How did you become the headteacher at your school?
I actually started my career with a Psychology degree and I was always very passionate about it as a subject. My plan was to train as an Educational Psychologist and to start off by teaching for a few of years having completed the PGCE. I fell in love with teaching. I really felt like I was making a difference to pupil’s lives.
I was lucky enough to have a lot of opportunities throughout my career to grow and develop professionally. When the Numeracy and Literacy strategies were introduced, I was one of the lead teachers for Literacy – a role which I really enjoyed. Later, I had the chance to be seconded as a middle leader to a range of schools, where I could broaden my experience. I went on to become an assistant head, then a deputy head at a large primary school. My first headship position was here, at Heald Place.
Could you tell us a bit about your school?
Heald Place School is a wonderful community to be part of. We are a large, 3-form primary school in Manchester, with more than 700 pupils on roll from a wealth of different nationalities – there are 33 languages spoken in total.
In terms of our location, we’re in inner city Manchester, which provides us with many opportunities for learning. We’re on the doorstep of a number of galleries, the Manchester Museum and the universities. We forge very strong links with these institutions, to create amazing possibilities for learning.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I think the most rewarding part of the role is seeing the pupils succeed, particularly those who have come from difficult backgrounds and for whom English is not their first language.
I myself came to the UK with no English at all at the age of nine and through the support of my family and some great teachers, I did very well at school. I see this job as an opportunity to give back to the community and be a role model to my pupils. At Heald Place, we all work very hard to forge strong, effective relationships with our parents and carers. We know that the school sometimes has to lead the way when it comes to being that force for encouragement, but I feel like we’ve already had a lot of success with partnership working.
What’s the biggest challenge you face personally in the role? How do you tackle this?
One of our main challenges is the high percentage of pupils with EAL, which is both a challenge and a fantastic opportunity. I’m very proud of all the pupils, parents and my staff who work so well together to overcome any barriers.
We’ve focused our efforts on developing pupils’ vocabulary and understanding. Reading is our biggest priority, as we want to ensure that children develop good reading habits from the very beginning of their journey with us. Providing quality CPD to all the staff is also incredibly important and something that we make sure we invest in.
An area in which we have been particularly successful is enrichment. We offer our pupils the chance to participate in a wide range of enrichment experiences, which are something of great value to them. For example, in addition to very rich curriculum linked educational visits, things that they would not otherwise experience such as visiting Parliament, going ice-skating, taking part in the Shakespeare Foundation to act, presenting to politicians/visitors from Hiroshima/Taiwan about issues that matter to them; the list goes on.
We face some challenges that aren’t so peculiar to just us. Delivering the SRE curriculum and the reluctance from the community for certain things to be taught is one example. We work on resolving this with parents, by helping them to understand the rationale for particular lessons and showing them that they are being listened to and meaningful ways forward are found.
Our area is a transition point for many families which means that children move out of our school. This can be frustrating, as despite having done a lot of work to enable pupils to reach high standards, it is not reflected in our results when the pupils move on. Leavers are usually replaced by children who are performing below the expected standards. It’s a challenge, but one that we thrive on. It’s just great to see our pupils grow in confidence.
What changes have you seen in your school since you started in your role?
Immediately after I become head, I was asked by the local authority to expand the school from a 2 to a 3 form entry. I came to a school that was in quite a poor physical condition due to rot, mold, leaks etc. I had completed an NPQH, but nothing had prepared me for premises management. As a result, I had to quickly acquire new skills in procurement, premises, European frameworks etc.
I saw the building project as a huge opportunity and things were helped by the fact that I had a healthy budget. We had been saving up and the school was able to commission a new roof, worth £1.1 million. I always made sure that we negotiated hard to ensure value for money in everything that we did.
The end of the building works is now in sight. Our 100-year old school building will be fully fit for purpose again.
What is your work-life balance like? How are you helping staff to manage workload and stay motivated?
My work-life balance is tough due partly to the journey to and from work and there are elements of the job which are very difficult to leave behind at the end of the day.
I find that having a strong team helps a lot with work-life balance. We’ve looked at the marking and feedback policy as a starting point to cultivating a good work-life balance, and we’ve cut down on things that weren’t having an impact. We have a no email policy after 5.30pm and at the weekend. PPA is always done in teams and the time is fully protected, which is very important. Staff work collaboratively on planning, assessment and moderating standards. Strong teams working effectively ensures support for one another and leads to a high staff morale.
As a staff, we have regular conversations about the challenges of the role and we have a solution-focused mindset. Because we’re a three form entry, you’re never alone. Year Groups are made up of at least three teachers, which means that colleagues are in mini teams. The leadership structure has been very well thought through and has evolved over time.
What’s your relationship with technology like? Do you have any innovative technology that you use either in the classroom, or among the leadership team?
Among the leadership team, we use shared drives and Google docs so that staff can work on them simultaneously. We use iPads and apps in the classroom. For example when we’re assessing PE, we have the assessment criteria on an app – this means that particular skills can be recorded and simple notes can be made. It’s done there and then in the lesson and reduces admin in the longer term.
What gives you the confidence to take tough decisions and the motivation to keep going?
Experience and conviction give me that confidence to keep going, and not being frightened of taking risks. If something goes wrong, I always try to learn from it. I’m also a firm believer in being open and honest and talking through issues with staff.
I think my role is about setting the right tone for everybody and making my expectations clear. Having a moral conviction is very important. I am motivated by pupils’ success and knowing that we have helped many children overcome challenges and prepared them to be good, effective global citizens.