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Primary Education News
News No head is an island: why schools need to work together
At 35, James Haseldine is one of youngest secondary heads in the country. He tells Emily Drabble how and why he got there
Can you tell us about your own educational background?
I grew up in Leigh in Lancashire. I enjoyed some of my lessons but it didn't go much further than that, I barely revised for my exams and flew by the seat of my pants. That experience has really stayed with me, I know how essential it is to have high expectations of your students and to get them into a good learning habit. I just scraped into university to do a BEd in PE at Bangor and that's when I finally got the education bug. I was the first person in my family to go to university.
What was your route to becoming a head?
I was lucky in my first three jobs to see the full sphere of education. My first teaching job was at Coventry Prep school. I was the worst NQT in the world. But the mistakes I made really shaped me and I had a wonderful very patient head. I realised that children are the same wherever they come from, the only thing that's different is the expectations people have of them and the resources that they have.
Then I realised I wanted to work with young people who came from a similar background to myself and went to The Queen Elizabeth School in Middleton. Three weeks after I arrived the school was placed in special measures. A new head Eric Jackson, came in and I witnessed what being put in special measures can do and how it can be handled really well. I learnt so much about leadership, the power of teamwork and got to witness how that improvement can be constructed. My mentor (and deputy head) was Robbie Baldwin who was an absolute inspiration, and someone who shaped my career greatly.
I was a young head of department at that time and that is when I thought how I would like to lead a school myself. I saw what leadership could do and it whetted my appetite for becoming a head myself. I saw how clear and simple systems and consistency could make a huge difference to young people and a school.
I then took a job at William Hulme Grammar School in Manchester, the day after I got the job the school announced it would stop being a private school and become an academy - one of the first fee paying schools to do that in the country. I learned a lot about change management from this experience and how heads must at times make sometimes unpopular but brave decisions.
In my second year at the school I came across a scheme called Future Leaders. I asked my head if I should apply and he told me to go for it.
What did the Future Leaders course do for you?
It was an epiphany. It took me to pieces as a teacher and leader and built me up again. The course has helped me truly understand the duty and power of great schools and the impact we can make with young people who are at greatest risk of underachievement. I was placed in Stretford High school, where I am now head. I was under mentorship of the headteacher at that time, Derek Davies, who had just taken the school to outstanding and that's where my proper training began. The school was about to become an academy, merging with another school. We had been promised a £25 million school but that was cut to £3 million. So we decided that it wasn't the best route for the community or the school to continue with the process and pulled out. I learnt an awful lot about the politics in education and the awesome responsibility a head has for staff, a student and community body during this period.
I was appointed permanent head in 2011. I don't know where I'd be without my chair of governors Karina Carter or the network of colleagues I met through Future Leaders, and particularly Wiktor Daran, headteacher of St Paul's Catholic School in Wythenshawe, who was my mentor in the first two years of my headship and has become a personal friend.
What were the main challenges to begin with?
One of my biggest challenges was to sort out the direction and stability of my staff. Because we had been through this period of tremendous instability, half the staff were on temporary deals not knowing if their contracts would be renewed, and this was very stressful for everyone. So my first job was to make sure we had the best teachers to meet the needs of the young people, and to get the right people in the right seats on the bus. I'm so proud of our team now and how they have transformed the school. Schools can sink very quickly if the right people aren't appointed to do the right jobs or if change happens too quickly or is not explicitly planned for.
What's your management style?
It depends on the situation. I roll up my my sleeves and live by the values of our school. Sometimes you have to be directive and make tough decisions. I want us to facilitate and invest in people to make the best impact, but I'll take a more directive approach if that's going to grow the school and make it better. It's really important to be visibly present as a head - but there are going to be times when your staff aren't going to see you. Last year we took the decision to build a £4 million sports facility in the school and it meant I wasn't as present as I would like to be, so recruiting and developing the best people around you is essential.
If you were Michael Gove for a day what would you do?
I would create a bar of serving headteachers and educationalists with the power to shape and lead education policy over time - and trust them to create a legacy - not politicians or commissioned think tanks.
Where do you go from here?
To take a rubbish football analogy, you can try and do an Alex Ferguson and create a true legacy or you can try to be a Jose Mourinho and go from job to job, project to project. I'm ambitious, but I can't see beyond what I'm doing now; it's the best job in the world. They'll have to carry me out in a box.
Any advice for would-be heads?
To teachers thinking of moving into senior management, I'd advise them to go for it. Being a head is a tough job but I can't think of anything better than working with young people and teachers who want to deliver great education.
Having a network of support is essential, otherwise the job can be lonely. In Trafford we enjoy great working relationships with heads of other schools which really helps me do my job. It's really important for any secondary school to have fantastic relationships with the heads of local primary schools. Schools have to stick together.
But the most important thing is to keep your own house in order, deliver results and do the best possible for your students, sticking to your mission and values. I think the political agenda has made me more steely - I've got to concentrate on my own ship. You can't spend your time worrying about Ofsted. I do think being a headteacher is not my job, it's my life. You've got to give yourself to it while not taking yourself too seriously, drinking your own bathwater or beating yourself up if mistakes are made.
What's your current mission?
Making sure our year 11 students on their final lap get the provision they need to succeed before their next big step. Everything has to be exactly right so they hit their targets for their own satisfaction and futures and also as modelling for the rest of the school. My job is to make sure the atmosphere is right for pupils and also for teachers in the final furlong. It's a time to be really flexible with masterclasses and one-to-one lessons if needed. We have to make sure we keep the atmosphere as stress free as possible and plan schedules so our pupils and staff feel comfortable and make progress.
James Haseldine is head of Stretford High School in Trafford, Manchester, an outstanding school, also rated as an outstanding initial teacher training (ITT) provider. He is a member of the National Heads Council for teaching leaders, an education charity, specifically focused on developing outstanding middle leaders.