A special school Head explains some of her key responsibilities and duties
One thing I particularly value about being a headteacher is that no two days are ever the same. Although my role as a strategic leader remains constant, “typical” daily activities include routine tasks such as: checking in with my Deputy and Assistant Head regarding staffing and any specific activities taking place that day; meeting and greeting students as they arrive; discussing myriad issues with students, staff, and parents; regularly visiting corridors and classrooms; undertaking a lunchtime duty; and then dismissing students as they leave for the day. By themselves, though, these routines are not what make the role of the head such an exciting and dynamic one.
The leadership team
As in most schools, the different days of the week generally have a variety of activities associated with them. On Mondays, for example, I generally meet with the School Business Manager to discuss all aspects of finance and resources, followed by a Senior Leadership Team meeting. This involves: the Deputy Head, who among other duties, oversees post-16 to 19 study programmes, undertakes many key aspects of the SENCO role, is Designated Safeguarding Lead, has responsibility for looked-after children, including applications for funding, and has oversight of all aspects of social, emotional and mental health needs; my Assistant Headteacher who is primarily responsible for ensuring all aspects relating to the quality of teaching, learning, assessment and outcomes across school, including further developing the enriched curriculum, especially through ensuring the maintenance of regular eTwinning opportunities. Along with the governors I retain responsibility for strategic oversight of the school and college.
Once a half-term we also meet with our four middle leaders (TLRs) who either maintain operational responsibility for a Key Stage or a particular strand of learning, which supports our principle of distributive leadership.
On Tuesdays/Wednesdays the Senior Leadership Team often facilitates reviews, we have a staff meeting after school and I meet with my Chair of Governors – who is very active within school.
On Thursdays we tend to focus on school improvement and on Fridays we have a “celebration assembly”, followed by a range of enriched curriculum activities in the afternoon linked to our current Erasmus+ Project “Make Every Step Count”; this focusses upon personal development, especially life skills, improving confidence and self-esteem, and wider opportunities for social interaction.
I always have a minimum of one or two visitors each week; often they will be parents wanting to undertake a non-prejudicial visit with a view to considering whether our school may be suitable for their child, or they may be other teachers and professionals wanting to observe classes or discuss our rationale or a specific aspect of curriculum delivery, which we always try to accommodate if possible.
There are also a number of regular meetings that take place every few weeks, including meeting with the Headteacher of the mainstream secondary school located on the same site as our school, or with the Headteacher of our feeder primary special school; both of these colleagues are on the governing body of my school and I on theirs, which maximises opportunities for our collaborative working. Senior leaders generally meet every other week with governors either in relation to one of four school effectiveness sub-committees (based around the OFSTED grade descriptors), the Finance and Resources Committee or the full governing body meeting, which ensures a tight leadership structure and high levels of accountability are maintained at all times. Every half term there are also regular meetings with all the special school headteachers in my local authority; it is such a valuable experience to work together with a group of supportive colleagues and undertake solution-focussed problem solving around common issues that affect us all (for example how to survive proposed budget cuts or the best way to manage the introduction of the GDPR and who is best placed to be a Data Protection Officer).
There are different times of the year when different strategic priorities emerge; recently, for example, my primary focus has included considering what our new budget might be, especially with changes to both the High Needs Block Funding and the implications of the National Fair Funding Formula. I then have to plan accordingly, whilst of course, still maintaining the highest quality teaching and learning possible for all. We’re currently also in the process of evaluating our progress against last year’s School Improvement Plan and refreshing our strategic vision for the next three years: where do we all want our school and college to be and how are we going to work together to achieve more for all our students, their families and the wider community?
I guess there are also some days that feel more special than others, such as our Christmas Pendle’s Got Talent show, that brings the best out of many students and often makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Our first ever school and college production of the musical Oliver in the summer term, which all students are contributing to in some way, certainly promises to be one of these occasions. Then there are memorable days such as earlier this academic year when our school was the only specialist provision shortlisted for the My Best School Trip Award at the 2017 School Travel Awards. A number of us went down to London to be awarded a runners-up prize for a Year 8 and 9 boys trip to Lithuania (part of the current Erasmus+ Project).
This was in the same week that the school received the British Council International School Award – Foundation Level, another great celebration of how the school has proactively forged links and fostered development of international partnerships with other schools throughout Europe.
So in conclusion, although it’s hard to describe a “typical” day in my life as a headteacher, one thing is for sure: despite working in an area with high levels of deprivation and with students who all experience significant challenges to their learning, I have the privilege of working every day alongside the most amazing leadership team, dedicated staff and brilliant students I have ever met, who are all doing their utmost to help pupils overcome barriers to learning and achieve the best possible outcomes.
Dr Chris Lingard is the Headteacher of Pendle Community High School and College, Nelson in Lancashire, for students aged 11 to19 years with generic learning difficulties (including many with associated conditions such as autism). Prior to moving to Pendle, Chris worked as the Headteacher of a school for children with social, emotional and mental health needs, and as a local authority head of service (SEN) and principal educational psychologist: