Leading at the end of the year

23 June 2016
Posted by Heidi Salmons

Independent Leader, 23.06.16, Keith Budge, headmaster at Bedales Schools and Chair Elect of HMC for 2017-18, shares his thoughts at the end of the year as he gears up to gear down.

Two working weeks left to the end of the summer term and the mental audit of the independent school leader goes something like this:

Appointments: It’s time to get the final bits of leadership architecture in place for next year. People want to know exactly what is expected of them well before the end of term, but circumstances ("events"...) don't always allow the timing to be so neat and ideal. Will the changes that you have made bear fruit and mean that the new or re-jigged leadership position does what you expect?

Year on thoughts: You see someone you appointed a year or two years ago in action. There was something of a battle to get that person in post or, perhaps, you created the post for them: what has s/he delivered? Was it worth it? Has your vision been realised?

Exams: You take all this for granted, but is that too much of a presumption? With public exams you are the grand vizier, head of centre, and responsible for what happens. But you are rarely in the exam hall yourself. And so, your assumption of high rectitude and the massively complex exam train moving on well burnished rails towards a gleaming destination are as good as the people appointed to make it all run smoothly. (Due thanks are given at this point for professional examination officers.)

Students and exams: We want students to take their external exams particularly seriously, but we are on guard against undue and unproductive stress: are we doing enough to combat this? How well rooted are the actions that you have taken as a school to promote well-being? What about the internal exams? A group of parents told you that their children were taking these too seriously – mmm... how easy is it to get the porridge at just the right temperature?

Governors: Funny business the concept of "managing up" – nobody tells you about this when you are stepping up to headship, but you need to think carefully about how well you are using your governors. Your chair of governors does a great job in managing the Board, but you want them to feel appreciated and engaged from your angle as well: how well are you doing that side of the job?

Bursar: Easy to forget about him or her. Life would simply grind to a halt without him (in my case, a bloke). We are close to that time of the year – the holy of holies for heads' families – when the academic cycle goes into hibernation of a kind but the bursarial works' cycle goes into overdrive. In short, you are going to be enjoying your quietest time of the year, probably well away from school, whilst your bursar is working his socks off. Have you done everything you can to ensure that there are no nasty surprises awaiting him? Is all shipshape with teachers' contracts?

End of year signings off: Yes, all those letters that you are writing to teachers confirming their salary and responsibilities for the coming year, which generally remind you how much individuals do and your responsibility to look after them. You and your deputy are trying to see each teacher at the end of the annual appraisal cycle – powerful sessions but issues sometimes crop up – and you are hoping to deal with them before the end of term but will time allow?

Student leadership: The semi-democratic wheels have turned and you have a new head student team in place. They are shaping up well. Will they be getting the right messages from the outgoing team and what unforeseen bits of cultural handing down will happen as the departing sixth formers leave?

Departing colleagues: Some are leaving after extraordinary and distinguished careers at your school. Will they feel honoured in the right way and what will be the messages that you will be sending to your returning colleagues about what is valued and what isn't?

And all of this does not include more quotidian concerns like reports, congratulating students on their work or (and thank goodness we do not have one) Speech Day perorations.

It is no wonder that you were advised to make holiday bookings well before the summer term begins.

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