If you can lock gates and greet mums, they've got a job for you

Children have definite ideas about the sort of person who should run a school. Kathryn Riley and Pat Mahony report
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The Independent Online
What does it take to be a headteacher? Good training? Experience? An exam in kindness?Academic researchers who asked children in primary schools in Hillingdon, Croydon and Hounslow were given answers that surprised and delighted them.

Ten-year-olds came up with a list that would bring credit to an education specialist, but which was also compiled with the warmth - and keen eyes - of children.

Yes, the children thought that headteachers needed to have a good education and experience, but they quickly moved on to the more personal concepts.

A headteacher could not be racist, had to keep in touch with the local community, treat children equally and give everyone the same advantages. They had to provide a good example (by not smoking or drinking in school, for example) and they had to take responsibility for what happened in schools and not blame others.

They needed to be approachable, mix easily, treat children equally and be able to make children, adults and the community confident about the things that happen in school.

The headteacher "holds the school in his or her hands" and is the person who provides everything from pencils and books to "hooks to hang our coats on".

The headteacher "walks around the school to make sure that people treat each other nicely - and attends lots of meetings".

The headteacher ensures the school is secure, "that the gates are locked and we are safe", and that it is a pleasant place to be.

"He says good morning to my mum" and "gives us laughter and makes joy in the school" were other qualities listed.

The headteacher has to be firm and fair but also needs to have "a soft spot".

People could become headteachers by: "taking an exam in kindness", "buying a school", "reading a book about it", "going to a school and seeing whether you like children", and even through "years of hard work and kindness".

Some children thought that "the Government lets you" become a head.

It is rare that children's voices are heard in educational debates. But this survey reminds us how crucial is the contribution that the headteacher can make to creating a climate of respect in which people can live, as well as learn, together.

Given the recently reported dearth of applicants for teaching positions, would the following advertisement from a class at Cranford Park Primary School, Hillingdon, encourage more people to apply for headship?

Headteacher wanted

Come to "our" school. It is a good school. The teachers are good, the children will welcome you and everyone will treat you well.

If you are going to apply for this job, you will have to be able to communicate with children, be respectful of them and understand their point of view. You will need to be well qualified and experienced.

You will need to be energetic, outgoing, confident, mix with people easily and understand their feelings. You will need to be able to understand other people's beliefs and be a calming influence on the children, keeping the school safe for them.

Our school is more than just an average school. Try your luck and be the best.

Kathryn Riley is professor of educational management and Pat Mahony is professor of education at the Roehampton Institute, London.

This article draws on a project on effective school leadership in England, Scotland and Denmark that is being undertaken by Roehampton Institute, London, Strathclyde University and the Royal Danish School of Education.