A week in the life of a Headteacher

It's been a busy week.
It’s been a busy week.

This has been a typical busy week at KEGS.  Looking across the diary for the week it struck me that it captures some of the essence of being the Headteacher of this school.   I had a good response to my previous diary post so I thought I’d share this week’s diary too.  The back-to-back schedule is certainly busier than most weeks; adding in the regular fifteen hours of commuting with added train delays and a Friday night bike puncture, it’s been a heavy week for sure.  And that doesn’t include the late-night email trawls, RE marking and self-inflicted blog-compulsion! ( I wrote about the Labour Bacc proposals this week.)

What does the week suggest are the key aspects of the job?

Teaching and Learning:

  • The KEGS Departmental Review process is underway. As line manager of Science, MFL and History (among others), I’ve been involved in some lesson observations to inform each review. That’s been a wonderful part of the week.  Five lessons taught by teachers with genuine expertise, employing a range of fascinating techniques.  And no lesson grades; not any more. This makes the feedback discussions so much more constructive and developmental. More convinced than ever that this was a necessary step.
  • Lesson Study has featured this week; I had a meeting to plan the second phase of our work in an Economics triad as featured in an earlier post.  We set up a new lesson building on the previous one, trying to refine the techniques for improving AS essay writing. Great to be directly involved in this process at the early stages of its development in the school.
  • My own Lessons have gone reasonably well. Students in my Y13 class are in the midst of their practical coursework where they devise their own investigations and carry them out over 9 lessons. I noticed some of my Y9s were exchanging comments on Edmodo this evening, clarifying the homework and sharing a photo of some data we gathered in a class demo. It felt good to give my Y10s some marked tests; I’m not an RE specialist so it had taken me some time to get up to speed with the requirements.
  • I ran a short session with two of our PGCE students on placements at KEGS. This was about SEN issues in schools.  It’s wonderful to work with young teachers embarking on a career in teaching, sharing ideas and hearing their views.
  • On Saturday I went to the PedagooLondon event at the Institute of Education, contributing a session entitled: Walking the Traditional-Progressive line; Why it pays to have a foot in both camps.  I talked for too long but, apart from that, it went ok. It was amazing to meet a lot teachers giving up their Saturdays to develop their professional practice.  Energising and inspiring.

Strategic Planning:

We are in the process of exploring the set-up of a multi-academy trust to sponsor two local primary schools and, collaboratively, to set up a new primary school in the vacant site adjoining KEGS.  It’s an exciting prospect but there are lots of issues to address; it’s a big undertaking but one underpinned by a strong moral purpose. It requires strong consensus to be built among stakeholders so this week I’ve given it a lot of time, working with my Chair of Governors and a working party, drafting various documents. In one AHT line-management session we discussed the process for engaging students in our vision-building process  and agreed a way to give all students a way to contribute ideas toward the Vision for KEGS in 2020 document.  It always feels good to make time to think big and look far ahead.

Line Management and Support

I’ve had a number of SLT line-management meetings this week.  Mostly this involved touching base on some low-level issues, keeping an eye on nitty-gritty matters.  In addition I’ve been working with the Head of DT, another line-management area. I’d set up a lesson to visit each of the main exam groups as part of an agreed monitoring strategy.  She uses my visit to reinforce deadlines and I talk to students about their progress, celebrating successes and pushing where needed.  Things are looking really good so it was a positive experience.

Parental Engagement

It’s an ever-present feature of school life, the importance of which can’t be under-estimated. Year 7 parents’ evening on Thursday was a very positive event. Mainly this is about teachers doing the important work of creating that three-way partnership around each student’s progress and overall school experience. My role was very much a supportive one, chatting to parents and students and basically just being around which people value. We put on a small display of the Year 7’s British Museum projects which was fabulous.  As I write now, I’m about to go off to the Asian Evening organised by the Parents’ Association; every year 200 people gather to eat Asian food and be entertained by dancing and music, raising money for the school in the process.  Schools are communities and this is all part of it.

Student Engagement

It’s been an interesting week for student engagement with some disciplinary issues to tackle alongside one of my annual highlight events: House Drama. This involved each house putting together a programme with three pieces each.  It was a real joy with some Blackadder, lots of Macbeth and a bit of ‘The Curious Incident’. The students select and rehearse the pieces in their own time without supervision; it’s a wonderful thing, completely student-led.  Tindal House won convincingly with some stunning acting.  Before school on Thursday I had a fascinating supervision with a Pre-U GPR student who is working on his essay on Kuhn’s paradigm shift concept.  Lovely to start the day with an intellectual discussion about whether contemporary science can be characterised as ‘anarchic’.

Perhaps the most significant student engagement event was on Monday lunchtime when I met with a group of students from Y12, Y13 and Y8 to talk about our anti-homophobia campaign. Some are working on an assembly and we also agreed to set up a wider ‘Equality Group’ to take things forward. The students were clear that a non-punitive approach was needed, seeking to educate people rather than create another disciplinary layer that inhibits discussion.  I’m really proud of these students for their commitment to this issue.  Friday’s assembly was devoted to giving our Gold Certificates based on students’ effort grades in recent reports. We spent 10 minutes applauding the achievements of hundreds of students; it’s one of the most important things we do.

Partnership Work

A number of events this week were driven by the philosophy of partnership that we embrace. The Mid-Essex Heads’ group, MESH,met on Wednesday to consider three options for phased school expansions over the coming 10 years as the population of Chelmsford expands. (It’s the comprehensive schools, not the Grammars, that will be growing – in case anyone gets twitchy!)  The LA is working with us to ensure maximum buy-in; we’re working collaboratively rather than competitively which is so important given that all the schools are academies.  In fact we work more closely together now than we ever did before as LA schools.

On Wednesday he had our annual Leading Edge visit from SSAT CEO Sue Williamson. This overlapped with House Drama which Sue enjoyed a part of. The SSAT Leading Edge group brings us into contact with schools across the country that are doing interesting things and that’s important for us. On Friday we had a visit from Lily Lin who is an Essex-based broker of school partnerships mainly with Jiangsu province in China – Shanghai, Wuxi, Suzhou.  She dropped in to talk about some initiatives she’s working on and the next stage in our support for CPD programmes involving Chinese teachers visiting the UK.  All exciting stuff.

System Leadership 

To cap off the week, this was the week when the Labour Skills Task Force launched the report on the 14-19 curriculum that I’ve contributed to.  It’s pretty exciting to be involved in generating these ideas. I’m very open about my political allegiances  – I think it’s healthy to model political engagement in that way, provided you create open debate as we do at KEGS.  The Headteachers’ Roundtable has been instrumental in enabling me to communicate our ideas and, given the strong roots of HTRT in Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Post wanted a comment from me for their report in Wednesday’s paper. All in week’s work!

Any week that includes House Drama is a very good week indeed and I got to watch my son play football for his school team on Saturday morning before heading to Pedagoo. Being a touchline Dad is always a real joy.  I really can’t complain. But I think I might need a lie-in on Sunday.


  1. See, this is why I don’t want a head teacher gig … something’s got to be sacrificed and from here it looks like that thing is sleep. Good to see the role is in good hands at KEGS. Nice one Tom.


  2. Ah, how the almer mater has changed since my day! Good to see even in the midst of all that busyness you still get chance to teach.(section deleted). Sadly, all but 2 of my teachers have now moved (passed?) on, but a happy 7 years!


  3. I’m a Governor at a special school, and I’m interested to see you teach. I think if I were a Headteacher I’d want to still teach a bit too. Are you the exception to the rule, or vice versa in your experience?


    • I’m often asked that. People regularly express surprise that I teach. I find it essential for leading my school and I know others who feel the same – but I also know plenty of Heads who find it’s too difficult to sustain. I’d like to know how many Heads don’t teach at all…it’s a good question.


  4. Do you not worry when there’s clearly no time in your week to respond to issues that come up from your direct reports? Do they not feel that you have little time to communicate with them? Also, when is your time to build relationships eg lunchtime – not always a time of relaxation but a time to be there for people to catch up with you. When do you return call to parents etc. How do you resolve this dilemma? it’s one that I struggle with.


    • Hi Yasmine. Yes, I do worry. I rely on my diary to book in meetings with everyone I line-manage; that safeguards routine time. I also rely on my PA to find slots in the gaps to see people. I find emails the most difficult thing – I had over 350 last week including 90 on Monday. It’s overwhelming at times. I don’t think I do resolve that dilemma – I just accept a certain failure rate and do what I can!


  5. I think ‘I just accept a certain failure rate and do what I can’ is really good advice, Tom! I’m sure too many heads try to be everything to all people and beat themselves up when they don’t manage it.

    I taught throughout the ten years of my headship but only the Year 7 classes, only one lesson a week with each group (to get to know them and for them to get to know me – it was less about the teaching than about building that relationship, really) and I was paired with their ‘usual’ teacher (of English, my subject) so if I HAD to be out of school they were still taught and didn’t suffer. I wouldn’t schedule anything to clash with those lessons if I could possibly avoid it.

    I admire you for teaching exam classes – I’d occasionally do a ‘guest slot’ with an A level class (which I loved) but I felt teaching wasn’t my first priority as a head. Doing what I could to help others teach the best they could was the key thing. I know I didn’t always manage it (and I had to accept a certain failure rate and just do what I could…)

    Just one thought occurred, partly prompted by the “See, this is why I don’t want a head teacher gig…” comment above. I was always very mindful of how I ‘modelled’ headship to others, and I really wanted to encourage and inspire those who had the right temperament and developing skill set to go for it. I found a lot of joy in headship (and can see you do too) but was aware that sometimes all most people see is the stress/responsibility/pressure/ workload. Do you feel like this? What can heads do to demonstrate that, yes, it IS pressured and hard work but it’s also liberating, energising and the most rewarding job of all the jobs in the school…..?


    • Hi Jill. Thanks for your comment. I think it’s important to teach for lots of reasons. 1) I enjoy it; it’s a good solid dose of student contact and it’s the thing I know best! 2) It helps me to talk to teachers about pedagogy; I’m testing out the ideas and policies we implement alongside them; 3) I think it gives me a bit of credibility. Also it gives me an excuse to miss meetings I don’t want to go to!

      I know what you mean about the modelling. I chose this week because it had a bit of everything in it. Being busy isn’t necessarily stressful if you thrive on variety like I do. I think I should write a post about why being a Head is a great job, describing all the support you get and the scope you have to make it what you want it to be. It’s not the lonely job some people told me it would be. I might have been lucky in that regard but it’s certainly a job I’d recommend. And the money is good too; there is no doubt about that.


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