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Jill Berry on Headteacher Supply and why Heads need to be teachers – PP114


Jill BerryWe had a great conversation this week with Jill Berry. A teacher for more than 30 years, Jill is former senior leader and headteacher of state and independent schools, has worked for the National College for School Leadership, is currently doing educational consultancy work and has just finished a part-time Doctorate in Education. She also spends ‘a disproportionate amount of time’ on Twitter which she believes is a wonderful source of CPD.

How do we attract, train and retain the best leaders for our schools?

Jill believes there is a challenge in teacher and leader recruitment and retention but dislikes the word ‘crisis’ to describe the situation in the UK at the moment – she feels it is too emotive and over-used. She thinks it’s important that we all spot, encourage and inspire emerging potential from the very early days. Sometimes they don’t see their own potential.

We have to know our staff well and value their complementary skills.

Jill believes we also have to model leadership as positively as we can. A lot of the time the image portrayed of headship is all about the problems, strains and stresses an people don’t see the huge opportunities, satisfactions, rewards and joy.

Jill thinks that there are some teachers who are better in the classroom than in a leadership role but for her it’s all about spheres of influence which can grow from your own class to middle leadership, to senior leadership and you can use your influence to help increasingly large groups of children develop – which is what most teachers enter the profession to do.

One of the issues is that in times of shortage, schools tend to become quite insular and protective of their staff. However, we need to encourage good staff to look beyond their own schools and move on. This is the experience Jill herself had. She feels she gained a huge amount from working in many different situations.

Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders are doing a brilliant job but Jill believes it’s just as important to encourage people through middle leadership and onwards to headship. She disagrees with Anthony Sheldon’s recent article in the TES. She doesn’t think it’s about bringing more people in and accelerating them into leadership positions more quickly. Rather, we should be looking at the strength and quality that’s already out there, finding out why people are being deterred from taking the next leadership responsibility – and doing something to address it.

Is it possible for someone who has never taught to become a successful headteacher?

Having a background in education gives you credibility, according to Jill. You have a fuller understanding of the reality of how schools work. It can be done and it has been done but Jill can’t see it ever being the norm. She thinks it’s much more about bringing on middle leaders into headship and in this she praises the work of the National College for Teaching and Leadership.

How do the pressures of being a head in the independent sector compare with those of state school heads?

The pressures are different and the workloads are different. Jill thinks independent sector headteachers are more vulnerable and more likely to lose their jobs than state school heads. Governors tend to see school success in terms of things like number on roll which affects income as well as results. In a state school, there can be more ‘checks and balances’.

There are also an increasing number of regulations from the DfE on independent schools and  marketing and running a school as a business is a huge pressure.

Why should people pay to come to your school if there is a very good free alternative nearby?

However, independent heads and staff generally don’t spend as much time on things like behaviour management and dealing with a wide range of ability or learning needs. Also, dealing with independent sector parents is different, not necessarily much more difficult.

Jill really enjoyed the freedom and autonomy of being an independent school head.

Who do think the new head of Ofsted should be and what should their priorities be?

After a little pressing(!) Jill mentioned  Alison Peacock and Christine Ryan, the head of the independent school inspection service. Of all the ones Jill has known, she believes David Bell was the strongest but she admits she knows him really well. However, she points out that he had great credibility as he had been a teacher and a headteacher and understood the way teachers thought. These are important factors as Jill believes the trust in the teaching profession badly needs to be repaired.

Paul votes for Phil Beadle and Kevin goes for Amjad Ali… 😉

Jill is planning to publish a book on the topic of her PhD thesis rather than the thesis itself because of confidentiality. It’s all about the transition from deputy headship to headship and she’s keen to speak to anyone who has experience of this. Do contact her in the ways below:

@JillBerry102 on Twitter

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