from the twitter user @oldprimaryhead1. The post speaks to me and, to some extent for me, when it ways:

“Education feels broken. As though we are cascading towards a watershed moment where school leadership becomes nothing but dark, confusing and unfulfilling. There was a time when being a school leader meant something. It’s harder to feel that right now. Post pandemic, as a school leader I feel more abused, more hated, less appreciated and generally less effective than at any other time during my 20 year tenure as a head teacher.”

The author also talks about desperation, fear and “an overbearing sense of inadequacy”, and this resonates with something that I have been wrestling with for some time now. I have been open with colleagues as I went through a period of counselling with the excellent Education Support through our employee assistance programme with them. This wasn’t enough for me, but it did provide me with an important insight, that if I continued to feel those same stresses then making the decision to leave the job would be a sensible one for me, for my health and happiness, both of which have come to mean more to me since hitting the big 5-0. I also came to the conclusion that leaving would be the best thing for the colleagues and kids who make up the community that is the school I serve.

It feels strange to know that the new year will bring with it applicants for my job, the TES advert for which can be found here. I already have some appointments lined up to show potential applicants around the school I have led for more than eight years (how time flies). If all goes well, a principal-designate will be in place before February half-term, “someone with energy and resilience” as Old Primary Head puts it. In the longer term, my hope is that the landscape for education, and for schools in particular, will change for the better but that is going to take some significant investment from government that doesn’t appear on anyone’s agenda at this time.

So what next for me? What ideas in need of plans? There are two strands of work that interest me greatly in my post-headship career. The first is working with school leaders to support them through more effective forms of supervision than are the norm for our profession at present. For this reason, one of my resolutions is to successfully complete my Diploma in Groupwork Practice with the Institute for Group Analysis this year. I want to use this learning, alongside my previous professional development and my experience in the role of headteacher, to support those who take on the vital work of school leadership.

My second resolution is to build upon the work around complexity and school leadership that began with my Doctorate in Management with the University of Hertfordshire’s Complexity and Management Centre. Having now re-found my voice through this blogpost, I aim to keep using it to work with school leaders to make better sense of their practice. I have already published a summary of my thesis in a chapter of Complexity and Leadership, published by Routledge last autumn. If anyone reading this, or this post, wants to know more then you can DM me via twitter and I can send the link to the full thesis.

As part of my transition from headship, I will also be participating in the Complexity Management Weekend – Leading in Education course being run by UH’s Complexity and Management Centre in conjunction with Roffey Park Institute. The event takes place on the 11th and 12th March 2023 and is for school and college leaders who already have an interest in complexity theories, enabling them to see “how far the rabbit hole goes”. The work I did for my doctorate has shown me that belonging to a ‘community of inquiry’ is important, and my hope is that participants on the Complexity Management Weekend will want to continue working together beyond the two days in March.

And my final, and most important, resolution is to finish well as a headteacher. To continue to be there for the children and adults of the school that I have been honoured to lead for so many years, and to help them manage the transition that began with my announcement last term and will end with a new era for the school community.

In spite of the challenges that 2022 posed for me, especially in coming to this incredibly difficult decision, I feel positive (if nervous) about the future. I can’t help but hope. There is still too much good in people, not least of all those working in schools and colleges, to think anything else than that the tunnel will give way to the light eventually.

Posted in: Uncategorized