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The last word: Sole searching...

Wellington boots

A first year in post can be memorable for so many things, not least the church minister with a fatal mispronunciation problem.

Having now had a few months to reflect on the ups and downs of my first year as a head, I would like to pass on the lessons I have learned to any ASCL members aspiring to take on the role.

1. Keep a check on your competitive streak

It was a joy to be warmly welcomed at one of our partner primary schools' summer fêtes. After some time chatting with parents and teachers, I was encouraged to try my hand at a few of the activities on offer. I had never ever thrown a welly before. My first attempt soared majestically through the air to within a few feet of the lead marker. A piece of cake, I thought. This was the point at which I was lulled into making my fatal error.

Wellies are not known for their aerodynamic qualities. The McLaren team are unlikely to be looking to this item of footwear as a template for their next vehicle to propel Lewis Hamilton round a Formula 1 track.

This obvious fact escaped my attention completely as I lined up for my assault on the title. It did however suggest itself pretty quickly once the welly left my hand only to fly at 90 degrees to the intended flight path and head disconcertingly in the direction of an unsuspecting child.

Headlines raced through my mind: 'Local headteacher knocks out child with boot.' I had certainly not come here to lead an assault on reducing our year 7 intake.

The boot landed short and I beat a hasty retreat to the tombola.

2. Expect the unexpected

We are fortunate to have some excellent local speakers who come in to school on a regular basis to help with our assemblies. You have certain expectations of church ministers and as I sat on the stage in full assembly I felt confident that the message would be one with which the leadership team could bow sagely in agreement and leave our student body suitably morally improved.

In terms of being non-judgmental, the exhortation of Jesus not to take the speck of sawdust out of someone else's eye before dealing with the plank in your own is powerful. Until, that is, the minister inadvertently 'spoonerises' the term 'whopping plank'.

3. It pays to be slow-witted

They say it is more important to win the relationship than to win the argument. Sometimes slow thinking can help in that regard.

I was reaching the end of a difficult conversation with a parent whose views on uniforms were, to put it mildly, not quite in alignment with those of the school. It is another debate as to whether you can call the exchange of mutually incompatible statements about the same issue a 'conversation'.

Just before she put the phone down, she accused me of being patronising. Thankfully for the relationship, it was not until the call was ended that I thought to say: "Patronising - that's a good word."

4. Never underestimate the power of marketing

Running late for a meeting with the new head of a local primary school, I visited the toilet. Washing my hands, I pressed down on the  innocuous looking hand cream. The problem was that it did not obey the law of gravity and ooze gently in a downwards direction; it followed another well-known law and came out horizontally and fast.

My instinctive reaction did not ameliorate the situation as it meant that the trajectory was now lined up with the front of my trousers. Frantic washing only served to create a lather that the old Camay advertising crew would have been pleased with.

My only hope was to position my pack of school prospectuses strategically and remember not to hand them all over. Like I say, never underestimate the power of marketing.

5. Expect the Spanish Inquisition

On a weekly basis, I am accosted by a barrage of questions. Some appear easy but are insoluble, like a new girl in year 10 asking me where she goes for her first science lesson. Others are just insoluble, like the parent who asked why I said that her daughter, with 85 per cent attendance, should improve her attendance in my comment on her report.

But the rhetorical question I am asking now is this: "Isn't this job the most challenging, varied and transformational thing you can do with your life?"

Jon Platten is headteacher of Alderman Peel High School, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.


Want to have the last word?

The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you'd like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk

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