Could you tell us a bit about your school?
Anstey Junior School has a really mixed catchment; it is situated in the most deprived ward of East Hampshire, but also attracts children from afluent parts of the town . In the past the school has had to deal with some very challenging behaviour which led to the view that it would be a difficult school to teach in and a place that some families would not want their children to be. The school now has a very good reputation and draws in children from a very wide area.
Parents send their children to us as they feel they will get an all round education not an exam factory approach.
Could you give us a brief picture of how you became the headteacher at your school?
I had been teaching for 16 years and worked my way up to Deputy Head. I then had a break from teaching and worked for a Local Education Authority for two years as an officer for vulnerable children. I ran training events and visited schools to ensure that the education of the vulnerable children was of a high enough standard.
When working in this role I missed being in a school and seeing the immediate impact of what I was doing. As a result, when a headteacher job was advertised in a local school, which had a high level of deprivation, I applied for it. I was successful in my application and started to work there 7 years ago.
How would you describe the ethos of your school? How do you maintain it?
We have a motto, which is ‘Aim High, No Limits’ which shows everyone that we expect the best from everyone at the school. We are a very inclusive school and we take children, whatever their need, knowing that we can make a difference to their lives.
We believe in working in partnership, learning from others and taking support where it is needed. We put the child at the center of all decisions and will have difficult conversations if this is needed to get the right outcome for a child. We maintain this by have a very clear vision and values document, with clear statements that we ensure everyone understands. This is covered regularly in assembly, at staff training events and is part of the induction for all new members of staff. We see our vision running through everything, like the words in a stick of rock. We would challenge any person or child who is not operating in line with the vision and values.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Seeing the difference that our actions make to children and families. Seeing the impact on children’s lives of our decisions. Knowing that the education we are offering is inspiring, exciting and meeting the needs of the children. We offer a really varied curriculum, with outdoor learning, lots of visits and visitors. We work really hard to ensure that all work planned will appeal to the children and excite them as learners. Our attendance is always over 97% which we think shows how much the children enjoy being at school.
What’s the biggest challenge you face personally in the role? How do you tackle this?
Time management – having a work-life balance and dealing with extreme behaviour which leaves staff drained and sometimes literally battered and bruised. My own work-life balance has improved as governors agreed to me having a day a week working from home to complete some of the bigger tasks that never got done at school.
The behaviour is harder to deal with. We enlist help from behaviour specialists and have a clear policy and procedures. I also have supervision from an EP to support with child protection issues and behavioural issues. This really helps to unpick what is going on.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
That advice is like a gift – you can choose what to do with it – you can keep it and use it, you can keep it, store it away and maybe use it later when it is relevant, or you can throw it away and never think of it again. This is really helpful as in the role of headteacher there are always people wanting to give you advice – parents, staff, children, external agencies, the government, the press etc. We as heads have to make decisions on what to do with it, having the view that we have the power to do what we want with it is quite liberating.
If you could name one big thing, and one small thing that you have implemented in your school that’s made the greatest difference to your pupils, staff or community, what would they be?
The big thing was the behaviour policy – when I arrived there were lists of rules everywhere – rules in the corridor, rules on the playground, rules in the classroom and rules in the dinner hall. It would have been impossible for anyone to remember these rules, so there was definitely wriggle room to say a rule had been forgotten. Almost immediately I introduced a 3 rule approach – there are only 3 rules, wherever you are in school and we tell the children they are rules for life. The rules are ‘Be Safe, Show Respect, Be Responsible’. Everyone knows them off by heart and when I child gets something wrong they can immediately tell you which of the rules they have broken. It is then really easy to implement the behaviour policy.
The small change for the staff was to provide tea and coffee for free. We have found a way of funding it that does not come out of the school budget. This means we are not chasing staff for payment and they get free drinks and biscuits – like you would if you worked in the private sector.
What strategies have you implemented to get around funding cuts?
We are running more like a business and looking at opportunities to earn money. We take students, which gives us money, we run an extended school day which pays rental to the school, so generating some income, we have a grant finder on the staff who finds grants for things we need, we are also trying to run courses and hire staff out to make money for the school.
How are you helping staff to manage workload?
We have very open conversations in staff meetings and reviewed several policies as a result of feedback. We have reduced the expectations in marking and all staff have nearly 3 hours of PPA each week. We have a wellbeing member of staff who takes feedback from all staff about areas where there are issues. Our senior team also try to model a good work life balance – some come in after 8am so they can spend time with their children in the morning, some leave early one day a week to collect their children from school.
How do you encourage staff to stay motivated and stay in the profession?
We talk about the benefits of being a teacher, we have discussions around why we all became teachers to try to remember what it was that inspired us all. We look at successes and celebrate these. We aim to create a good team climate so that people enjoy working together.
How often do you find yourself with a task or project that you feel unqualified to do? How do you manage that?
Fairly frequently! Building projects are testing as I don’t have the knowledge when it becomes technical, but I am still expected to make decisions, small things happen that I have no experience of e.g. an ill, hungry fox entering the school grounds at the start of the school day. I ask people who have knowledge in those areas.
What gives you the confidence to take tough decisions and the motivation to keep going?
Putting the children at the center of everything helps with the tough decisions. Knowing we will make a difference to them if we get it right keeps me motivated and seeing the difference we have made to lives along the way really helps.