Education Quandary: 'I want to apply for the headship of a school, but I am worried that I might not be able to stand up to government interference'

Hilary's advice

In asking this question, you have nailed one of the biggest problems facing heads today – and shown that you are exactly the sort of person who should be running a school.

Targets, inspections, circulars and directives are the bane of heads' lives, but assiduous box-tickers make terrible leaders. To be a good head, you need vision, authority, warmth and compassion. You need to be out and about, to know your staff and pupils, and to have a clear and constant picture of what you are trying to achieve.

New heads are often unsure how much of the official jungle they can hack aside to find room to breathe, but they can learn from older colleagues. I prescribe reading Turning Heads: Reflections on Leadership, an inspirational new publication from the National College for School Leadership (free online at http://www. NCSLTurningHeads.pdf) to see how great school leaders do it.

There's no blueprint. These heads, all winners of Teaching Awards, could not be more different, but all passionately believe in their pupils and are determined to do their best for them. None gives a fig for anything except those things that support their vision. I was asked to write one of the chapters of this book and spent the day with a man who believed his job was entirely about the development and wellbeing of all around him. His school got fantastic exam results, but chasing these, he said, was like trying to chase happiness: "They're something that comes along when you are pursuing something else altogether."

Readers' advice

You should be asking: do I have the stamina for 100-hour weeks? Will my marriage survive? Will I be good at taking all the blame everyone will throw at me? Do I want to leave the classroom? Once you're a head, pupils will not be in your life in the same way.

Parry Edwards, Devon

It isn't interference from outside that will be your problem, but the pupils on the inside. Most schools suffer from discipline problems, and if a head isn't strong enough to squash bad behaviour a school will not achieve anything. Today's youngsters have no respect for authority. They don't see any reason to do what they are told, and have no interest in doing their school work. Their rudeness is beyond belief. Most people have no idea how bad things are. These are what will keep me from going for a leadership post.

Gary Rimbauer, Croydon

Thirty-eight years ago, I faced the same dilemma. Even then, although schools were much simpler and there wasn't the same pressure as today, being a head seemed beyond me. I felt too inexperienced to take it on. What changed my mind was an inspector who believed I had what was needed, and he was a very great help to me in my early years. I believe if you found such a mentor, it would help you overcome your hesitations.

Laura Coulstone, Edinburgh

Next Week's Quandary

My three-year-old goes to a pre-school where the staff often walk around carrying mugs of tea or coffee. It seems to me particularly dangerous outside in the playground, where children could knock into someone holding a hot drink. My little girl is happy there and I am reluctant to make a fuss. Should I say something?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet. com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at where they can be searched by topic.

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