Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

A world of variety

White sphere

Brian Rossiter makes a case for why headship is the best job in the world.

Eight in the morning. Walking across the car park, I encounter a student anxious to divulge a snippet of information. On into the main office I am greeted by: "Have you been listening to the radio? There's something you need to know." So began an unusual morning that reflected the great and diverse role headteachers fulfil.

The news was of a former student who left in 1997, two years before I took up the headship of Valley School in Worksop. His wife and child had been found murdered in their home in Massachusetts.

Some of the office staff knew the man and described him to me: his abilities in school, his personality.

I was already booked to do a live phone interview at 8.20am on BBC Radio Nottingham on the developing use of biometrics at Valley and at 8.15 the phone rang. It wasn't the BBC; it was the authority's PFI project manager who had some essential news he needed to discuss regarding our new-build campus. Important though it was, I asked him to phone later.

The call from the radio station did not materialise until well past schedule. "Many apologies Brian; a breaking story from the States about a Worksop man has taken over the schedule." And so followed my first interview on the emerging American story.

There was a host of speculation around the murders and for once I am glad that we have a policy that I am the only point of contact with the press at times like this.

In a succession of newspaper and radio interviews, I reflected on the positive feedback about the ex-student, the shocked nature of the school and community and did not offer any opinion on the speculative ideas put to me by journalists.

We were able to control the news from the school rather than have to defend possibly inaccurate statements made on poor information or hearsay.

Power failure

By ten o'clock I was free to perform my morning walk-about. As I headed back to the main administration area, the power supply to the school failed. There was no heat and half the lighting and power sockets were knocked out.

This was the fourth time we had lost power to the school. I set off immediately to the main office, and sent eight staff out to the school with the message that: "We are carrying on as normal; the engineers have been called (they had) and no one is going home!"

Back out in the school, my mobile rang - the PFI project manager again. This time I had to talk to him. He was relaying the final outcome of a deal we had negotiated with the PFI contractor. It involved an initial commitment of £260k from our budget and an ongoing financial commitment by the school for the next 27 years.

To coincide with planning approval and design deadlines a decision had to be made now. I had been discussing it with governors and colleagues for some considerable time - I gave the okay.

We had secured the final major element for our brand new school that will be completed in 2007. All this in a car park; surrounded by vans of electrical engineers seeking to restore the electrical supply.

Enter the ITN camera crew, the third to appear that morning, trying to get past a brilliant lunchtime supervisor (or should that be guard?) on the gate.

Help from your friends

My list of jobs to do had not grown shorter (the opposite in fact) but when I left at the end of the day it was with a sense of achievement and support. Achievement, because we had completed the day with very little disturbance to learning and teaching. Support, because of the efforts of a magnificent team of teaching and support staff.

The focused teaching team kept the students at work when the power loss could have created chaos. The dedicated core team spent the day around the school ensuring teaching colleagues felt supported as all the strange events unfolded.

The backing from the support team was essential as they organised my unwelcome foray into the world of the mass media. Their briefings and management of the teams of reporters were exemplary.

The site team's response meant that the power was back on within an hour. Without the support of one's colleagues a headteacher is nothing.

The day may not have been totally focused on learning and the raising of standards. I may not have delegated as much as I should, but I hoped I had shown leadership.

Deaths in Massachusetts, TV crews and reporters, power failures and investment decisions; my day had been varied and could hardly be described as dull. And, when asked, that is why I always say: "I've got the best job in the world."

Brian Rossiter is head of Valley School, Worksop, in north Nottinghamshire.

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