A New Outlook: The Life Of A Deputy Headteacher

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This blog is a little impromptu. My intention is to offer a snapshot of my first week working as a Deputy Headteacher.

Less than two weeks ago, I blogged about No Man’s Land which highlighted thousands of teachers across the UK commencing new jobs in schools, and specifically for those teachers who are in-between past and new roles. Last week, over 10,000 of you read my Back To School advice for all teachers, which is designed for day one at school and is a to-do list and in parts, a thinking-list.

As part of this post, I have used much of my own advice as checklist for self-evaluation. I want to keep this blog very brief and use this opportunity to discuss the various conversations, thoughts and plans that I am already having with my new colleagues.

A new outlook:

There is little said about working in a new school. The anxiety and emotions that all staff encounter, not least the conditions colleagues face; coming to grips with a new job role and responsibility. Moving and starting a new school (often) supersedes the highs of a school holiday, and the requirement for the brain to step up a gear results in exhaustion. This spent energy, consumes your body and mind, taxed with the highs and lows stretched over intense working periods in the academic year. There is no happy medium for teachers. It’s all or nothing!

The benefit of working in various schools preserves your ideas, resources and strategies. This experience provides additional opportunities for ideas to be refined and made crisp. The ability to maintain this is another undertaking itself and I’m sure I will revisit many previous blogs as I share our journey. The last time I really stood up to a new level at work, was not when I started working at my last school three years ago, but when I moved schools six years ago and started an entirely new kind of role. This was a move from middle leadership to senior leadership. Today, not only do I feel like the ‘new-kid-on-the-block’, but working in a new area of responsibility requires a steep learning curve! In so many ways, I feel like a newly qualified teacher again and with hindsight, believe this is a healthy check-up for all teachers.


For most of the week, I have arrived to school for 6:45 a.m. This is earlier that what I have been used to, as I have previously written about When Childcare Backfires and how I have managed to balance those pressures in my role as a father, nursery drop-offs and work as a school leader. As I write this, my excitement, emotion and anticipation is of course, much to do with ‘new-school anxiety.’ Learning, understanding and implementing new routines and school policies, meeting students and classes to teach, as well as a new journey to work, testing various transport systems and routes is ‘part and parcel’ of the experience when moving school. And on most days, I haven’t left the building until 6pm as I come to terms with the expectations of myself, establishing a routine to enable me to work efficiently, yet maintain a sensible work-life balance at home.

Having a new outlook on my job-role, a new school context, with different challenges and needs has amplified my reading list. Cemented alongside any documentation I need to devour, one part of my whole school responsibility is organising cover for absent colleagues. Therefore, a vital component to my day, is coordinating the cover list at the start of the day and anticipating what will happen the day after, as well as developing a coherent, supportive and cost-effective policy for the school. The objective is to become more strategic and forward thinking as the term proceeds and start to support various teachers, departments and the needs of the students as I learn all the various idiosyncrasies of the school.

Another perspective:

Take a look at this amazing photograph below. This photograph was taken three weeks ago during the summer holidays 2014. To the bottom left of the image, you can see the new building, currently under construction by Bouygues UK construction. The site team have been fantastic and very accommodating to all teachers who have wanted to visit the site. The former school buildings – where we currently reside until December 2014 – are placed in the middle-right of this aerial photograph. Above the top edge of this zone (just below the top-right tree-line), you will see a newly-built primary school with three reddish-pink rooftops made from natural materials which I believe will bloom throughout the seasons!

Quintin Kynaston QK for the air

The new school front entrance lies to the bottom right of the new build. This is the bottom centre area of the image. If you continue to look at the image to the bottom left, the new block to the left side will be the main instalment to the building. This left side of the building faces Finchley Road (A41). If you follow this road – which is heading south into central London, you will reach Lord’s Cricket Ground, which lies north of (Sherlock Holmes’) Baker Street. To the right of this area is another world-famous landmark, Beatles (Abbey Road) zebra-crossing. Beyond the top-left of this image (east of the school position), you can reach Primrose Hill, Camden Town and London zoo. To say this location is central to the community, would be an understatement.

Having been on a building tour, I won’t even start writing about the new building (yet). It’s incredibly exciting and in many ways, the entire community will be adjusting to new corridors and areas to learn and work within. New and established staff have already discussed with me their feelings about the transition.


Regarding my first week, here is a small snapshot of what I’ve been up to. There is a blog post in each of them:

  • Walking the entire site with the premises staff, unlocking doors, looking in cupboards, walking the perimeter and the local streets.
  • Meeting the local community police support officers.
  • Meeting and greeting students and parents at the gate each morning and evening.
  • Walking the school corridors, visiting classrooms speaking with every member of staff (not all yet!) and introducing myself.
  • Meeting with line management colleagues and understanding the context of each department and the staff that work within them.
  • Meeting with individual colleagues who are engaged in continued professional development, ensuring that documents have been completed, finance has been approved and each ready to go (and be supported) with various training courses. e. g NPQML, NPQSL, MEd.
  • Gate duties, break duties and lunch duties. Every day.
  • Senior leadership briefings, whole staff briefings, senior leadership, deputy headteacher meetings and one-to-one meetings with my new headteacher.
  • Introducing myself to all that the administrative staff who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to ensure all systems continue to flow throughout the school.
  • Walking into the school canteen, which serves hot food to over 900 students per day(!) and observing from the front door, how our new school lunch system/timings are working.
  • And thensome …

On the horizon:

  • My first meeting with middle leaders.
  • The first FGM (Full Governors Meeting).
  • My first whole staff training session. We have a weekly training session every week.
  • Getting to grips with Cover management.
  • Visiting pockets of the school I have not yet been to introduce myself to all staff.
  • Building relationships and getting to know the students even better.
  • Meeting and greeting my new classes. Planning for lessons.
  • Working together with my new department.
  • And preparing for specifics, such as appraisal, open evening, literacy and so on and so forth.

No doubt, I will report back.

For all those teachers who have returned back to work – and specifically for those teachers who have started new jobs and in new schools – I do wish you well for the term ahead.


14 thoughts on “A New Outlook: The Life Of A Deputy Headteacher

  1. Hi Ross great blog as always . The key change from AP/AD to VP/deputy is the move from operational to strategic management/leadership, at times you find yourself overtaken by the day to day stuff. Good luck with cover. I look forward to the next instalment.

  2. Hi Ross, I echo Jo’s comments above – especially about cover. I started as a Deputy last year after too many years as HOD and on the edge of SMT, and can honestly say it was the hardest year of teaching I have ever had – not helped by an inspection 6 weeks in. However, the second year is a little bit easier, at present, as changes started last year begin to take shape and develop. Good Luck!

  3. Have been thinking about you, Ross – so good to read this post.

    Moving to a new role/school can be overwhelming. Good to see that much of what you have done so far has been about ‘getting to know’ and ‘getting to be known’. My advice would be to keep that as your focus for this half term, at least. I think it’s the most important think you can do at this stage. Change to systems will come, but start with the people.

    1. I agree with Jill; get the people side right and the rest becomes so much easier. Trust takes time to build but will serve you well. Operating cover will be a brilliant way to get to know staff and school. All the best. Teresa

  4. Hi Ross

    I too have started at a new school as DP this term. Thankfully have not had the pleasure of an Ofsted visit so early on! Hope it was a relatively painless experience.

    It’s interesting to read your reflections and compare experiences – thanks for sharing. I’m keeping a diary too so that I can capture first impressions, new challenges and cultural differences.

    Make sure that you don’t burn out. Being visible and meeting everyone is essential but being constantly on duty or on walk about must but exhausting!

    All the best.


  5. Pingback: Education Panorama (October ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

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