Diary of a headteacher: Always a difficult decision…

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
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It has been a difficult time for Tom Donohoe as he faced excluding his first pupils in 10 years…

Is it just me or is the job getting crazier? To be fair it could just be me getting older – 50 on my next birthday (which by the way I will celebrate while on a residential trip to the Isle of Wight with year 4). Or does everyone feel this way?

This academic year has certainly been an eventful one so far and though it is not yet Christmas we have had a number of interesting ins and outs. The first of these came when a parent decided to take their two children out of school, taking the decision to home-school their key stage 2 kiddies.

Within 24 hours of the notification, we had filled the two places with a couple of very excited children who had been on our waiting list for some time. They have now been with us a few weeks and are both doing well.

Elsewhere, however, we have had to take the difficult and sad decision to exclude a couple of pupils this term. This is not something we would ever do lightly and indeed have not done at Anton for more than 10 years, but we felt it was necessary. We had been told that the year 3 cohort coming to us had some interesting characters in and this has proved to be the case. Because we had prior knowledge we were able to put a number of strategies in place before the year even started and this has definitely helped.

We have great class teachers in the year group and we moved a number of very experienced and capable teaching assistants to join them. We also placed two very strong SCITT trainees in year 3; they had previously worked with us as teaching assistants for a year and we knew they would be good with children with such highly complex needs. I think it is because we have four excellent, conscientious staff working in each of these classes, and their positive and resilient natures, that we have only had to do two-day exclusions for just two of these children.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel dreadful when I make the decision to send a child home. The children concerned are lovely, we have become really fond of them really quickly – sadly there is just the odd occasion when they struggle to control their emotions. I am convinced that on the occasions we have done it, it has been the right thing to do for the child, the other children and the staff working in that year group. But that doesn’t really make me feel any better.

I get the impression it is not just us who are seeing more children with highly complex needs in mainstream settings.

When I talk to other local heads this is something that is definitely becoming more commonplace. Interestingly, while our local authority has had to cancel some courses due to limited uptake, I know that any time a course on physical restraint becomes available it is booked up in less than 24 hours. I have done mine recently and even after 30 years in education I learnt a huge amount.

So some ins and outs with pupils so far this year, but with regard to staff at Anton Junior it has just been ins and ins! I am always so impressed with the commitment of my staff – last year nobody had a single day of absence in the whole academic year, the year before there was just one person who had a couple of days off (and we had to make him go home).

Despite this being a trying time for some of my staff, their resilience and dedication and the support they provide for each other has once again been remarkable, with everybody having 100 per cent attendance.

I saw Mick Waters speak at a conference a couple of years ago and something he said resonated with me and I have tried to hold on to it: “One of the sadder aspects of recent years is that teachers and others who work in schools seem to have less time to laugh with the children and each other at some of the amusing things that happen.”

If ever I sense that Team Anton lose their ability to giggle and chuckle at, and with, each other I will worry – but for now the staffroom continues to fill with laughter. Long may that continue.


  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.


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