The Life of a Deputy Headteacher: Part 8

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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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What does a typical term look like in ‘the life of a deputy headteacher’?

This post reflects the period between August to September 2016. What I hope to offer here is a snapshot into (one of) my working half-terms to help the reader compare, suggest or to use for their own reflection.


This is the 8th in the series of The Life of a Deputy Headteacher and it is just my story.

The reasons I document here, is to share how I am developing in my role as a deputy headteacher; to offer a place to reflect and discuss with other senior and aspiring leaders. The online forum as it today did not exist for me a decade ago when I first became a senior leader, so it is vital that we share our work with each other to encourage and strengthen the important work of school leaders everywhere. It also helps generate good ideas, build networks and expose guff.

If you were in a senior leader of a large secondary school, how would you go about your work this half-term?


At the end of the summer, I collapsed on my sofa for one whole week! I was exhausted and I needed to recover. I then spent the next 3 weeks without work on my mind, before returning to the UK for A level results day at school. After celebrating our best results ever at A-level and GCSE, my attention started to focus on 3 of my greatest tasks for the year ahead:

  1. introducing coaching to the school.
  2. re-shaping our self-evaluation calendar into a two-year cycle.
  3. preparing systems, guidelines and tracking for staff appraisal.

All in all, I did little or no work over the summer break. This was a personal choice and may not be the norm for everyone. I also know it is virtually impossible for headteachers ‘not’  to work as soon as results are published. Each of my tasks listed above were all started and refined throughout June and July 2016, leaving me with less work to do over the holidays. However, those key projects were never far away from my mind as is preparation for OfSTED – although I hate to admit it – was in the background some of the time.

In my last blog published in June 2016 (The Life of a Deputy Headteacher: Part 7), I defined my long-term projects (greater than 6 months) as:

  • Monitoring the quality of our new Learning Policy.
  • Tweaking our new coaching programme to meet the needs of teachers and teaching.
  • Working towards our next level of Investors in People status.
  • Developing our CPD programmes for a second Teacher Development Trust CPD audit.
  • Reviewing our school self-evaluation.

You can find all of these topic above within this blog.

shutterstock_374612704 Surprised successful young businessman holding and looking papers, isolated on white background

Image: Shutterstock


One of my three jobs on returning to work is to ensure all staff can complete their appraisal. I hope to blog this year about academic research, for and against appraisal, but if I could leave this argument aside for one moment, for me personally this is an increase in workload to ensure all staff have fair and transparent appraisal. (Thanks Mr. Gove!)

There are many pros and cons regarding the new Performance Related Pay system we are all subject to, and I’m not quite sure what my long-term views rest. Will the system improve performances and eradicate poor teaching? Or simply offer schools a way of saving money in a climate of reducing budgets?

My responsibility is to ensure all staff and line managers can complete their own appraisal in line with the teachers standards and our pay policy. The mechanisms that we have designed and put in place ensure there is a good level of quality control, fairness and confidentiality. My key role is to then verify and quality assure every single member of staff and take this to the governors for ratification. It’s a complicated job and although it is very labourious, it is a fascinating task to complete. It requires very high level attention to detail and a great deal of impartiality.

I did this last year for the first time and felt very exhausted after the first month of term. The exhaustion stems from wanting to do the right thing for everyone, being the gatekeeper of all information, taking this forward to the governing body for approval. It was not a fun job, but it needed to be done. For this reason, I love and hate September: appraisal. It’s binary and is can still subject to anecdotal opinion; I try to ensure the process is bullet-proof and there are other key staff involved to ensure rigour. 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The reasons I love September is because it’s like the start of a new day after New Years Eve. Teachers set their new resolutions after a long, relaxing summer and return to work refreshed, keen to meet colleagues and their new classes. Returning to work after such a long break can be a shock to the system. One of my most popular tweets last month was suggesting that the summer holiday could be reduced in return for spreading the holiday period out more evenly across the academic year. Of course this will have significant impact on parents, but my point was about well-being for teachers with the hope of reducing the attrition rate. After all, teachers report workload and exhaustion as the key reasons for wanting to leave the profession.

Despite doing no work whatsoever in August, although I may be playing catch up as a senior teacher in some aspects of my work, I must remain one step ahead of the rhythm of the school to ensure functionality. It is also important to recognise that senior teachers need to rest too.

At the moment, I am confident things will settle down from next week, balancing my teaching and school responsibilities, as well as a family makes getting up to speed sometimes a bit tricky. It is also vital to recognise that work-life balance during term time is a fallacy and I’m slowly coming to terms with that considering my recent challenge to the DfE workload groups: that the only solution to workload and attrition, is to reduce teachers’ contact-ratio. And that just isn’t going to happen … 

There are some things in education, we’ll just to have to put up with (for a little while longer) …


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